"Attraction" Might Make You Believe In Love ... but Probably Not Aliens
George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds (1953) showed Earthlings on-the-run from these Martian aggressors who eventually succumb to the smallest threat previously known to man in the finale. During the 1980’s, TV audiences were treated to a pair of miniseries and a spin-off series around V (aka Visitors), a Reptilian race intent upon seeing mankind used to fill the opening of their dietary requirements. Then, in 1996, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich re-invented the ‘alien invasion’ feature with their big screen Independence Day: aliens came to Earth and got their butts kicked in a rousing finale that brought all nations of the world together for the ultimate throwdown.
There have been other films – some big and some small – that have mined similar territory; but 2017’s Attraction has the unique advantage of exploring an alien encounter that doesn’t involve any other nation on Earth except the former Soviet Union. That alone was enough to pique my interest … but, sadly, what I found was much more spectacle than it was substance.
From the promotional materials:
“Moscow finds itself on the brink of destruction after a mysterious spaceship crash-lands in the center of the city. While the government seeks to find out what the ship’s passengers want and how to protect the local population, the rest of the city residents break into conflicting factions. Some view the aliens as a threat that should be extinguished, while others hope that the visitors are peaceful and offer an opportunity to learn more about the world beyond. When a young woman finds herself torn between her seemingly normal life and the alluring promise offered by one of the all-too-human extraterrestrials, the fate of the entire world is left hanging in the balance …”
Attraction begins by hitting all the right marks.
Director Fedor Bondarchuk’s space saga introduces audiences to our heroine, Yulya Lebedeva (aka ‘Julia’ for English-dubbed track) (played by the fetching Irina Starshenbaum). With the loss of her mother, young Julia has lost faith in life, choosing to no longer believe in a higher order (God, aliens, etc.) when her prayers went unanswered. Left behind to her military father ‘the Colonel’ (Oleg Menshikov), she’s invested what interest she has left in school friends. But when the crashing alien ship takes away her closest confidante, Julia further rebels against dear old dad and slips deeper into the arms of an angry boyfriend, Artyom (Alexander Petrov). Eventually, she decides to take fate into her own hands, stealing daddy’s service pistol and joining Artyom and his angry followers intent on sneaking into the quarantined zone and dealing with these invading aliens themselves.
Screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrey Zolotarev’s script relies heavily on implying story elements instead of presenting them visually much less logically. Apparently, contact is loosely established with the alien ship, though its not clearly depicted on screen. Martial law is declared in Moscow, and yet nothing appears to have disrupted the city’s normal routines. Even our heroine’s fated meeting with the young alien captain – Hijken (Rinal Mukhametov) – is strained as this newcomer to Earth seems to know an awful lot about us, our planet, and our customs though it’s never explained how. (Sure, they’ve been ‘watching,’ but how closely?) Why, our young lovers even manage to squeeze in a date to a rap concert taking place in the city that was apparently shut down by the crash of a giant alien sphere, one that reduced much of the city to rubble.
Still, there are other moments within Attraction which make no sense at all.
Worldwide news outlets repeatedly show grainy, security camera footage of the alien crash, but it’s sadly the exact same footage Bondarchuk composed for us, his audience. Early in the feature, Julia and Artyom’s lovemaking gets interrupted when the alien ship crashes into the skyscraper in which she lives: in dire jeopardy, the two young lovers are shown dangling with their bed through a vast hole in the side of the highrise … and, yet, minutes later, they’re running down the street looking for an ambulance for the injured Julia. Erm … how did they get down? We’re never told. Later in the story, Artyom is caught up when the military is called in to quell some local unrest; he’s eventually arrested and is clearly on his way to be tossed behind bars … only to be released from jail not long after. Erm … how did he get out? Did he have a lawyer? Again, it’s never made plain. Even later, Julia and Hijken infiltrate her father’s military headquarters (the alien needs to recover a piece of his technology in order to leave our world). While Julia serves to distract her father, Hijken sneaks deeper into the base, steals the stolen power source, and somehow manages to get all the way back to his young love without capture. Erm … how could this happen? Is the former Soviet military security seriously that inept?
Now, some might dismiss these flaws as nitpicking, and to each his own. But I’ve always argued that the film has to stand on its own merits in order to be honestly appreciated. Good visuals and some fabulous special effects (the Moscow crash sequences are particularly compelling, and the design of the alien craft and battlesuits are impressive) can be used to establish the requisite ‘world-building’ that goes hand-in-hand with Science Fiction films of this nature; but storytellers have to walk that extra mile in grounding the Earth elements in reality. Fantasy must equal the sum of its parts. The extraordinary only works when the audiences accepts the ordinary, and – on that front – Bondarchuk’s film struggles to find solid ground. Its nice moments – and there are more than a few – are simply not strong enough to lift this ship back into orbit.
Think of this one as "Space Romeo And Juliet" and you'll probably have a pleasant enough time with it for its two-plus hours of run-time. But think of it as anything else and you're bound to be disappointed.
Attraction (2017) is produced by Art Pictures Studio and Vodorod. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled via Dark Sky Films. As for the technical specifications? On that level, Attraction is impressive, and its production quality easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any U.S. big budget release: special effects are consistently impressive, and sound engineering is top notch. If you’re looking for special features, then prepare to be disappointed: there are a small handful of production-style featurettes, but they serve more as promotional to the film and/or director than they shed light on how difficult it was to bring this particular tale of galactic threat to the silver screen … and I found them disappointing.
Attraction isn’t bad science fiction, per se, but it certainly isn’t smart SciFi on any level. Sadly, it wastes a handful of interesting ideas (sociological response to aliens, misguided nationalism, etc.) on what ends up being an unconvincing and bloated teenage love affair, burying any depiction of real relationships under billions and billions of spiffy-looking special effects sequences and plot inconsistencies. I always felt like the flick wanted to be something more than what it was, and -- while waiting for that to happen -- I was disappointed that the transition never took place. Still, if bubble gum entertainment is what you’re looking for, it’s easily a mildly diverting spectacle with more in common with the Transformers franchise than it does with Independence Day.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Sky Films provided me with a Blu-ray of Attraction by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.