The Cosmonaut – Beautiful Evocative Art Sci-Fi For And From The Internet Generation

May 16, 2013 · Posted in Art & Entertainment, Movies & TV 

Yesterday I finally saw The Cosmonaut, a crowd sourced and crowdfunded sci-fi film from Spain, and I was simply blown away. Beautiful, evocative, thought provoking and bold – that’s how I like my sci-fi.

The Cosmonaut poster

When I was working on Iron Sky, we got in contact with these Spanish guys who had a film project of their own that was also based in crowdfunding and crowd sourcing. I got immediately interested in it, since the themes and the promises of the project really appealed to me personally. The creator of the film had gotten obsessed with the Space Race era rumors of failed Soviet space missions that were hushed. This was woven into an idea of a film of a lost cosmonaut, who returns to Earth and finds it empty of human beings. The Cosmonaut is not only a film, it’s a transmedia project spanning a number of webisodes, a book, and much more. In the time of writing this, the film will e released online under Creative Commons in a couple of days.

The Cosmonaut Trailer (In all your screens – May 18th 2013) from Riot Cinema on Vimeo.

The premiere of The Cosmonaut was earlier this week, and I gave Timo a hand in arranging and promoting a big screen premiere here in Finland also. We did a little speech beforehand, introducing the film and talking a little bit about sci-fi, the director Nicolás Alcalá chimed in via Skype video chat to say a few words about the project, and then the film started rolling.

The Cosmonaut

There’s always the moment of slight cringiness when you start watching something like this that you have backed yourself. Oh god, please don’t let it suck. Well, I was certainly heard on that little prayer. When the end credits were rolling, I was sitting stunned in middle of the shuffling audience. The Cosmonaut shot right up to my top-5 of sci-fi films. The story was beautiful, the casting was just so and the actors did a bang up job, and the visuals and the soundscapes were evocative. Furthermore it was something my sci-fi sweet tooth had been hungering for some time now: uncompromising, smart sci-fi that didn’t look down on the audience.

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Frankly, I haven’t watched that many sci-fi movies lately, since to be blunt, most of them are really fucking stupid. There, I’ve said it, feel free to call me a snooty elitist geek now. Then again, sentiments like this are heard also from within the industry, with the finger pointing at the management.

In my little speech before the film I talked a little bit about the state of sci-fi film. As someone who was brought up with Lem, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov and Strugatsky, in my thinking sci-fi is a genre which whacks you with an idea that makes you think of things in a new light. Of course, sci-fi has been also entertaining from the beginning. In the old pulp stories you had a whole lot of martians, rocketships and ray gun battles. That certainly holds true in the big money sci-fi you get out of Hollywood nowadays – you have a lone hero, US marines or maybe a couple of agents saving the world at least four times per year, and let me ask you a question: when did you last see a big money sci-fi film without a single assault rifle in it?

The thing is, that’s just a small slice of what sci-fi as a genre is. Sci-fi has traditionally dealt with big, new, difficult ideas – or especially in case with Eastern Bloc sci-fi, with the everyday world in a way that got through the state censorship. And if you think this is just some ye olde time Soviet thing, let’s think a moment about Kirk’s and Uhura’s kiss, shall we. This seems to be totally absent in the big project sci-fi lately, apart from naivistic slogan level stuff such as Avatar’s “trees good, greed bad” epiphany.

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It’s ages since I’ve felt really challenged, or even particularly moved by big screen sci-fi. An example from the late springs to mind: Oblivion. It had potential to do something interesting, but then in the middle you got Einar the Expositioneer stepping in once again and explaining the whole thing away in case there was a brick on the cinema wall that didn’t get what the plot was. Also, it relied on the traditional What A Twist, which is starting to get damn old. Another film I just saw, Cloud Atlas fared much better, and it stands out as an example that proves the rule for me – that film has stayed rattling in my head ever since I saw it, and I really need to pick up the book one of these days.

The Day the Movies Died is an article that sums the situation with big money films pretty well. The Inception was the smartest sci-fi you saw on big screen in ages, and it had hard time getting made – and in the end half the movie is firefights inside peoples’ dreams. J. Michael Straczynski slammed the TV channel bosses in an interview earlier this year, where he amongst other things said “2001, one of the most classic SF motion pictures of all time, could never get made today. Not a chance. Too cerebral, they’d say. Not enough action. All the crowdsourcing in the world won’t rewire the neurons engaged in that kind of thinking.

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The times, they are changing, though. Nowadays anybody with the will and the drive can create even a very effects heavy sci-fi film without the backing of big studios. The gatekeepers have more or less lost their monopoly in deciding which sci-fi films can be made and especially distributed around the world. There’s been a steady trickle of interesting stuff that’s more or less independent, such as Moon, Monsters, Primer, Trollhunter and so on. Now there will be more filmmakers like The Cosmonaut guys who can take a step even further and go “screw your lowest common denominator, I’m going to make an art sci-fi film in the style of old Soviet films, and it will be a love story framed around a cosmonaut lost in space, and we will release it for free on the internet. And, most importantly, we are going to make it slow, arty and fucking awesome, so up yours traditional wisdom of Hollywood!”

I’m convinced that decades from now when we look back to the opening years of 2000’s, it will be the creative, driven nuts such as The Cosmonaut crew who will be behind the sci-fi classics of this time, and nobody will remember the produced-to-porridge Hollywood gruel but as footnotes in film history.

Now, go give your love to The Cosmonaut guys in their website, Facebook and Twitter.

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6 Responses to “The Cosmonaut – Beautiful Evocative Art Sci-Fi For And From The Internet Generation”

  1. Tianyi on May 16th, 2013 09:41

    Would’ve loved to have been there, Janos. Probably have to see how to get it to the big screens in China 🙂

  2. trifero on May 16th, 2013 14:11


  3. aeroroldy on May 19th, 2013 01:37

    Being an Spaniard, I have followed, supported and shared The Cosmonaut project as soon as I heard about it and saw the first teaser, totally handmade. I was really moved and captivated both by the crowdsourcing idea and by the plot itself.

    I was fortunate enough to watch the movie during the Madrid presentation earlier this week, with most of the crew and the director. They also showed some of the short films part of the so called “transmedia project”.

    I had the same feeling you describe when lights went low “I want to like it, please don’t let it be really bad”. I can guess that most of the audience felt the same.

    The movie is not really a masterpiece. It is the outcome of an awesome idea and project, but, in my opinion, the movie itself is not really that amazing. It falls short in a lot of some aspects.

    Do not get me wrong, it is light years from actual hollywood sci-fy. Good taste, no need for big explosions or special effects every two seconds. The photography is really good, actors do a good job, the soviet era recreation is evoking and charming. Some scenes are really worth the movie…scenes, that’s it.

    The plot is not developed enough, nor the characters. It looks more like a collection of scenes, of short films. Really nice ones, but lacks continuity. And it has way too many oneiric scenes.

    The Cosmonaut is not a masterpiece. But it is the future. For god sake it is the team first movie!…can you imagine what they can do in the future…but they have to get the right feedback. Just because we love the project, we should not say the movie is a classic.

    It is a classic because it opens ground for a new way of developing movies art that the current industry is not able to produce.

    I will watch The Cosmonaut more times. I will watch all the short films. I will buy, donate and give them more money, to be sure they do more films.

    I love The Cosmonaut. It does not have to be perfect for that.

    Let´s do it right.

  4. Janos on May 19th, 2013 12:31

    Hi aeroroldy – Maybe you misunderstood me a bit, or I was a bit unclear in the post on the fact that I’m not branding The Cosmonaut as an instant classic right off the bat or claiming that the film walks on the water, although I really liked the film. Your second last line mirrors my sentiments also: I love the film, although it’s not perfect. They took a very tough genre and a cinematic style for their first project, and managed to take it to the end with honors.

    What I was talking about in the post is that I’m certain the classics of this time will rise from amongst the creative crazies that are now out there to wreck the old film making paradigm, and The Cosmonaut guys are definitely part of that wave with an extremely good start. I would love to see them continue on this road, not to bow to the century old “wisdoms” of the Hollywood film making model and practices, but continue doing their own stuff in their own way, creating films that go against the grain of the lowest common denominator the big budget sci-fi bows to, and to perfect their art on the way.

  5. aeroroldy on May 19th, 2013 16:52

    Could not agree more. I am starting to feel the floor trembling under my feet…if all us geekdreamers start to tune in… What is next?

  6. MyThreeCents on June 20th, 2013 19:25

    Having met the director, listened to his pitch; knowing about their “issues” with the founding, and having experienced their “we are so beyond good and evil, so f*ck off” attitude, it is very difficult for me to find anything really interesting with the movie itself, not being able to divorce the result from the production team behind.
    Gotta give them the credit for raising so much money, mine included, but not for the movie they ended up making.

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