Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The Darkest Hour 
IMDb listing -
Kinonews.ru - review / discussion -
(Russ. orig. / Eng. trans.)
The Darkest Hour (directed by Chris Gorak, screenplay by Jon Spaihts, story by Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern and again Jon Spaihts) is an American conceived alien invasion sci-fi/horror movie set almost entirely in Moscow. I found the idea to be both interesting and potentially problematic. How would the film-makers pull it off?
I did find the setting of an alien invasion movie in a non-American city interesting because I had been studying at my Order's International College in Rome the year that Independence Day  had come out and I know that the film didn't go over well once one got past our nation's fair borders. Already known at the Seminary that I liked films, I was greeted by a fair number of rolling eyes that fall by our college's non-American students saying: "So you Americans are going to 'save us all' from 'alien invasion' one day and on your Independence Day no less. What if this invasion never comes? Or we don't particularly want to be 'saved' by you? Do we still have to be 'grateful'?"
Then a few years later Bruce Willis' Armageddon  came out, a film extolling the innate goodness of oil-drillers and the inherent "wimpiness" of the French, Paris showed-up on screen only long enough to be blown-up by a shard of an asteroid (Oh, how the American Right hates the French ...) So an alien invasion film set in Moscow could have gone in a lot of directions ... and, yes, I've taken a fair amount of hits for the United States over the years, both in grad school and then in the seminary where I was often the only native born American in the program (and _I'm_ a son of immigrants ...). But I do like America and in good part for reasons expressed _nicely_ in this film.
Fortunately, the film-makers chose to _not_ have "Americans save Russia" but instead chose to create a film that certainly is still clumsy at times from a Russian point of view (see the Kinonews.ru review and discussion - Russ. orig. / Eng. trans. through translate.google.com) tried hard to underline the virtues of both American and Russian ingenuity (IMHO rightly identified as a characteristic of both peoples) as the survivors of the alien invasion sought to fight back.
So what is the scenario then? Ben (played by Max Minghella) and Sean (played by Emile Hirsch) are two software engineers from America who come to Russia to plug a "foursquare" type social networking site only to find that their Scandinavian partner Skyler (played by Joel Kinnaman) had stolen their idea and passed it off to the Russians as his own. When they protest, he simply tells them "Welcome to Moscow." However Ben and Sean's site is already online elsewhere and two American tourists Natalie (played by Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (played by Rachael Taylor), who know the site from the States happily use it to find some of the club hot spots in Moscow as well as to run into Ben and Sean at one of the clubs. Skyler's there too ... hitting on one of any number of Russian models at the club. True Ben and Sean are still pisse-off at Skyler but between the Lights, the pulsating Hip Hop (both English and Russian) dance music, the two young American women that they meet and all the other beautiful people present, Ben and Sean are getting over it.
Then suddenly the lights go out. Yes, one of the Americans calls out derisively "Moscow!" But soon it's clear that the power outage has nothing to do with any perceived flaws with Russia's electrical grid. Instead, all across the sky these orange glowing orbs are gently dropping toward earth. And they seem to do two things: (1) they quickly short-out electrical devices and (2) they quickly reduce any living organism including humans to ash. So it quickly becomes pandamonium when these strange orange-glowing entities hit the ground.
The five characters mentioned above manage to escape the initial onslaught. How they did so (why they were so lucky) isn't initially clear, but it becomes clearer as the story progresses. Initially, the five are content to hide. Eventually though, they have leave their hiding place in order to eat. When they do so, they gradually come into contact with other, Russian, survivors.
There aren't many. They initially run into Vika (played by Veronika Ozerova) who's their age as well as Sergei (played by Dato Bakhtadze) who's a bit older. Initially, none of them really understand why they "were lucky" to survive, but they start to piece things together and Sergei is certainly the first who really understands it. Note to the readers here, the reason isn't metaphysical like in Steven King's, The Stand . Instead, the reason is more down to earth. The gathering and growing group of survivors beginning to organize themselves into a group of "21st century partisans" also begins to figure out the aliens' weaknesses.
The story thus evolves into a reasonably good puzzle needing to be solved _and_ more problematically to some of the Russian viewers and reviewers of the film (see again the Kinonews.ru review and discussion - Russ. orig. / Eng. trans.) something of an analogy to the Russian/Soviet experience of surviving and defeating the Nazi invasion in 1941. Then too, the Russian/Soviets were initially overwhelmed by the invaders. But slowly they came to figure out the weaknesses of the invaders and to defeat them.
The movie ends only as the survivors begin to see how the alien invaders could be defeated. So the film has been made in a manner that allows for sequels. The ending also offers the possibility that these sequels could take place in other places in the world besides Russia (or the United States). So the creators of this film have created an "alien invasion" story that's _truly global_ with heroes coming from everywhere, and could continue to be told for many episodes to come.
As a result, I do applaud the makers of the film for attempting to create a series in this genre that could be truly inclusive of the whole world and certainly I will be watching to see whether the film-makers come through in actually doing so in the years to come.
A truly excellent book on the Russian/Soviet experience of World War II is a book by British historian/journalist Catherine Merridale, Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945. Published only in 2006, it is easily of the caliber of Cornelius Ryans' Longest Day  / Bridge too Far  or Steven Ambrose's Band of Brothers  (which were about Western Allied/American experiences on the Western Front during WW II). Merridale's book provides the English language reader probably the best available description of life in the Soviet army on the Eastern front during the war.
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