Russia’s “The Challenge,” the first feature-length film to be shot in space, was released in Russian theaters on Thursday, and the first reviews are coming in.
Filmed in 2021, the movie follows a Russian doctor who has to go to space to perform surgery on an injured cosmonaut. Russian actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko traveled to the International Space Station and filmed the movie over the course of 12 days alongside professional cosmonauts.
Komsomolskaya Pravda, a state-aligned outlet, gave the film a glowing review, calling it an “unobtrusive melodrama” with eye-popping outer space sequences.
“On the whole, everything related to space is perfectly done in The Challenge - a luxurious smooth rocket takeoff in slow motion you will not be able to forget for a long time,” the review said.
Peresild’s blonde hair in the absence of gravity “turned into something like a strange crown,” KP wrote, and “will become one of the symbols of the new Russian cinema.”
Livelier in imagination
Film.ru gave the film a more mixed review, saying the script changes in tone when the film moves from Earth to space. The director “invites the audience to share genuine joy” in the corridors of the space station, but doesn’t fully live up to expectations.
“A movie shot in space really sounds like a dream come true. But do not forget that every fantasy is livelier, more colorful and magical in the imagination than in reality,” the review said. “The dream became a reality and lost much of its enigmatic charm and inviolable mystery.”
A feminist message
“The Challenge” has a feminist message embedded into the space dramatics, wrote Russian outlet Vokrug TV, as Peresild’s character outperforms male candidates who are considered to embark on the mission.
It said the film was “discordant in structure,” and that flashback sequences during the most climactic parts of the movie “reduce the degree of the narrative, making it look like a TV series.”
The View From Hollywood
The film was co-produced by state-controlled station Channel One Russia in partnership with the country’s space agency Roscomos, and was hailed as a national achievement.
In releasing the film, Russia beat out Tom Cruise, who said in 2020 that he was working on a movie that would be shot in space, in collaboration with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Similar to “The Challenge,” most of the story will take place on Earth before Cruise’s character ”needs to go up to space to save the day,” Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Film Entertainment Group, told the BBC last fall. Cruise is famous for doing his own daredevil stunts.
The movie could still make history. Langley said the project involves Cruise “taking a rocket up to the space station and shooting and hopefully being the first civilian to do a spacewalk outside of the space station.”