Scenes from HBO’s Chernobyl v. Real Footage Shot in 1986: A Side-By-Side Comparison

Audi­ences today can’t get enough of his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly his­to­ry pre­sent­ed as a pod­cast or a pres­tige tele­vi­sion series. Best of all is the his­tor­i­cal pres­tige tele­vi­sion series accom­pa­nied by its own pod­cast, cur­rent­ly exem­pli­fied by Cher­nobyl, HBO’s five-episode drama­ti­za­tion of the events lead­ing up to and the after­math of the tit­u­lar Sovi­et nuclear dis­as­ter. “The mate­r­i­al cul­ture of the Sovi­et Union is repro­duced with an accu­ra­cy that has nev­er before been seen in West­ern tele­vi­sion or film — or, for that mat­ter, in Russ­ian tele­vi­sion or film,” The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen writes of the show. “Sovi­et-born Amer­i­cans — and, indeed, Sovi­et-born Rus­sians — have been tweet­ing and blog­ging in awe at the uncan­ny pre­ci­sion with which the phys­i­cal sur­round­ings of Sovi­et peo­ple have been repro­duced.”

But along with all the praise for the accu­ra­cy on Cher­nobyl’s sur­face has come crit­i­cism of its deep­er con­cep­tion of the time and place it takes as its set­ting: “its fail­ure to accu­rate­ly por­tray Sovi­et rela­tion­ships of pow­er,” as Gessen puts it, or to acknowl­edge that “res­ig­na­tion was the defin­ing con­di­tion of Sovi­et life. But res­ig­na­tion is a depress­ing and untelegenic spec­ta­cle. So the cre­ators of Cher­nobyl imag­ine con­fronta­tion where con­fronta­tion was unthink­able.”

Among the chill­ing truths of the real sto­ry of the Cher­nobyl dis­as­ter is how many peo­ple involved knew before­hand what could, and prob­a­bly would, go wrong with the reac­tor that explod­ed on April 26, 1986. But Cher­nobyl, adher­ing to “the out­lines of a dis­as­ter movie,” instead pits a lone truth-teller against a set of self-serv­ing, malev­o­lent high­er-ups.

Cher­nobyl cre­ator and writer Craig Mazin is not unaware of this, as any­one who has lis­tened to the minis­eries’ com­pan­ion pod­cast knows. On each episode, Mazin dis­cuss­es (with Peter Sagal from Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, inci­den­tal­ly) the com­pli­ca­tions of bring­ing such a com­plex event, and one that involved so many peo­ple, to the screen three decades lat­er, and the inher­ent trade­offs involved between his­tor­i­cal faith­ful­ness and artis­tic license. The video essay from Thomas Flight above com­bines clips from the Cher­nobyl pod­cast with not just clips from Cher­nobyl itself but the real-life source footage that inspired the show. The six-minute view­ing expe­ri­ence show­cas­es the often-aston­ish­ing recre­ations Cher­nobyl accom­plish­es even as it casts doubt on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ever tru­ly recre­at­ing his­to­ry on the screen. But watch­ing cre­ators take on that increas­ing­ly daunt­ing chal­lenge is pre­cise­ly what today’s audi­ences can’t get enough of.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Haunt­ing Drone’s‑Eye View of Cher­nobyl

The Ani­mals of Cher­nobyl

200 Haunt­ing Videos of U.S. Nuclear Tests Now Declas­si­fied and Put Online

A is for Atom: Vin­tage PR Film for Nuclear Ener­gy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Alan K. Sumrall says:

    “Res­ig­na­tion was the defin­ing con­di­tion of Sovi­et life.”…Gessen. That I can believe. Author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ments demand that their sub­jects nev­er object to their fate. HBO has done some great things, but I can’t imag­ine them being able to get into the Sovi­et psy­che. Would be like them doing some­thing with the Chi­nese thought process­es. They would nev­er get it right. I don’t see these HBO pro­duc­tions until well after they come out so I will with­hold judg­ment, but Gessen’s com­ment fits my gen­er­al­ly pes­simistic view of the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy of dra­mat­ic pro­duc­tions.
    Then again, maybe it is just that he has touched on my own world­view, one of res­ig­na­tion of a human world deter­mined to destroy itself along with all life. Maybe I actu­al­ly “get it”. We have a whole lot more events much worse than Cher­nobyl com­ing and every­one miss­es the point, that the les­son of this dis­as­ter is about human­i­ty, not nuclear reac­tors, and cer­tain­ly not about a par­tic­u­lar author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment.

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