Release Date(s)2017 (January 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Bazelevs, ROME №3 STUDIO, Capelight Pictures (MPI Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of cosmonaut Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov.]
On March 18th, 1965, Soviet cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev and Alexey Leonov were launched into Earth orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the Voskhod 2 spaceflight. Ninety minutes later, Leonov opened the capsule’s hatch, entered an inflatable airlock, and finally stepped out into void, achieving humanity’s first ever extra-vehicular activity (or EVA). But the 12-minute spacewalk was fraught with danger, and the Voskhod spacecraft suffered numerous failures that nearly killed its crew. Dmitriy Kiselev’s Russian-made Spacewalker (produced by Timur Bekmambetov of Night Watch fame) details the personal stories behind this harrowing mission.
What an unexpected treat! Somehow I missed Spacewalker when it was originally released in 2017, but it was worth the wait. This is the first film I’ve seen by Kiselev, but if it’s any indication the director has real talent. His choices always serve the story first, which is refreshing. The drama has a uniquely Russian quality, just as it should, a mix of steady stoicism with romantic/poetic flourishes. The film’s VFX are effective and accurate, but never overblown. Spacewalker opens with Leonov suffering an engine problem in his MIG that forces him to take drastic action to save his aircraft. The CG is nicely blended with live action elements here. Later, during the spaceflight, every effort is made to go for realism as opposed simply to dazzling visuals and the practical effect of weightlessnes during the EVA is very effectively done. What’s more, the cast is fantastic, including Konstantin Khabensky (Night Watch) as Belyayev and Vladimir Ilyin (Attack on Leningrad) as Sergei Korolev, but especially Yevgeny Mironov as Leonov. Mironov brings genuine humor and humanity to the role, which is true to the real Leonov. Best of all, Leonov himself served as a technical consultant on this film (before his death in 2019), helping to ensure its accuracy. He even dedicates the production to the memory of Belyayev.
MPI presents Spacewalker on Blu-ray in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the image quality is terrific—clean and natural looking, with a pleasing level of detail and texturing (my guess is that it was captured digitally). Blacks are deep and detailed, while the colors are accurate if slightly subdued—totally appropriate to the specific period and setting of its story. Little in the way of compression artifacting is in evidence. Audio is available in both the original Russian and dubbed English in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, with optional English and English SDH subtitles. But skip the dub (this Blu-ray’s default setting); the original Russian audio with subs is the only way to go. The lossless 5.1 mix is every bit a match for the visuals. The mix features clear and full sounding dialogue, aggressive and atmospheric use of panning and movement in the surround channels, and plenty of robust LFE. It’s a fine mix for a film of this type.
MPI’s Blu-ray release includes the following extras:
- The First Walk in Space (HD – 26:27)
- The Story Behind Spacewalker (HD – 25:07)
- Trailer (HD – 1:22)
That list may not seem extensive, but it’s the quality that counts here. The two featurettes include the direct participation of Leonov, which for space buffs is a real treat to see. In The First Walk in Space, Leonov tells stories of his childhood, how he came to be a cosmonaut, what his colleagues and experiences were like, etc. This is interspersed with rare photographs and historical film footage from the Soviet space program. It also includes footage from the film and comments by its director. The Story Behind Spacewalker follows a similar line, but focuses more directly on the production itself. Leonov was a true gentleman and as brave an explorer as any. I must say: I know a great deal about the early American and Russian space programs (I actually own one of Leonov’s flown mission patches), and yet some of this documentary material I’d never seen before. Needless to say, I enjoyed these features immensely. Note that both featurettes are in Russian, with English subtitles, while the trailer is the English-dubbed version.
Spacewalker is a terrific drama about the Soviet side of the 1960s Space Race, instantly taking a deserving place alongside such Hollywood classics as Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, From the Earth to the Moon, and First Man. It’s not as flashy as those productions, but it has real heart. If you’re a fan of this genre, or if you’re interested in the topic of spaceflight in general, this Blu-ray is worth every penny of its $15 SRP. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt