The Amphibian Man: Soviet Science Fiction and Love Story

The scene opens into a tropical undersea world where a star-studded man-fish is doing aqua somersaults. Immediately the audience is introduced to this sea devil, a silver, glittery, spandex-wearing young man who has a matching helmet that makes him look like an overgrown plastic shark.

This 1962 Russian masterpiece is both a venture into science fiction, a commentary on post-cold war Russian society, and a great sojourn into a campy mad scientist in a tropical island environment story. The film centers on a brilliant but disgruntled doctor, Professor Salvatore, and his surgery-enhanced son Icthander. To save his lung-disease riddled son, the good doctor decides to use his godly gifts to transplant shark gills in place of Icthander’s lungs. After successfully making a man-fish, Salvatore gets the idea to create a perfect underwater utopia by giving poor people gills and moving them to his underwater republic.

The musical soundtrack to this schlock fest is heavy on psychedelic trance and upbeat but abstract rhythms on indistinguishable percussion instruments. It fits perfectly with the mad scientist theme that carries through the entire film. While “The Amphibian Man” has the backdrop of an idealistic utopian civilization reminiscent of communist theory (not really a surprise since this is post-cold war Russia) but the main plotline is all about the forbidden love between the shark boy Icthander and a pearl diver’s daughter Guitere.

The love story serves to show the generation gap between parents and children in 1960’s Russia since Guitere is torn between her duty and her love for Icthander. Her father is a poor pearl diver in debt to his employer, who just happens to have his sights locked onto Guitere. In order to get out of debt, Guitere’s father wants her to marry his sleazy boss and become rich. Of course, she does not want to and the trouble begins when the star-crossed youths discover love at first sight.

One thing is interesting to not is that every time Icthander went underwater he donned his silver spandex suit with matching flippers and Buck Rogers-esque helmet. Indeed almost every moment when he swam in that suit the audience laughed hysterically.

There was a good turnout for this last showing in the Comrades in the Cosmos: Soviet Science Fiction Film Series. Professor of History Thomas Barrett introduced the film before the showing, saying that “critics hated it for the same reason the public loved it” and that when it first came to Russian theaters it sold 66 million tickets. What Professor Barrett was referring to was the glamorous Western style that it was filmed in, making it popular amongst a new generation of youth who were a different breed from their traditionalist parents while alienating the staunch film critics of the era. Dasha Vaseneva, a first-year in Professor Barrett’s core class said that watching the film “reminded her of her childhood.”

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