A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 279 – The Day the Earth Froze

The Day the Earth Froze – December 4th, 2010

Some time back we first saw this movie as an MST3K episode, and it seemed a little odd and poorly dubbed and there was the question of what a Sampo was, but we didn’t think much of it beyond that. Until! We realized that it was actually an adaptation of The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic poem. You know, the poem J.R.R. Tolkien was an expert on and claims to have been inspired by when writing The Silmarillion? And ever since then I’ve enjoyed the MST3K episode, but really paid a lot more attention to the movie itself.

Sadly, the US version is severely truncated. It’s quite short and it’s missing a number of scenes, bringing the running time down to just under 70 minutes. The credits were mucked with and the original cast and crew names replaced with fake ones. It’s very frustrating, but this is the version we could get our hands on in a language we know. We got it as part of a set with two movies on one disc. The other is The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (also done by MST3K) and the two movies don’t have their own running times listed. Instead the back of the box states “Approx. 145 Minuts of Sheer Wonderment”. And really? That is no lie. These are great movies.

Of course, this was made in the late 1950s and was a co-production out of Finland and the Soviet Union, so I guess it’s to be expected that when it showed up in the US in 1962 it would be missing some scenes and the credits would be decidedly Americanized. And the time period it’s from definitely shows in the film quality. There’s a certain feel to the Russian fantasies I’ve seen from the 1950s/1960s, and thanks to MST3K I’ve seen a few. It’s something that might be an acquired taste, but if so, I’ve acquired it. Really, when you look at the movie it’s got fairly high production values. There are elaborate costumes and sets and the special effects are fairly decent. I am fully willing to agree with the box’s claim of sheer wonderment here. Yes, it’s dated and horribly cut down from its original format, but it’s decently made, all things considered, and I do truly enjoy the story.

If you aren’t familiar with the Kalevala, I highly recommend taking a look and reading about it. My personal favorite version is The Canine Kalevala by Mauri and Tarja Kunnas, but I’ve got a soft spot for their style. Being an epic poem, it’s really quite long. This movie (and the book I mentioned above) are very much shortened versions telling only select portions of the story, but when there aren’t a bunch of guys talking over the dialogue it does make sense, I swear.

In the happy land of Kalevala lives a young woman named Annikki. Her brother, a smith named Ilmarinen, has the power to make a magical item called a Sampo. The Sampo can produce salt, flour, gold and many other wonders, but it can only be forged once Annikki falls in love. Unfortunately for the people of Kalevala, as soon as Annikki falls in love with a man named Lemminkainen, the wicked witch of Pohjola, Louhi, kidnaps her in order to force Ilmarinen to make the Sampo for the people of Pohjola. Ilmarinen does so and he and Lemminkainen and Annikki escape, but Lemminkainen returns to Pohjola to destroy the Sampo, since Louhi will only use it for evil. Louhi vows revenge and steals the sun and then there’s a big battle with music that puts the bad guys to sleep.

See? That’s a coherent plot, and there’s a lot that goes on within it. The witch has various winds held prisoner in sacks in a cave and keeps them until she needs them in battle. Ilmarinen makes all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be forged, like boats and horses. There are tasks to be completed and quests to go on. The people of Kalevala band together to defeat Louhi by means other than force and in the middle of it all there’s Annikki and Lemminkainen’s wedding. I really wish we had an uncut version of this so we could see more of the plot and the lands of Kalevala and Pohjola.

Given that I would never go into this movie expecting slick special effects and all, I don’t really have many complaints. No, the performances of some of the cast aren’t that great but I’m willing to give them a pass as they could be obscured by poor film quality and heavy-handed dubbing. Visual expression is important and all, but without knowing the verbal expression from the original, I refuse to condemn the performances. They’re perfectly decent for a fantasy adventure movie from the 1950s. Everything, for me, is perfectly decent. It’s fun. And maybe I’m biased because I’d already seen this on MST3K and enjoyed it there and knew what to expect, but I don’t care. I like this movie. It’s got a charm to it that I love and it’s telling a story I find really fascinating. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s mine.

December 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Day the Earth Froze

December 4, 2010

The Day the Earth Froze

Amanda and I own a number of movies that we were first introduced to through Mystery Science Theater 3000. We’ve already reviewed the completely lost and forgotten but actually quite good space western Moon Zero Two. We also own the Italian super thief adventure film Danger: Diabolik, and several of the Russo/Finnish co-productions that were featured on MST3K. Unlike some of the fodder for Joel, Mike and the bots these are not actually bad movies, just odd. They are fantastic tales of myth and wonder with impressive special effects for the time and a rich color presentation. We have The Sword and the Dragon, and The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, and we’re looking forward to reviewing Father Frost (aka Jack Frost) as part of our x-mas marathon of reviews later this month. And there’s this movie.

The Day the Earth Froze was my introduction to the Finnish oral folklore that was compiled by Elias Lonnrot into the Kalevala. It’s a tale of ancient magics that has a lot of moments that are very identifiably folk-tale elements. For example, there’s the scene where Lemminkainen’s mother tries to discover the fate of her son. She consults a birch tree, then she asks the road, then she asks the sun itself. This sort of thing is very much in keeping with the way I have always heard fairy tales and folk tales told – in keeping with the rule of threes and with anthropomorphized forces of nature. I don’t actually know much about the Kalevala aside from the fact that it was a strong inspiration to J.R. R. Tolkien, who said when he wrote the Lord of the Rings series that he wanted to create an English folk history of a kind after he had translated a version of the Kalevala from Finnish.

The plot here involves a struggle between two groups to acquire the legendary “mill of everything” – the Sampo. On the one side we have the rustic and hard working people of Kalevala, represented by the mighty legendary smith Ilmarinen and his lovely sister Annikki. Legend tells that when Annikki is wed this will be the time when it is foretold that Ilmarinen may forge the Sampo. Along comes the charismatic Lemminkainen – a woodsman from deep in the forest who falls in love with Annikki. Sadly, Ilmarinen cannot forge the Sampo at this time because the only fire he can use to do this legendary task has been stolen by the evil witch Louhi, who soon after kidnaps Annikki to force Ilmarinen to forge the Sampo for her.

Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen travel to the land of Pohjola to confront Louhi – but before they can have Annikki back they must undertake some impossible tasks. Lemminkainen must plow a field which is covered by venomous snakes. (Ilmarinen forges a metal horse to accomplish this task.) Then their boat is smashed and so Ilmarinen forges a metal one (this is a theme for him.) Finally they must forge the legendary Sampo and leave it in the hands of Louhi if they want Annikki back.

After the three of them leave Pohjola Lemminkainen sneaks back and breaks the Sampo, angering Louhi. As a result the witch in retaliation steals the sun from the sky during Lemminkainen’s wedding to Annikki, plunging the land of Kalevala into darkness. So the movie is more than three quarters over before it gets to the actual day the Earth froze. After this the people of Kalevala invade Pohjola in an assault using harps and music which I think must have partially been the inspiration for the Yellow Submarine movie. Music overcomes all evil and love reigns supreme.

That’s a lot of high-fantasy stuff to cram into a movie which is, in the American dubbed version we own, just over an hour long. I very much wish we had the Russian version of the film, which is almost a half hour longer according to IMDB. As it is, there’s a whole lot of magic and myth in this movie. So much that it’s almost overwhelming. I do love a great fantasy film, however, and this is certainly that if nothing else. The acting is pretty wooden throughout, the only really great performance being that of Anna Orochko as the witch Louhi. She glares and grimaces and looms over all of her minions, as well as having most of the best parts of the movie.

I wonder how different my experience of this movie would be if I hadn’t first seen it, many many times, on MST3K. It’s a fascinating fantasy film with a strong story and a lot of magic and adventure. In my head, however, I can’t help hearing Joel and the bots making fun of it. A couple of times as we watched it tonight Amanda and I found ourselves quoting the MST3K riffs, because they’re simply part of the movie in our minds. It’s like trying to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show for itself without the audience participation and floor show. They’re simply inextricable after a few dozen viewings. I can recognize that it’s a great film, but I don’t think I will ever know it the way it would be for somebody who saw it by itself.

December 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment