Major Grom Is The New Thunder

On May 5th, the Russian comic film Major Grom: Plague Doctor (2021) became available on two popular streaming services at once. Kinopoisk HD made a gift to subscribers and immediately posted the movie for free, while Netflix bought the rights for the highest price on the Russian market. The film will be released as a Netflix Original – which means Russian cinema is going international.

by Naya Guseva


Major Grom: Plague Doctor has become the second full-length Russian movie to be reliased on Netflix. Along with it, the historical drama Silver Skates (2020), partially based on Mary Mace Dodge's book of the same name, also appeared on the platform.

Still, back to our Thunder. The first comic issue about Major Grom came out in 2012 under the label of Bubble Publishing. In the eight years since the debut, over 100 issues and 25 books of the series have been published with a combined circulation of over a million copies. Of all Major Grom's adventures, the story of the Plague Doctor is considered the most popular and is still an absolute bestseller. In 2017, a short film was released and presented at the world's biggest pop culture festival, Comic-Con in San Diego and at the Berlin Film Festival. It was the first step towards the creation of a full-fledged film universe. Its main feature becomes an intimacy with the viewer and what is familiar and dear to him.
"The main character is a grounded guy who struggles with injustice. And accordingly, the problems that Major Grom encounters on his way are absolutely realistic, important, simple and understandable. We wanted the audience to recognise themselves and their immediate environment in what's happening on screen so that it's both relevant, topical and timely,"

says Bubble editor-in-chief and film producer Roman Kotkov
The whole beauty of the film is that it is steeped in Russian flavour. It's a national interpretation of the Hollywood standard. You're likely to find similarities with American bestsellers, but with these references, the makers pay salute to the colleagues: you see director Oleg Trofim's acknowledgements to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan in the credits, and Julia Pchelina's costumes were inspired by Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction and Leela from The Fifth Element. Trofim himself had never been interested in comics, preferring classical literature, but had an epiphany while working on the film. His previous feature film was the sports drama Ice, and more recently Oleg has been making music videos for Russian artists.
One of the details of the film, which puts it on par with Hollywood standards, is the design. It really was given a huge amount of attention, from drafting the casino logo to coming up with the policemen's business card. "We were tasked with refreshing the existing police symbols, making them look like the real thing, but also new and unique," says designer Alexander Pestov. - We went through about fifty options and eventually settled on the simplest version. Police symbols are used on many things and objects: the main coat of arms, which hangs in the police, a huge sticker on the floor at the station, chevron in the design of cars, police uniforms, mugs, business cards and much more."
Following the film's release, St Petersburg can definitively cement its status as one of the most cinematic cities, as it helped achieve the necessary atmosphere. The filmmakers abandoned the depiction of Soviet heritage and turned to the historical part, which is frozen in time. The film shows St. Petersburg as a majestic palace city held up by Atlanteans. Due to the filming process, the historical centre was closed, explosions and car chases were set right under residential windows and several vehicles were destroyed.

For the European viewer, Major Grom does not seem supernatural, as such stories appear on the big screens every year. In Russia, however, comics have never been a traditional part of culture. This is not just a comic book adaptation, but a successful attempt to draw attention to Russian creativity, which is worthy of recognition. In Russia, comics get a lot of unfounded heckling simply because it's not a traditional genre. It is only a way of storytelling: the content remains relevant specifically to Russian readers.

Major Grom raises issues of importance to its audience. "Mired in greed and self-interest, greedy bastards" are the plague that abuses the country and from which the protagonists wants to get rid of. Igor Grom - Police Major, who fights crime outside the statutes and does not follow the generally accepted rules, when trying to stop evil and get the necessary information. Sergei Razumovsky is a programmer and philanthropist who grew up in an orphanage and has spent his whole life dreaming of making this world a better place by creating a free social network. And the Plague Doctor becomes a saviour and a new justice for those who are disillusioned with the state system and no longer expect justice from it. None of the characters can be classified as good or evil: the division into black and white simply does not work. And this too has its own national identity - some problems require a "hard and radical" solution. People going out to the streets and smashing up the city become a metaphor for popular sentiment. The audience is just as tired of impunity as the on-screen inhabitants of the city.
So a huge fan base has gathered around the film, which is close not only to the characters but also to the events in the film and the comic book. "Fans for fans," is what its makers say about the film. Regardless of age, everyone can find something for themselves in the film. The plot is not laden with complicated political stories but tells a story in varying degrees close to everyone. Throughout the eight years of the comic's existence, it is the fans who have been the driving force behind bringing the characters to life on screen. It's a story that has left thousands of readers across the country unmoved. And we hope that audiences outside Russia will recognise the existence of Russian comics and a universe which could become a new milestone in the development of Russian cinema. After all, it, like the main characters in the film, needs only one thing - support.

We spoke to people just as important to the film as its creators - its fans. In March the hashtag #поддержитемайорагрома was trending on Russian Twitter in support of the film. Below you can read about how Major Grom won hearts and see how the first Russian comic book movie inspired its viewers.
"I found out about Bubble six years ago and since then it has been present in my life to a greater or lesser extent. Over the years, I've developed a special attitude towards mе: for me, it's not just a business, but a place where friends work. Therefore, I also relate to the film as something made by people close to me. This film gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new world of an alternative Russia. There's a chance to escape from reality and to observe the beauty. But the film doesn't end when you leave the cinema: the interaction with the fans and the creators makes you feel like you're not just a spectator, but part of a larger universe. The film has gathered a fantastic audience around it that supports both the creators and each other. I have felt this support and I hope the creators will feel it for a long time."

twitter: @tanya_na_divane
"I remember the days when Bubble only produced four comics, and no one even dreamed of films. They gave life to comics in Russia, created incredible characters and fascinating settings. I still can't believe that now we have a film - they did it! But what is most striking is how comfortable the film has become for many people, including myself. We draw inspiration from it, we analyze it and take it apart frame by frame because it is interesting, curious, has struck a nerve and heart, we try to defend and support it because we understand - this film is made with incredible love, enthusiasm, attention to detail, faith in the best in people and care for the viewer. And every day since its release in cinemas, the filmmakers have proved their word with action, earning even more well-deserved sympathy. This film has given hope for the development of the film industry in Russia, and we can only applaud and wait for the new appearance of our favorite comic characters on the screen."

twitter: @Koralina_Fanta
"I've been in the Bubble fandom since 2015. I really like comics, I've been following every novelty, every issue, and, of course, the news about the film was a pleasant shock to me. It always seemed that this particular film would change Russian cinema forever. A huge number of people work in Bubble, put their whole soul into it, so I never had any doubts that everything will work out. They just have a great team. When I saw the cast, I was ecstatic because it's a total hit. All the work done is motivating to live and create - it's thanks to Bubble and the film that I got back to my old dream of becoming a screenwriter and I'm pretty much on my way to fulfilling it now."

twitter: @Asgardskaya

"I found out about the film in the summer of 2020 completely by accident – saw some photos from the shooting on Twitter. My first reaction was disbelief: superhero movies are not very good in Russia. I watched the trailers, read the comics, started to follow what was going on and waited. I understood that this is a really great project with a lot of effort put into it. For me, Major Grom is a breakthrough for Russian cinema, an indicator that we can set the bar high. We can make quality, beautiful, interesting films that audiences will be proud to discuss. I am not versed in the production side of cinematography, but with a casual viewer's eye, I understand that there is real art in this film. The authors do not say whose side is the truth - you choose it for yourself. The film has wonderful creators - these are people who responsibly approach their work, creativity, respect the audience and simply arouses admiration."

twitter: @dillian_white
"Once the release of the first film trailer and introduction to the comic book lineup was a ray of hope for me at a very difficult time. And at first, it was really a breath of fresh air and a rush of inspiration when I had given up waiting for it. And then it gave me a second wind because through my interest in Russian comics I suddenly felt a love for Russia, which I had never been able to form in me because I was attracted almost exclusively to European content. I began to explore Russian culture – Russian rock, Russian cinema, went to St. Petersburg and finally understood what people were looking for there. I've always had a heart for something far away and this is quite a complicated story for me personally because I've always worked with some foreign material and I've always looked for inspiration in a foreign way. It's a compromise between modern genres: superhero action cinema and already slightly out of fashion, but native to Russian viewers, series about cops. Plus the minor characters are very archetypal in principle, and the connection is subconscious with images of Russian culture: Dima Dubin looks a lot like Shurik from the cult Soviet films - the same touching and honest young romantic with big glasses, and Colonel Prokopenko reminds me of the kindly boss from the same TV series about the police. I found a deep love for Russia and what talented people do here. I love talking about it because I feel how important a project becomes which is able to evoke such feelings."

twitter: @constrictorpol
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