So.. our “Thrilling Adventures!!” March 2015 Movie Review Festival is officially underway, and in the spirit of all Globe-Trotting Adventurers, we head waaaay waaaay to the other side of Terra Incognito. Well… Russia actually… for our first cinematic adventure gem. It’s 2007’s “Tomb Raider” wannabe “Skalolazka and the Last of the Seventh Cradle”. Neko’s been on the prowl for this one for quite a while. Russian film can be remarkably stubborn when it comes to getting any kind of English friendly DVD release, and this one is no exception. In fact… the only release outside of the Russian Region 5 unsubtitled one is… weirdly enough… a French Region 2 that came with no subtitles at all… and no Russian audio language track either! Yep. It was a straight “dubbed into French” release that was about as worthless for this wee kitten as you might get. D’ohh!!
Synopsis? Sketchy at best, but here goes: “An exciting story about incredible adventures of Alena Ovchinnikova a female rock climber, expert in ancient languages who comes into possession of an ancient artifact of enormous unknown power and by the fate’s will, becomes the savior of human civilization.”
Yep. It took a bit of prowling about to locate some Russian subtitles… in Cyrillic script… that yours truly could work her obsessive Catgirl magic upon to give me some reasonably workable English translated ones to make watching this one possible. Whew!! Yep… my lovely “dorogaya” thinks I’m crazy… and maybe she’s right. 😉 The only way you’ll know for certain is to “Read On” o’ Gentle Visitors and see for yourself…
So… first up some ground rules for our lil’ Festival. In selecting the films for this, I had to come up with at least some kind of parameters as to what would be properly considered a “Raiders” inspired film. Firstly, there has to be a Hero… or Heroine, adventure is an equal opportunity employer after all… Secondly they should be in pursuit of some kind of Treasure… gold, jewels, lost alien tech, magical doodads, you name it. And thirdly, there should be no shortage of exotic travel, deadly dangers, and evil villains to defeat along the way. And… maybe a little romance? Hey… Miyuki’s a big grown-up girl now… and a little romance along with all the derring-do is never a bad thing in this lady’s book. 😉
With that… it looks like “Skalolazka” will fit the bill nicely. It’s more a Russian version of “Tomb Raider” than “Indiana Jones”, but then Lara Croft is practically the video game granddaughter of Indy anyways…. so I think we’re safe. 😉
Anyways… our story gets going as a rumpled archaeologist Dr. Green (played by Ivan Agapov) is reaching the center of a sacred Incan temple somewhere in the Andes of Peru. How do we know it’s a Sacred Temple? ‘Cause there’s a big old glowy stone altar in the middle of it with one of our film’s ancient treasures sitting on it, silly. 😉 He grabs up the funky magic stone right before some of those evil mercenary commando types under the leadership of the brutal Colonel Baker (played by Dmitry Nagiyev) swoop in by helicopter to grab both it and our doctor on behalf of some mysterious cartel of evil rich guys. (Sounds a big vague? Told you those subtitles were originally in Russian… and translating Russian to English is a real bitch… trust this wee Catgirl. 😉 )
They bundle the good Doctor away after blowing the temple sky-high… apparently the magic stone thingee has something to do with this big solar eruption and a giant killer flare that’s supposed to head our way soon. Apparently it’s a once every 10,000 year celestial event that most people figure will result in major world calamity. Sort of like most of the planet getting microwaved and cooked but good. Awww crap. What the faceless multinational corporation wants with the stone… one of seven scattered around the globe by a bunch of ancient astronaut alien guys from “Chariots of the Gods” called the Preludes… is anybody’s guess. They might have explained it, but it got hopelessly lost in translation, I’m guessing.
Cut to our heroine Alena Ovchinnikova (played by Anastasiya Panina). She’s in Moscow where she works as a linguist and folklore expert at a museum when she’s not out doing her favorite thing, rock climbing. Or trying to spend time with her video game obsessed boyfriend and computer programmer Leha (played by Ilya Pale). Their relationship is as rocky as some of the mountain cliffs Alena loves climbing. Now, our heroine Alena is young, pretty, and vibrantly active, with lovely blonde hair and piercing blue eyes… how her boyfriend keeps ignoring her and her attempts at getting all lovey dovey for his silly videogames is totally beyond this little Catgirl. Must be a Russian guy thing… 😉
Pretty soon, the bad guys find they still don’t have all the magic stones, and Doctor Green realizes he’ll need help figuring out where in the world the final one is. Luckily he knows that Alena is a cracker jack expert on the Sun God cults of the world and one phone call to her sends Alena and Leha off to Phoenicia to locate the temple it’s located in, somewhere in modern-day Syria.
She does her rock climbing thing on a big ol’ cliff overlooking the ocean and finds both the temple, as well as accidentally smashing her way into the temple and finding the final “cradle” (That’s what they call the magic rock thingee… more weirdness from the subtitles? Don’t know…) while Leha petulantly hangs out on the beach pissed that she’s not spending time with him.
Right after she gets down, they have a big fight and then that kind of break-up that couples so mismatched like them always seem to have. He storms off, headed back to the hotel in the city to get his stuff and vamoose for home. After he’s gone, Doctor Green shows up, along with Baker and the soldier boys to thank her profusely for finding the temple for them and then shooing her off while they plan to break in and grab the final cradle. It’s so fast, she doesn’t even have time to show the good doctor the weird stone she found…
She gets stuffed in a jeep with a couple of thugs… to drive her back to the city safely… yeah, right. She’s being taken for a ride alright… When the villains figure out she must have found the cradle they phone those guys to put the hard questions to our heroine which results in one of them trying to blow her head off with a rather big pistol. Luckily for Alena, the magic stone seems to like her, and it’s got a couple of neat powers. One, a nice bulletproof force field, and the other the creepy ability to slow down and freeze time around her. That lets her escape from the two easily and also save her from being run over by a local tour bus.
On the bus, she meets precocious little arab boy Ahmed (played by Joseph Al-Amir), her very own “Short Round”, a little guttersnipe and rogue who’ll do anything for a buck. Once he finds out that the pretty blonde Russian woman is on the run, he’s eager to lend a hand… for the right price of course. 😉
It doesn’t take long for the bad guys to show up either, but with sneaky lil’ Ahmed’s help, they get away on a couple of donkeys to hide from our villains in the desert. There we find out that the magic rock kinda likes our little urchin too, and that its biggest magical power is the ability to heal the sick and injured, which it does by restoring a twisted hand that Ahmed has. After that miracle, he swears to help Alena from then on… no charge!! There’s a visit to Ahmed’s blind aunt… some sort of Mystic, who gives Alena some cryptic advice about the Earth and the Power of the Sun… Oooohh! And a soapy sponge bath at her steamroom… Guess they had to throw some nudity in there somewheres…. 😉
The bad guys catch up to them after they make their way to the nearby city of Maalyulya so Alena can try to get her passport back as well as use the internet to try to find out about the cradle. There’s a big chase scene here through the back streets and over the rooftops of the city that is probably the best stunt sequence in the entire film. We get to see Alena at her best using a mix of parkour and her rock climbing skills to evade the mercenaries and Baker as they try to close in on her. One spectacular roof collapse later and she’s “rescued” by Dr. Green only so he can try to trick her into giving him the cradle. When that fails he resorts to strangling Alena until rendered unconscious by a well thrown watermelon from Ahmed.
It’s only a matter of time before the bad guys corner her, but she hooks back up with errant boyfriend Leha who’s been frantically looking for Alena since she got in trouble. Seems he really does love her after all… ahhhh!! With some final help from Ahmed’s Uncle Cooley, a military pilot, they escape the Middle East for the Bavarian Alps to meet with Professor Carl Vaydenhof, another expert on those pesky Preludes. Yes, yes… with the crack commando guys not too far behind…. don’t worry, the movie’s almost at the climax.
It’s here that we find out that apparently the cradles are some sort of “defense system” made by the Preludes to intercept the deadly solar flares when they occur and transform their energy into a release of magical seeds that travel around the earth and heal the planet and nurture new life. But… they have to be in the hands of a pure worthy soul on a mountaintop just at the time the flare hits Earth to work. Oh… and that’s 20 minutes or so away…. How convenient. 🙂
So as the mercenaries pounce our heroine sneaks off to a nearby mountaintop to be there for the big event. The evil Baker and his men follow, capture Leha and try to use him to threaten Alena and get her to relinquish the cradle. Will they succeed? Yeah… like that’s gonna happen…. 🙂
Can’t say the very “New Age-y” ending was as compelling as the end of “Raiders”… in fact for me and Carolyn it seemed awfully silly when you get right down to it. Still, good triumphs over evil, our two lovebirds return home to Moscow to a new life together and the World survives yet another apocalypse by the skin of its teeth. Guess that makes it all good.
So… to wrap things up, I guess I’d give “Skalolazka” a so-so 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s an OK film… but the really esoteric “New Age” folklore felt goofy… and no amount of ancient aliens or the like really made it seem less so. It might have worked better in a Japanese anime than here, but hey, yours truly may be missing a lot of the subtleties thanks to my subtitles. The film looks really good. It’s a top-notch effort with excellent CGI effects and stunt work along with a good cast… particularly Anastasiya Panina as Alena who is both a very likable, spunky, and attractive heroine overall. She has good physicality and easily managed to make her climbing scenes look very real. Ahhhh… and the writers weren’t shy about letting Miss Anastasiya get a little bit dirty and scuffed up too when needed. Definitely added some believability to the character. She gets a couple extra purrs for being my newest Russian Action heroine to keep an eye out for…
As I’ve said, there’s currently no good English friendly DVD release for this one, and my biggest guess is that the whole folklore aspect of the plot was a big turn off for any Western distributors who figured most audiences would be left scratching their heads. Still, it’s a well made film, and I could definitely see a niche genre audience being interested in giving it a look should they ever change their minds. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
A Trailer you ask? Why if your Favorite Catgirl can scour the globe for the original film, do ya think she’d miss snagging a wee Trailer for all her Gentle Visitors? Perish the thought!! 🙂