Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is a unusual piece of science
fiction that will require multiple viewings and an open mind to understand all
that it has to offer. A moody expression of the 1961 work by novelist Stainslaw
Lem, a master of the philosophical, moves us carefully in and about the issues
of life and death.
Strange happenings have been reported by three scientists onboard a space station
orbiting Solaris, a distant planet. Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis),
is sent to investigate. The opening of the nearly 3 hour film is quite slow,
setting some groundwork for the rest of the film by establishing its roots on
Earth, something not present in the novel. The earth setting is in and about
the home of Kelvins father played by Nikolai Grinko. It is here that he learns
from his fathers friend Burton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) of the mystery surrounding
Solaris. Burton, a cosmonaut that orbited the planet years earlier, gives an
indication that there is more to the planet than just being covered by water,
but the details are left intentionally vague so they can be flush out later
in the film.
Kelvin leaves Earth and arrives at the space station to find it in a state of
disrepair, a crewman dead that was a personal friend and the remaining two occupants
in a state of paranoia. Soon after Kelvin experiences what has been afflicting
the crew when a vision of his wife Hari appears. This is quite odd considering
she has been dead for over 10 years, but he can talk to her and touch her and
she seems real. She knows who she is but does not remember anything about the
details of her death. In actuality, Kelvin's wife died by committing suicide
and now he is placed in the position of either reliving that horror or being
able to do something to prevent it. Is it an illusion or does he really have
a chance to change the past?
But as it turns out, Hari is not really Hari, but rather a physical reincarnation
of his memory of her. The film is quite deep and moving when she finally realizes
what she really is and how she and the crew handle her realization and their
own understanding of who they are.
The film was made in the Soviet Union like Tarkovsky's previous two films,
but unlike them doesn't deal with the restrictions on the freedoms of his country's
people. Instead it deals with the morality of ones feelings and the science
that surrounds them. Not tied to any country or culture it explores the nostalgia
of earlier times prior to technological achievements expanding our horizons.
2 disc, RSDL dual-layer.
A beautiful high definition transfer from the folks at Criterion. The transfer
is from the 35mm low-contrast print of the original negative. Clean and clear
throughout with only a hint of speckling. The colors are solid and strong compared
to previous releases on tape with good detail even though the original was soft
on purpose. The MTI Digital Restoration System was used to remove thousands
of instances of dirt, debris and scratches.
Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, Russian with subtitles.
One channel track from a 35mm optical positive track digitally restored. A clean
soundtrack results that is very effective and is on par to how the work was
originally presented. Mastered at 24-bit, audio restoration tools were used
to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle.
Audio commentary by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie.
The walk-through audio commentary by Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, co-authors
of the 1994 book The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, is
a good listen for anyone that wants to really understand the inner workings
of Solaris. They know much about the director, the details of the films and
the cultural environment in which he worked.
Nine deleted and alternate scenes.
Tarkovsky did some edits, most of which were thought lost. These edits were
done before his submission to the Cannes festival. Amazingly, a complete pre-Cannes
print of the film was found in the Mosfilm archive, and Criterion presents us
with all 9 variations. These pre-edit scenes are not quite the quality of the
Video Interviews with lead actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim
Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin and composer Eduard Artemyev.
A 32-minute interview with Natalya Bondarchuk, who played Hari and was only
19 at the time. She speaks on how she secured the role, what it was like working
with Tarkovsky, and the details of her death scene. A 34-minute interview with
Vadim Yusov, the film's cinematographer who also worked with Tarkovsky
on prior works. Yusov discusses his relationship with Tarkovsky and some thoughts
on the films limited special effects. A 17-minute interview with art director
Mikhail Romadin, who explains how they wanted to make a science fiction epic.
Finally, a 21-minute interview with composer Eduard Artemyev, who discusses
his musical score and sound effects. All four interviews are in non-anamorphic
Documentary excerpt on Stanislaw Lem.
A 5-minute segment from a Polish TV documentary on novelist Stanislaw Lem. It
features interviews with Lem and scholars who discuss the novel Solaris and
Lem's dislike of Tarkovsky's cinematic version of it.
12-page booklet with essays
Also included is a 12-page insert booklet with liner notes by essayist and novelist
Phillip Lopate and a reprint of a 1977 newspaper article titled "Tarkovsky
and Solaris" written by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who was a great
admirer of the film and visited the set during production. It also lists chapters
and credits, menu instructions, transfer information and acknowledgments.
A complex piece that will show it's true brilliance after repeated viewings
to gain the full meaning of what it has to offer. Tarkovsky was a gifted filmmaker
that was able to break free of the limitations imposed by the Soviet bureaucracy
and create masterpieces that are enjoyed all over the world. If you have the
time and patience to pull the full meaning from this work, it will certainly
be worth it.