Making the Grades
Put a submarine in nearly any movie and I'm likely to find some appeal in the story. But with National Geographic at the helm of their first feature motion picture, this sub was a tempting scenario that happily rises to the top.
The real K-19 was Russia's answer to increasing threats from the expanding US nuclear sub fleet. Hastily commissioned during the height of the cold war, the boat held two nuclear reactors that sacrificed safety for space. Shortly into its maiden mission designed to "inform" NATO of increasing Soviet technology, one of the reactors blew a high pressure cooling line. The impending disaster (the vessel was also carrying nuclear warheads) was alleviated only by eight crewmembers accepting the suicide assignment of entering the malfunctioning reactor and devising a makeshift solution.
Based on these actual events, this movie does take some dramatic license. Harrison Ford plays fictional Captain Alexei Vostrikov, while Liam Neeson creates the role of Mikhail Polenin, a captain who opposed the time limits dictated by the Russian government that demanded the barely completed submarine put to sea. When officials place Polenin under Vostrikov's command, tensions between the two chiefs rise as fast as the reactor's core temperature, diminishing crew morale.
Aside from the small distraction of having American icons with fishy accents playing Russian sailors, K-19 is an incredible work of sub cinema. Details down to the dishes have been included, providing audiences with a glimpse of what life below the surface may be like. Although heavy laden with dialogue, director Kathryn Bigelow still relies on visual emotion to fill in the blanks.
Only a couple of very mild profanities enter this script. Sexual content is limited to a brief scene when the proud crew gives the "bum's rush" to a passing US helicopter and a short distant shot of a nude male being "decontaminated." Also, near continuous peril and many sights of men suffering from severe radiation sickness may be too intense for young viewers.
For adults and teens yearning for a sub feast, K-19 offers extra meat on a fresh idea along with many sailors caught in a serious pickle.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about K-19: The Widowmaker.
The one-upmanship between the US and Russia during the cold war is an extreme example of what can quickly happen when two adversaries are unable to find common ground. Can you think of times when same attitude may cause us to participate (although usually in much smaller ways) in this type of behavior?
K-19 is a dramatized recreation of a very serious incident that may have brought the world into World War III. National Geographic’s involvement with this movie includes a massive web site devoted to submarines and their use in military operations. Check it out at http://crater.nationalgeographic.com/k19/