Gagarin: First in Space (Russia: Gagarin. Pervyy v kosmose), 2013.
Directed by Pavel Parkhomenko.
Starring Yaroslav Zhalnin, Mikhail Filippov, Olga Ivanova, Vadim Michman, Viktor Proskurin and Vladimir Steklov.
On April 12 1961, Soviet fighter pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off into space not knowing what fate awaited him. He was one of the legendary top twenty men selected for a mission wrought with danger and whose bravery knew no bounds in his quest to become the first man in space. Gagarin tells the story of one of modern historys greatest pioneers, and of the Russian space team whose untiring efforts and determination led to the conquering of the unknown.
Man’s venture out into the great unknown of space has provided plenty of thrills for audiences over the years. Whether it’s the fictional journey to Mars or galaxies far, far away, or historic moments depicted on film, our fascination with all beyond our own atmosphere makes for potentially exciting cinema. Now we all know that the Moon landing was fake right? Yes, the footage was actually shot by Stanley Kubrick in case you didn’t know. I just blew your mind I know. Anyway, normally we’re treated to many a film depiction of American space flight, such as Apollo 13. What of the first man in space though? Russia have taken it upon themselves to make a film chronicling Yuri Gagarin’s flight into space which saw Russia win the space race over the Americans.
Gagarin: First in Space portrays Gagarin’s historic flight, inter-cut with flashbacks that span his childhood as a flight obsessed young boy struggling in impoverished Russia, through to his time as a fighter pilot and then his training, along with thousands of rival hopefuls to become the first man in space. How many creative liberties have been taken is open for debate, but none-the-less it offers some interesting insights/depictions of Gagarin’s journey from young dreamer to legend.
This is a world away from your standard mega budget Hollywood film. It’s a more intimate piece which minimises the space sequences in favour of the flashbacks. In part I’d imagine down to budget, but it at least allows us to invest more in Gagarin as a person. The CGI, billed in promotional materials as “amazing” is just okay, but given the fairly low budget, it’s good enough and certainly doesn’t weaken the impact of the space flight sequences.
The cast are generally quite good. Yoroslav Zhalnin bares a remarkable likeness to Gagarin and gives a solid performance to boot. Viktor Proskurin is excellent as Gagarin’s father. There isn’t a great deal of character devoted to anyone else, but I suppose given the film is primarily focused on Gagarin, the most important thing was to get the main man right, which they have done.
The film looks okay. Occasionally the budgetary restraints can’t be hidden and this feels more TV dramatisation than cinematic extravaganza. Still perhaps this mirrors the more austere, low key way Russia went about their space race as opposed to the bells and whistles of the US, and likewise when you compare this to a typical American film of it’s ilk, like Apollo 13, which is dripping in superstar melodrama, I suppose it feels somehow right even if it’s more at home as TV viewing than down your local multiplex. Director Pavel Parkhomenko does a solid job, though the film suffers from some excess weight and some of the flashbacks could have been trimmed or removed entirely. In the end this feels a little low key and perhaps in some ways lacking a bit of Hollywood pazazz. It also fails to add an element of nail biting tension to the space flight itself. Perhaps some embellished complication might have helped. A few screws coming loose perhaps.
This will undoubtedly appeal to space and history buffs. It’s not as gripping and interesting as it could, perhaps should, have been but it’s efficiently made and at least does the historic moment justice.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★