Former Soviet submariners have launched an attack against the soon-to-be made K-19: The Widowmaker, claiming the filmmakers erroneously portray the men's involvement in the 1961 nuclear sub disaster.
"It portrays our crew as a bunch of stupid, disrespectful, eternally drunk Soviet sailors who played cards as the alarms were sounding," ex-crew member Yury Mukhin tells Daily Variety.
K-19 purports to tell the true story of the Soviet Union's first nuclear ballistic submarine, which suffered a reactor malfunction while on its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic in 1961. The disaster ultimately claimed 28 lives and nearly led to a confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
The story is based on the account by the boat's tough captain, Nikolai Zateyev, who is played in the movie by Ford. Zateyev must not only save his crew from an undersea Chernobyl-like nuclear accident, but also must stop the incident from propelling the Soviet Union into an all-out world war with the United States.
Survivors, worried how the personal details of their lives would be used in the movie, met with Ford in December and were given a copy of the script to review. The meeting reportedly went smoothly and all the parties involved decided that the president of the St. Petersburg Submariners' Club, Igor Kudrin, should act as a consultant for the film.
However, Kudrin held a press conference in Moscow in January after survivors who saw the script complained it was based on vulgar Slavic stereotypes.
"Even the untranslated copy [of the script] provoked unpleasant feelings among the survivors. In the script one comes across the words 'vodka' and 'drink' almost more often than the words 'sea' or 'submarine'," Russia's independent NTV television reported. "When [the real-life crew members] saw the translation, they decided to do all they could to stop this film from seeing the light of day."
The former crew members went to a rival film company, Drawbridge Films, to try and sink the Hollywood film and to get their version of the facts out. Drawbridge subsequently sued the movie's producer, Intermedia Films (Nurse Betty, Sliding Doors), in Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit claimed Drawbridge was the sole owner of the rights to both the survivors' and Captain Zateyev's stories (Zatyeyev has since passed away).
Intermedia fired back with its own lawsuit contending that it acquired Zateyev's story and that of other crew members through Working Title Films. The company accused Drawbridge of trying to interfere in the making of K-19 by bribing survivors with large sums of money to sign a paper stating that Drawbridge was the only entity authorized to make a movie based on their story. Intermedia also alleged that Drawbridge threatened survivors with jail time if they participated in the Intermedia project.
Neither film company would comment on the lawsuits, citing the pending litigation. But Tim Kelly, president of National Geographic Television, which is coproducing K-19 with Intermedia, had this to say: "K-19 is a rivteing story with intense drama and powerful real-life challenges. We are delighted to be working with Harrison Ford and [director] Kathryn Bigelow, and will bring all of the National Geographic Society's resources to bear to insure that K-19 is authentic and evocative."
This isn't the first time a history-based Hollywood sub movie has come under attack over its purported authenticity. Last year, Universal's U-571 was blasted by British officials who said the film--about the capture of a German U-boat containing a secret-code machine--wrongly credited U.S. sailors for the feat, when it was U.K. submariners who actually did the dirty work. The producers tried to appease the Brits by adding text at the end to the closing credits explaining the true story behind the film.
As for K-19, it starts filming this month on an authentic Soviet submarine on location in Russia, Iceland and Canada.