So I’m standing next to director Andrei Konchalovsky in a walk-in freezer known as the “VodBox,” dedicated to housing dozens of high-end vodkas. We’re all wearing fur coats and somewhat-ridiculous-even-in-frigid-temperatures fur hats.
We’re ostensibly here to discuss Konchalovsky’s latest film, a 3D imagining of The Nutcracker starring Elle Fanning and Nathan Lane, but for now, we’re sampling vodkas. And hoping no one from PETA shows up.
After tasting Konchalovsky’s first selection – a surprisingly smooth shot of “Beluga Noble Russian Vodka” – the director announces he’s done with his VodBox experience. “I’m from Russia…I’ve had enough of the cold!”
It makes sense to me when he says it, but after he leaves, I realize it doesn’t make much sense at all. Shouldn’t a Russian be able to withstand cold temperatures for longer than the rest of us short-sleeved LA weenies?
This statement isn’t the only thing about speaking with Konchalovsky that’s counter-intuitive. He started his career, after all, directing Chekov adaptations, theatrical productions and operas before moving to America and taking on such art-house fare as Runaway Train and Tango and Cash. Now he’s refashioned one of his home country’s most beloved and revered cultural exports – Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet – into an action-fantasy-comedy, in 3D no less. He’s nothing if not unpredictable.
Once we’re out of the VodBox, warmed and a bit tipsy from the vodka flight, I raise the issue of the 3D immediately. It’s used with some measure of subtlety in the film – largely to establish the depth and scale of the environment rather than the excitement of stuff flying out at you – but was 3D really necessary to tell the familiar story of a Nutcracker who comes to live on Christmas Eve?
“For me, the most important thing is to create magic. But magic has its own limits,” Konchalovsky explained. “3D is a wonderful invention. 3D is a great gimmick…But it should be the proper moment. When you have a close-up, the most important thing is not 3D. It’s emotions.”
He seems to come down basically on the James Cameron side of the 3D debate. 3D is here to stay, and is a great tool, but it’s dangerous in the hands of filmmakers who don’t really understand it. He uses the metaphor of a roller coaster – a ride lasting 5 minutes is a huge thrill, one that you’d pay for, but if it went on for 2 hours, you’d get sick.
“The whole movie is 3D, but I put attention to something else in order to bring some emotions. Without an emotional side, the movie is forgotten 10 minutes after you walk out of the theater. I want the movie to survive and I want you to return to the feeling of your emotional involvement.”
Konchalovsky feels this emotional connection to the “Nutcracker” material, and has worked on the film off and on for 41 years, originally workshopping it as a writer for British director Anthony Asquith. When Asquith died, the idea lingered over the course of 20 years, before advances in CGI and 3D inspired the director to revisit the concept. He thinks of it as not only a useful metaphor, but also an archetypal narrative that can reach people of every age group.
As Konchalovsky tells me “every adult is a child inside. It’s a dormant child sometimes, but never dead. I want to revive this childish side in human beings, even adults, and ask him for tears and I want him to feel thankful for childish emotions that are resolved.”
So after about 20 minutes of talking about the new film, and working through my vodka buzz, it’s time for ME to upset Andrei’s expectations. I finally get around to the truly burning question…Tango and Cash. What happened there? Was he creating the most iconic depiction of ’80s action movie excess on purpose, or did it just happen to work out that way?
It turns out, much of the film we Children of the ’80s know as Tango and Cash, particularly in the third act, resulted from a conflict between Konchalovsky and producer Jon Peters .
“I got in conflict with Jon Peters, the producer,” says Konchalovsky, “and I thought that the end of the film could have been much better. I knew how I wanted to finish it. Classy, with humor and cleverness. Clever. Instead of that, Peters gave me this end with exploding cars that we’ve seen 100 times. And it lost its class.
I felt that I got cheated by the producer and, finally, he fired me. I wanted to be fired. I didn’t want to shoot exploding cars. I wanted to shoot something that would be clever. Like A Fish Called Wanda. Something that has a great, clever finale.”
Yes, he compared Tango and Cash to A Fish Called Wanda. That wasn’t the alcohol. I have it on tape! But I bet you weren’t expecting him to say that.