AW Kautzer's Home Video Home Video/Streaming

Blu-Ray Review: Deaf Crocodile’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan 

The Tale of Tsar Sultan

The fine folks at Deaf Crocodile continue their amazing curation of titles with The Tale of Tsar Saltan.  The Aleksandr Ptushko epic has been lovingly restored and brought to Blu-Ray

The Film 

Deaf Crocodile has brought the work of Aleksandr Ptushko back into the limelight.  With good reason, Ptushko’s work is uniquely stunning in the way that Guillermo del Toro’s work is.  Ptushko and del Toro share that innate ability to take folklore and fantasy from their country of origin and turn it into feasts for the mind and eyes of all that lay eyes on them.  The Tale of Tsar Saltan is a study in that exact type of storytelling.  More succinctly the film is the type of Epic Fantasy that feels uniquely Russian in the micro but Universal in the macro. 

Three sisters a weaver (Vera Ivleva), a cook (Nina Belyaeva), and a pretty one (Larisa Golubkina) all eagerly await the Tsar (Vladimir Andreyev) to choose one of them as his Bride/Queen.  Of course, Tsar Saltan chooses the pretty one and is quickly made queen.  Jealousy instantly enrages the weaver, the cook, and their mother (Olga Viklandt).  These three along with the Tsar’s counsel (Sergey Martinson) conspire against the two.  Their plan of deception works with the Queen and their Son being cast to sea in a sealed barrel.  Thinking they have succeeded has only placed the Tsar Saltan into a deep depression and the Queen and their Son off to a magical island.  On that magical island with the help of an enchanted Swan Princess (Ksenia Ryabinkina), will find a way to not only live happily but get their just deserts against the four that have conspired against them.   

With shades of Cinderella and Sleeping BeautyThe Tale of Tsar Saltan is a delight of a film that manages to zig when you expect it to zag.  One can imagine that Russian audiences know this tale as tired and true as Westerners know the former two.  In fact, there have been multiple iterations of this tale.  None though are as ravishingly beautiful as The Tale of Tsar Saltan.  Director Ptushko and the FX magicians within MOS FILMS during the 1960s were struck with the kind of creative ingenuity and artistic flourishes similar to their Western counterparts at Disney Studios (at the time) and Ray Harryhausen.  The result like the other two’s work, is a timeless artifice that doesn’t bend reality but is so ravishing in its beauty and in the photochemical trickery that one cannot keep their eyes off of it.  

The Tale of Tsar Saltan like all of Ptushko’s work released so far by Deaf Crocodile is a delight for the senses and works as any of his films do… casting a spell over an audience for its all-too-brief 85-minute runtime.  The only critique of Ptushko’s work is that one would have loved his films to be like other Russian masters with runtimes twice the length.  But as they say better to have something wonderful at half the length than something reductive at twice the length.  That minor quibble aside, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, is sure to cast a spell over all that watch it.  

The Transfer

The film has been restored by Mosfilm and Deaf Crocodile with Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion.  I mention all three crediting them all because The Tale of the Tsar Saltan is an exquisitely rendered restoration and authoring.  The color reproduction is a literal candy store technicolor marvel.  The color work that they’ve done to bring this film to home video rivals the beautiful work Criterion has done with their Powell and Pressburger Technicolor work like Tales of Hoffman and The Red Shoes.  The transfer alone is worth the price of the purchase of this Blu-Ray.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • New commentary track by comics artist (Swamp Thing), film historian, and author Stephen R. Bissette
  • Interview with Robert Stotak

The all-new commentary track by comics artist (Swamp Thing), film historian, and author Stephen R. Bissette begins with his bonafides and discusses the fact the film never played in the US when initially released.  Some of the details include the various films that director Aleksandr Ptushko had released in the US and their various forms and titles; the structure of this particular fairy tale; the work of star Larisa Golubkina – including a personal history and other films; the work of Vera Ivleva – including a personal history and other films she appeared in; the work of star Nina Belyaeva – including the tragedy of her passing; a larger discussion of star Vladimir Andreyev life both professionally and personally during his time as a multi-hyphenate; the various make-up FX that they used to bring the various “creatures” and “humans” to life; the work of both Olga Viklandt and Sergey Martinson – including their other work outside of this film; the tone and style that Ptushko imbues in the film; a discussion of the life and times of the author of the original source material Alexander Pushkin; the various adaptations of the source material The Tale of Tsar Saltan; the issues that Ptushko had in developing the project; some of the troupes in the Russian “Wonder Tales” (a term that Bissette takes from another historian) and how they relate to the Ptushko’s work here and his filmography and Russian film in general; and much more.  Bissette’s track, as in the last track for Deaf Crocodile’s Ilya Muromets, is an amazingly detailed, researched commentary track on Ptushko’s work here, the Russian fairy tale, and much more.  For anyone that’s fascinated by this film, this track is required listening.  

Interview with Robert Stotak (69:36) – in this all-new video interview with visual effects artist and film historian Robert Skotak on Aleksandr Ptushko and the history of Soviet fantastika filmmaking, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile Films is another vital piece of informational discovery.  Here Stotak and Bartok begin with Stotak’s background and how he came to filmmaking and his love of these films. Some of the other details include the first films that inspired him like Destination MoonThis Island Earth, War of the Worlds, and more; the first sci-fi films Stotak and his brothers made which used their skills as still photographers they ended up making; how the short films culminated in a 30-minute Time Machine remake in Anamorphic; how they funded these shorts; how Stotak found the work of Aleksandr Ptushko; a larger discussion of finding not just European fantasy but specifically Russian fantasy epics and the various titles he found before Ptushko – which lead the director’s work after he found these fascinating; a discussion about the Cold War – and how it affected the view of these works and the lack of discussion of these films as “Russian Films”; a discussion about the various Russian fatastika and the umbrella of the various genres that this encompasses – including some of the major filmmakers and films from this film genre; an even larger account of how he began researching how these Russian films were made – and how difficult it was to find information, and eventually how in 1980 he formulated a plan to begin account for the history and a very wild account of beginning the communication to get in touch with Russian Filmmakers; his time in Russia doing research on the various films; how the props and various models had gone missing and the reasons why; meeting Ptushko in 2005; how the Russian films influenced his work in the FX industry; how Russian films were censored in the US because of the Cold War; Bartok’s discussion about how Stotak was one of the key reasons why he and Deaf Crocodile went after releasing these films; a discussion about Roger Corman’s purchasing of the various Russian fantastika films and just how radical it was during the height of the Cold War; and much more.  There is so much wonderful information that Stotak gives in this entertaining and fascinating long-form interview that one doesn’t want to ruin everything.  If one has loved Deaf Crocodile’s releases of Ptushko’s work, this interview is almost like a source code of the reason why we have these films being released in the manner we are from Deaf Crocodile – making it one of the more vital special features that DC has released.  

The Final Thought 

The Tale of Tsar Saltan is a wonderful fantasy epic made beautifully by Russian Master Aleksandr Ptushko.  Deaf Crocodile has brought this film to Blu-Ray as only they could.  Highest Possible Recommendations!

Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-Ray edition of The Tale of Tsar Saltan is out now 

%d bloggers like this: