The first proper Swedish science fiction film in many years is coming to cinemas today. Alone in Space is a sci-fi adventure for children but also a hommage to genre classics their parents grew up with.
Directed by Ted Kjellsson, Alone is Space (original title: Ensamma i rymden) started shooting in July 2017 and is described by the production company as “an ambitious, adventurous, warm, entertaining feature film which does not ignore the bigger questions of life and death”. The film was entirely shot in Boden in Northern Sweden and takes place in the not too distant future where the giant spacecraft Svea XVI travels with only two passengers; 12-year-old Gladys and her little brother, Keaton. The children have fled from a broken Earth and are heading towards the planet Vial, but they never seem to arrive. They spend their days exploring the giant ship and the only one they can talk to is the Japanese A.I. Otosan. But everything changes when something unknown crashes into Svea – suddenly they are not alone in space anymore.
Strictly speaking, the film will be Sweden’s first space opera film (though not its first science fiction film, not by far) and it’s not really a surprise that that happens in the children/family segment of the market. Sweden has produced some sci-fi titles for children (often in various TV formats) and also draws on a long and unique fantasy tradition which is mainly represented by one author, childhood favourite Astrid Lindgren, who created long lasting fantasy franchises such as Ronja Robbersdaughter and Brothers Lionheart. In fact, Alone in Space is heavily influenced by Astrid Lindgren but also modern American science ficton classics. -It’s a mix of Brothers Lionheart and Star Wars, director Ted Kjellsson the newspaper NSD last year. There are also influences from Alien, E.T. and Blade Runner, either in the script or in the production design and effects. The VFX supervisor is Fredrik Nord, whose work could previously be seen in Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, Let the right one in and The 100-year-old Man 2.
The script was written by director Ted Kjellson and author-actor Henrik Ståhl and their efforts have now culminated in the feature that is being labelled “the greatest Swedish space adventure ever” in its marketing (a claim that may be true, since the competition is so small). -In one way we are all alone in space and what that do to us is a philosophical question. What does it mean to be alone and to be a human on Planet Earth? What is it to take responsibility, to dare and to hope? Is it more important to do this or that? When we face the empty, expanding universe we as humans become very small but also very important, Ståhl explained to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet about the deeper foundations of the story.
Both physical models and digital effects have been used in what is a SFX-heavy film, with the spaceship itself covering 300 m2. Although outer space is not common territory for Swedish films, there was no doubt that the film could be shot in newly built studios in Boden in Northern Sweden. -It was almost like Christmas Eve [when they brought us the idea]. A movie with a huge spaceship was perfect as the first film in our new studio. This film will [put to use] everything we have here, co-financer Filmpool Nord’s CEO Susann Jonsson said to filmbransch.se
For director Ted Kjellson the movie is the culmination of a career-long search for a viable science fiction film. A movie that would be both touching, fun and exciting. He had almost given up hope when he saw the theatre play Vial, but immediately knew that he had to transform the play into a movie. -There and then I knew it would be possible to make a cool and fun but also thoughtful and important space film in Swedish. I wanted to make a film we have not seen before, a colourful, fast paced, dreamy and emotional film that enchants its viewers. I just had to Spielbergify the play, he noted.
Images copyright: Nice Drama.
-It’s a high concept adventure film that doesn’t shy away from big questions about life and death, with a strong theme about family ties and longing, to be filmed with warmth and humour. We have a group of creative people who know how to bend the bucks and do magic without too much money. Ted’s background as production designer and broad knowledge of digital effects will be key, as well as the VFX to be made by award-winning Chimney, said producer Anna Knochenhauer last year. She also added that the film is planned to have a retro look as seen in Netflix series such as Stranger Things, which along with its 1980s references is meant to appeal to the core audience’s parents.
The film’s wide theatrical release has resulted in many reviews in Swedish media, of which some say:
- MovieZine: “Astrid Lindgren meets James Cameron in kid friendly sci-fi. It takes children seriously, and the genre seriously. A great adventure for all ages […] The craftmanship is also incredibly nice; the spaceship could have fit right into an Alien sequel.” Rating: 4 of 5.
- Svenska Dagbladet: “Alone in Space is something as unusual as a film for young people where the script is not covered in [mental] protective foam. That [makes it] both liberating and scary.” Rated 4 of 5.
- Corren/TT: “[The film] is an exciting mix of classic Christmas calendar cosyness and a more adult ambiguity […] It is also shamelessly nerdy, with hints to space classics like E.T., Alien and 2001 – A Space Odyssey […] For us parents the film is a rare gift in the form of a perfect starting point if you want to bring up a space fan.” Rated 4 of 5.
- Nöjesguiden: “Nice enough, like those summer holiday morning shows [you watch as a child]. The production value impresses older viewers, but after that it’s not much more. The spaceship is an engaging location for the youngest viewers but as a space adventure the film never leaves the launch site.” Rated 3 of 6.
- Filmtopp: “The first half is the best one [but after that] it’s more of a straight adventure with bad guys and laser guns, and the film looses me as it becomes a bit like a farce. But the children will love Alone in Space and indeed there are many worse films out there.” Rated 3 of 5.
- Filmparadiset: “I am convinced the film will will be embraced by the younger viewers and I can see why [sequels may be produced]. For adults however, the film goes a bit too far in too many directions and the story derails somewhat.”
- Senses: “A small step for [the art of] sci-fi films but a large leap for Swedish cinema […] I can’t do anything but recommend this movie. It’s a family friendly film, but in the true Disney spirit it has a darker tone as well. See this film and [realize] that [Sweden] makes other films than [endless cop series].” Rated 7 of 10.
Images copyright: Nice Drama.
Alone in Space is produced by Sonja Hermele, Anna Knochenhauer and Stefan Baron (executive producer on Real Humans) for Nice Drama (Hassel, The 100-year-old Man, Midnight Sun), with support from several public financers; Film i Västerbotten, Media Creative Europe, Kulturbryggan, the Swedish Film Institute, Nordisk Film & TV Fond and Filmpool Nord, as well as the broadcaster SVT, and production companies Chimney, Ljudbang and Dagsljus.
The 20 million SEK (2.1 million euros) film stars Aliette Opheim, Madeleine Barwén Trollvik, Ella Rae Rapaport, Dante Fleischanderl, Henrik Ståhl, Robert Follin, Håkan Bengtsson and Richard Sseruwagi and opens on September 21st, 2018 in cinemas in Sweden. Its international premiere will be in London at the BFI Film Festival on October 13th.
Making-of featurette on aliens:
News report from TV4 (in Swedish):
Behind the scenes (in Swedish):
Behind the scenes 2 (in Swedish):
Visual effects breakdown:
Videos copyright: Nice Drama and TV4.