Ku! Kin-dza-dza (2013)
Film review #355
Director: Georgy Danelia, Tatyana Ilyina
SYNOPSIS: A world-renowned cellist is on his way home when he is approached in the street by a young DJ claiming to be his nephew. The two see a strange looking fellow who wants to know “the number for their planet”, and when they press the button on the device in his hand, are instantly teleported to an alien world. The two of them must work together to find a way home, while also trying to navigate a dystopian society that very little sense to them…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ku! Kin-dza-dza is a 2013 Georgian/Russian animated film, and a remake of the 1986 soviet film Kin-dza-dza. The original is a much loved film in it’s home countries, and is a very good dark comedy that also addresses issues of discrimination through its absurd setting. The story of the remake is very similar to the original: some of the scenes are practically identical, and for the most part, it captures the essence of the first film pretty well. Vladimir Chizhov and Tollik Tsarapkin are teleported to a distant alien planet after accidentally pressing the buttons on a device that a strange man was holding on the streets of Moscow. They find themselves on the planet Pluke, and encounter Bi and Wef, a pair of locals who try and swindle the two of them out of everything they have. The group forge an uneasy alliance as Uncle Vova (Vladimir) and Tollik try to find their way home, all the while trying to adapt and survive on this planet whose social structure is completely unlike anything they have ever encountered, such as social status being at least partially determined by the colour of one’s trousers. The film retains the story of the original, and so keeps most of the fun and satirical elements that made it so popular. In some parts the darker elements feel a bit lighter, as this remake is intended to be aimed at a more general audience.
One of the biggest changes is the names and occupations of the two main characters have been changed: Vladimir is now a world renowned cellist (in the original he could play the violin, but the instrument wasn’t his) instead of a foreman, and Tollik is a DJ. One of my main criticisms of this remake is that these small changes do end up ultimately harming the essence of what made the original successful. One of the key strengths of the original was the banality of the main characters and their mundane existence suddenly having to cope with the rules and social structure of an alien planet. In this version, having Vladimir be a famous violinist sets him up as having a backstory that disrupts this banality. There’s also a story about his ex-wife that is quietly built up in the background too, which again loads up the character with a bit too much baggage, rather than a blank slate that doesn’t bring as many complications into the story. Having Tollik be distantly related to Vladimir as well undoes the original’s premise of two men who just happen to be walking down the street at the same time and having never met each there before having to work together on an alien world is complicated through trying to develop these characters independently of the situation.
There are some changes, however, which add some good and interesting takes on the story. Being an animated film, there’s much more scope to be creative with the characters and design of the alien world. There is, of course, a risk of again disrupting the plainness of the original by being too over-the-top and fantastical, but to the film’s credit, in this respect it pulls it off quite well. Being set on an alien world, the characters are drawn with a more alien appearance, but they’re just alien enough without it being distracting. Other minor characters are more odd in appearance, but since they’re only on screen for a short time they don’t disrupt the tone of the film. Credit should be given to the film for achieving this balance. The animation in this film should also be commended: it is fluid and full of expression, and offers some detail and scenery that the original could not provide.
Overall, Ku! Kin-dza-dza is a faithful remake of the original, but ultimately doesn’t offer anything new or improve on what has gone before. The original was a sparse, small production, whereas this remake has a big budget and funding to appeal to a larger audience, and the changes that are made to accommodate this mostly end up affecting it a negative way. It’s not a bad film, because it sticks close to the original, and the original is very good: but when you’re remaking a film that was more or less perfect, you need to have a damn good reason to do so. Changing it to an animated film brings with it some benefits, but on the whole there just doesn’t feel like there’s enough substantial difference to justify the remake, and there’s no real reason to recommend it over the original.