Honestly, that interest did not last as long for me as it did with so many others. In fact, it died out pretty quickly when I realized that space exploration was nothing like depicted on Star Trek, Forbidden Planet, or even Planet Of The Apes. (Plus I discovered claustrophobia!) I wanted the commanding adventure that television and motion pictures promised and not the cramped quarters, freeze-dried food, and conventional speeds that reality delivered.
Still, I kept reading about what the astronauts had to endure both for preparation as well as execution of these fledgling forays into above; and I grew fascinated in a vastly different way with these challenges. Long before I’d seen it depicted in HBO’s From The Earth To The Moon miniseries, I knew of the Apollo 1 tragedy, the launch pad fire that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. And well before Universal Pictures brought Apollo 13 to the masses, I’d read an awful lot about what struggles that three-man crew faced in the failed moon landing and return to Earth.
As I matured, I came to understand that fighting aliens with a phaser-on-stun was not nearly as ‘commanding’ as were these real-life adventures. Movies and television could deliver countless Captain Kirks, but the true pioneers were the men and women who blazed a trail all their own. It is their stories that, inevitably, might make Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers a reality … so kudos to the Bazelevs Production for giving us one more to explore with Spacewalker (2017).
From the promotional materials: “In the heat of the Cold War, the USSR and USA compete for supremacy in outer space. Both superpowers race to be the first nation to have a man complete a spacewalk. No price is too high and no risk is too great. To set off one of mankind’s most ambitious missions, the USSR pair the unlikely duo of a seasoned war veteran, Pavel Belyayev, and a fearless test-pilot, Alexei Leonov. Without proper testing, and inside a tiny spaceship, the two astronauts launch into the unknown to take on what no man has done before …”
For the record, I think it’s important to clarify a few items right up front as I’ve scanned some ‘facts’ on the Information Superhighway in preparation of penning my own review of Spacewalker.
Second, I’ve come across several online outlets that have billed the film as “science fiction.” To be technically accurate, it’s not. Spacewalker is a fact-based drama about one of the earliest missions of the Soviet cosmonaut program. I mention this not to sway anyone away from enjoying the film; rather, I’m simply trying to set the record straight. Think of this as the Russian’s equivalent to Ron Howard’s exceptional Apollo 13 (1995), and you’ll have it in good company.
That said, Spacewalker is, largely, a dramatic delight with some minor exceptions.
Because I’m unfamiliar with the exploits of Belyayev and Leonov, I felt at a loss to understand the gravity of the film’s earthbound set-up. Their relationship – and its particular importance to the story as it unfolds here narratively – could used a bit of tidying up. What appeared to me an almost adversarial ‘friendship’ was, in fact, probably what made them an ideal team; even Leonov points this out later in the film when he insists on being paired with someone his superiors deem perhaps “too old” for their mission. I would’ve liked a bit more story in this respect, even though others might find this depiction acceptable.
However, once our two space heroes achieve orbit, Spacewalker excels on practically every level possible. The true-to-life drama of what these two intrepid souls endured makes for gobsmackingly good cinema, and it’s all delivered with some spectacular production values and state-of-the-art special effects. Watching this at home on my reasonably large flat screen, there were plenty of moments I wished I had experienced on the silver screen. The absolute wonder of outer space as it was discovered by these forerunners to Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is rendered brilliantly by the filmmakers here, and it’s no surprise for me to learn that the flick won the Golden Eagle (the equivalent of the U.S.’s Oscar) for Best Special Effects as well as earned a nomination for Best Film.
Spacewalker (aka Spacewalk) was produced by Bazelevs Production. DVD distribution (for this release) is being handled via MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications? Wow. This Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely incredible from start to finish; no expense was spared in bringing this adventure to life on the silver screen. As for the special features? Honestly – like on many occasions – I wish there were more as the film is the kind of thing I’m always pleased as punch to discover. There are two featurettes that explore the first walk by mankind in outer space, and I was surprised to learn that cosmonaut Alexey Leonov (before he passed in 2019) served as one of the consultants for the motion picture. Thankfully, he’s prominent in both of these mini documentaries … and he’s so damn charming I wish they would’ve given him even additional time to tell us more of what he risked on behalf of our big blue marble.
Fans of reality-based drama will find Spacewalker a delight so long as they can sit through some relatively clunky set-up from the first hour (or so). Once the cosmonauts reach orbit, the film excels at depicting the real-life experiences of a breed of men – true pioneers – that first breached the heavens and propelled our planet into the Space Race. Like reality, Spacewalker is filled with tension and relief in just the right doses.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a Blu-ray of Spacewalker 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.