Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt bogom)

Review by David Paul Hellings


Synopsis and production info:

“Based on the novel by legendary Russian sci-fi authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (whose ‘Roadside Picnic’ was adapted by Andrei Tarkovsky as Stalker) the film, a dream project for director Aleksei German since the late 1960s, commenced shooting in 2000, would take six years of shooting, a further six of post-production and a posthumous premiere before his masterpiece was finally unveiled. His son, Aleksei German Jr. (a respected director in his own right) finished the editing of the film before its premiere where it has gone on to play the festival circuit in various cities including Rome, Göteborg, Karlovy Vary and Seattle.

A group of scientists visit the distant planet Arkanar, and discover a society still trapped in its own medieval era. Unable to interfere with the course of its history, they can only watch in mounting horror as all sparks of intelligent and independent thought are mercilessly snuffed out by Arkanar’s cruel rulers. Will they remain enmired in their squalid existence forever, or can the visitors subtly nudge the more open-minded in the right direction? Truly, it’s hard to be a god.

But masterpiece it is: a visually astonishing, almost tactile recreation of an unnervingly recognisable alternative universe, drenched in blood, mud and the tears of the oppressed”.

– via Arrow Video


The late Aleksei German’s 177 minute sci-fi epic, based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel arrives quickly on Blu-ray and DVD, a fitting tribute to the director who sadly never lived to see his final film completed.

“Hard to Be a God” is a challenging yet rewarding piece that should prove popular with fans of Russian cinema, thoughtful sci-fi, and also work similar to that of Tarkovsky. It is visually stunning, a recreation of a doomed, middle ages alternate Earth in which there is no room for philosophy or art, only the rule of brutality in which life is extinguished on a whim. It is a world that is a mixture of “Stalker” and the penal colony of “Alien 3” in its thinking, with a “Marketa Lazarova” sense of the epic medieval. Shot in stunning black and white, the grim, gritty period realism of a world of blood and mud is vivid and cinematic, the scientists’ perspective presented from the point of the view of the camera recording events.

The cast is authentic, not the type you’d see at a Hollywood casting, but characters that add to the reality of an unreal piece of work. The production took six years and then another six for post-production. The director would not live to see its completion, passing away in 2013, having made only six films in forty years.

“Hard to Be a God” presents an unforgiving world; a planet near to Earth that houses a life form that is from our past and reveals how little, in real terms, mankind has progressed from the harsh days of the middle ages. A savage feudal system of basic needs and even more basic response to anybody that opposes it. The authenticity of the world is remarkable, a visual delight of grim moodiness for which Aleksei German was noted throughout his career. The director, himself, was noted for his refusal to compromise, an approach that brought him into conflict with the studio he worked for, as well as the Soviet era authorities and beyond. It is this sense of single-minded vision that has resulted in one of German’s finest films.

The central premise of a group of Earth scientists that have arrived on the planet to record the events, whilst having to adopt a policy of non-intervention, is a curious one that pays off as characters often play to camera or simply note its existence. It’s as though we’re in a zoo watching the infant primates at play or attack, while not being able to do anything about it except watch in amusement, horror, or both. It’s not dissimilar, at times, to watching the apes from “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

It’s hard to be a God in many ways in German’s epic.

“Hard to Be a God” is a deeply rewarding piece for the viewer. It is thought provoking and pessimistic. It is a dirty window on another world and, in turn, our own. The Blu ray is stunning: the detail of the smoky, rainy, muddy world is presented in all its raw glory, as are its brutally uneducated inhabitants. It is, quite simply, a remarkable and unforgettable piece of cinema.

“Hard to Be a God” premiered at the London Film Festival in 2014 and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video from 14th September 2015.


Presented on DVD and Blu-ray with specially revised subtitles and brand new extras presented in Blu-ray packaging designed be celebrated graphic artist Andrzej Klimowski and on DVD with artwork featuring the stunning new UK poster artwork.


High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation.

Original Russian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround Sound.

Optional English subtitles, revised especially for this edition.

Introduction by co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita.

Exclusive interview with Aleksei German Jr, who completed his father’s film after his death.

The History of the Arkanar Massacre, an appreciation of the film by Daniel Bird.

The Unknown Genius: Michael Brooke looks at Aleksei German’s creatively dazzling but politically troubled career.

Extensive galleries of film and behind-the-scenes stills.

Theatrical trailer.

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski.

Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing on the film and more!


Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.

Optional English subtitles, revised especially for this edition.

Introduction by co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita

Exclusive interview with Aleksei German Jr., who completed his father’s film after his death.

Theatrical Trailer.

This review originally appeared on SFFWorld:



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