Andrei Tarkovsky’s Masterpiece Stalker Gets Adapted into a Video Game


Of all the movies out there, Andrei Tarkovsky’s mad­den­ing­ly oblique mas­ter­piece Stalk­er (1979) doesn’t seem like a like­ly choice to be adapt­ed into a video game. Yet it was.

The movie, Tarkovsky’s last in the USSR, is dense and enig­mat­ic with none of the nar­ra­tive pay-offs that you see in most films. The sto­ry cen­ters on a region called the Zone, which after some unnamed dis­as­ter, has the pow­er to ful­fill your great­est wish. Nat­u­ral­ly, the area has been ringed off by the author­i­ties with razor wire and armed guards. At the film’s open­ing, a guide, called a Stalk­er, takes two clients, a writer and a sci­en­tist, into the Zone. And yet after near­ly three hours of mean­der­ing and philo­soph­i­cal mono­logues, none of the char­ac­ters make a wish nor are any wish­es grant­ed. The end. But the rea­son the movie has such a fer­vent, cultish fol­low­ing is not for its dra­mat­ics. Instead, the film’s pow­er is found in the cumu­la­tive effect of its hyp­not­i­cal­ly slow pac­ing, its spir­i­tu­al long­ing and its gor­geous imagery. You can watch the film online hereFind more Tarkovsky films here.

And there’s the uncan­ny fact that Stalk­er seemed to pre­fig­ure a glob­al dis­as­ter that struck sev­en years after the movie pre­miered. It is just about impos­si­ble to look at those eerie pho­tos of irra­di­at­ed ghost towns with­in Chernobyl’s 30 square kilo­me­ter exclu­sion zone and not think about Stalk­er.

Enter Ukrain­ian game devel­op­er GSC Game World, which explic­it­ly con­nect­ed the dis­as­ter with Tarkovsky’s movie when, in 2007, it released S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shad­ow of Cher­nobyl, the first in a whole series of games. (The title might just fea­ture the most tor­tured acronym this side of the USAPATRIOT Act, stand­ing for Scav­enger, Tres­pass­er, Adven­tur­er, Lon­er, Killer, Explor­er, Rob­ber.) On first blush, the game and the movie seem to have lit­tle in com­mon aside from the name. There are rel­a­tive­ly few machine gun bat­tles or zomb­i­fied mutants in the film. Yet Gabriel Winslow-Yost argues in The New York Review of Books that there are more sim­i­lar­i­ties than might be first appar­ent.

As games, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series are remark­able.… While they all have the ele­ments of a stan­dard action game—guns, mon­sters, mis­sions, traps, loot—much of the player’s activ­i­ty is odd­ly in keep­ing with Stalker’s spir­it, some­times even man­ag­ing to expand upon it. […] Watch­ing Stalk­er, one is occa­sion­al­ly brought up short by remem­ber­ing that it was not filmed in Cher­nobyl, so per­fect an ana­logue does that event seem for the film’s images of tech­nol­o­gy and nature, beau­ty and dan­ger in strange alliance. The games, at their best, can seem like a sort of mir­a­cle: a dead man’s mas­ter­piece, come home at last.

Stalk­er was based on a novel­la called Road­side Pic­nic by Arkady and Boris Stru­gatsky. Winslow-Yost points out the games are actu­al­ly more in keep­ing with the source mate­r­i­al than Tarkovsky’s film. “The stalk­ers are numer­ous and mer­ce­nary. The ele­ments of the Zone are many, and named, if not quite explained—there’s ‘Mos­qui­to Mange’ and ‘Burn­ing Fluff,’ ‘Full Emp­ties’ and ‘Black Sprays.’ In the film most of these are not present—Tarkovsky leaves in only one, the ‘meat­grinder,’ though his Stalk­er is clear­ly ter­ri­fied of many more.”

The games proved to be so suc­cess­ful, espe­cial­ly in Rus­sia, that they were turned into nov­els. No word if any­one has both­ered to buy the film rights to those books. If you want to see what the game looks like, there’s a video of it above.

But the real ques­tion is what oth­er art house land­marks are going to get remade into video games? A ver­sion of Sec­ond Life inspired by Yasu­jiro Ozu’s Tokyo Sto­ry? A mash up of Grand Theft Auto and Jean-Luc Godard’s Week­end? Last Year at Marien­bad as a first-per­son shoot­er?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

Watch Stalk­er, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bend­ing Mas­ter­piece Free Online

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Film­mak­ers: Sac­ri­fice Your­self for Cin­e­ma

A Poet in Cin­e­ma: Andrei Tarkovsky Reveals the Director’s Deep Thoughts on Film­mak­ing and Life

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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