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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Drama > Existentialism > Outer Space > Literature > Russian Cinema > Soviet Cinema > Solaris (1972/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Solaris (1972/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: A- Sound: B+ Extras: C+ Film: B-



Criterion continues to rigorously re-release and update much of their back catalog for Blu-ray, and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris is one of the latest to get the deluxe treatment. Often seen as a Russian imitation of 2001: A Space Odyssey (on Blu-ray, reviewed elsewhere on this site), Solaris has long lived in the shadow of that epic cinematic achievement. While there are a few similarities, Tarkovsky took a much different route that feels more organic and human than Kubrick's tale of technology gone amok.


True enough, Solaris was limited by budgetary constraints and could not have approached the grandeur and scale seen in that earlier film even if that's what had been desired. Much of the runtime is consumed by scenes that take place on Earth, and when on the space station, the sets are either basic or more like a room you'd find in a typical house.


Despite these limitations, the filmmakers were constantly coming up with ways to take common everyday places and things and disguise them as the world of the future. One scene in particular sees them re-purposing the city of Tokyo into a futuristic metropolis, aided only by camera trickery and sound design. While the effect doesn't come off quite as intended, it works well enough to pass without too much questioning from the audience.


As much as I enjoyed it, there are those who have been unimpressed with certain aspects of this screen translation (the author of the source material among them), but over the years public opinion has shifted enough for it to be considered worthy of classic status.


That it needed some form of reappraisal is understandable - it can be difficult to decipher what's going on the first time through it. However subsequent viewings provide clarity and reveal layers that had gone previously unnoticed, making the experience of watching it over again all the more enriching.


The audio track is clean and well preserved. It is in Russian with optional English subtitles; the track is uncompressed PCM mono, and retains the original sound mix. Though the image quality is similar to that of the DVD, it has been beefed up significantly since the older Criterion Collection release, with improvement most noticeable in scenes featuring a lot of white, as well as considerable leaps forward to be seen in the few scenes that are monochromatic. One scene that was the wrong color has been correct and the 1080p digital High Definition 2.35:1 aspect ratio far outperforms all previous versions.


Extras include several interviews about Tarkovsky, as well as a rather nice booklet that features a translated article written by Akira Kurosawa in praise of the director. There is also a full length audio commentary, but while it is conducted with a lot of insight, there is very little enthusiasm to be heard, making it quite the chore to listen to without dozing off.


Solaris is anything but briskly paced, but the haunting camerawork provides every shot with lots of information for the viewer to pore over; helping along what could have become an exercise in tedium. Although this isn't a film that will appeal to everyone, admirers of classic science fiction would do well to see it if they haven't done so already.



For more on the older Criterion DVD and the 2002 Stephen Soderbergh remake of the film, try this link:





- David Milchick


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