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K-19: The Widowmaker in our magazines

THE MOVIE: K-19: The Widowmaker

Harrison Ford • Liam Neeson
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow

Russian submariners in the snow THE CONCEPT:
Inspired by a true story that took place during the Cold War in 1961,
K-19: The Widowmaker spotlights the disastrous mission of a Russian nuclear submarine K-19, and the courage and fortitude of its captain and crew.

U.S. RELEASE: July 19 2002 • Rated: PG-13


“I was met with some suspicion and mistrust when I went to Moscow to meet some of the survivors and the widow of the Captain of the K-19 submarine. And given how Russians have been handled in Hollywood movies, it’s understandable. Who am I to tell their story? So it was a process, but one that ended in a lot of very emotional conversations and hugs, and I was asked to give their lives and that experience meaning – it was a huge request of which I did not take lightly.”

“This is my second tube movie – I did Air Force One. There are similar problems in filming, staging and keeping an environment alive and visually interesting. But Air Force One was at least twice as big as the submarine. I think it’s interesting when you get on a set that’s as confined as that, you develop behaviors that I think are appropriate for those circumstances.”

K-19 afforded the cast an opportunity to portray heroism in a timeless way. There are great human dynamics in this story. Under incredible stress, faced with death, these men summon a sense of duty and commitment to each other and to all of Humanity.”

“If it was completely authentic they’d be speaking Russian and there would be subtitles. But I wanted to create a coloration, and we basically developed what we familiarly called ‘K-19 speak,’ meaning they had to speak like you and I are speaking, it had to be easy, it couldn’t be as if they are Russians who have learned English and are struggling to find the language. All the actors come from all over the world, I have American actors, British actors, Scottish and Canadian actors; so I wanted to give them a kind of unification. Russia is a country of a lot of time zones, so I also felt that any kind of coloration that their respective dialect would give ‘K-19 speak’ would be fine.”

“There was some question about whether we should be doing an accent. I thought it would help remind us always that we were in a Russian context. One of the most important things to do in this film was to maintain a Russian point of view for the purposes of commentary, and to help remind the audience that this was a Russian story.”

“This is not a documentary, and it’s told in 2 hours and 17 minutes, so there are definitely compressions and connected tissue that had to be created. But the champagne bottle not breaking [when the sub is christened], the doctor being killed, the reactor officer being fired and the fact that these men were not allowed to speak about what happened on the submarine, and that they didn’t meet again for 28 years [is factual].”

“I made several trips to Russia to do research, and on two occasions I got a chance to meet with members of the submarine’s crew, all in their seventies now. One of the interesting things is, because a submarine is so compartmentalized, and because the information about what was going on was not necessarily shared by those in command, they all had different stories about what happened. But what we were looking for was a dramatic telling of this story of their sacrifice and their devotion to duty, and we were quite willing to take dramatic license to give that story a more compelling and cinematic expression.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Images above © Paramount Pictures
Feature © 2002 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #621, August (MIB) 2002 cover

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Film Review, Superpowered 2002 cover

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