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SOLARIS (CRITERION)

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Yuri Yarvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn
Director: Andrei Tarkosvky
Audio: Russian Mono
Subtitles: English
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 169 Minutes
Release Date: November 26, 2002

Film **1/2

Iíve had several people call me crazy for praising director Steven Soderberghís remake of Solaris, which upon watching, I realized would ignite many detractors as many distinctive films have a way of doing. Since Iím an admirer of Soderbergh and his work, I was able to be easily drawn into his vision and interpretation of the story. Now, after having seen the new Solaris twice in theaters already, I am given the opportunity to experience the original cinematic version of this very cerebral tale set in outer space.

After experiencing director Andrei Tarkovskyís initial cinematic version, I still find myself singling out the Soderbergh version as the better of the two. While dynamic in most spots, especially in the visual aspect, Tarkovskyís Solaris for the most part drags on way too long in its 170 minute running time, while the new version clocked in at just under 100 minutes, and conveyed much more in the process. Thatís not to say that Tarkovskyís version doesnít have its moments, but it is likely to turn viewers off even more quickly than the new version has.

Both versions are intended for the extremely patient viewer. Anyone who enjoys science fiction and love stories will both get their fix, but the build up in this version is an extremely long process. The story involves scientist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) assigned to venture off to the mysterious space orbit known as Solaris. Once heís arrived, he begins to encounter some very strange happenings along with a few other crew members. The strangest of all occurrences comes when Kris starts seeing what appears to be his deceased wife, though he doesnít believe it at first. The question that remains with the viewer, along with the lead character is if the wife is in fact real, or is Solaris toying with the mind and bringing to life whatever is thought of.

One of the reasons I got more emotionally involved in Soderberghís movie was his perfected use of flashback scenes showing the couple while the wife was alive, and the events leading up to her death. With that element not existing in the Tarkovsky version, I felt little emotion. I was also much more satisfied with the new versionís conclusion far more than I was with this version. All I can say is this, if you saw the new Solaris, and were completely thrown off by the ending, that is nothing compared to how baffled you will be by this oneís final frame. I still am trying to figure it all out even as we speak.

No matter how many different ways it can be interpreted, Solaris will always haunt the mind and puzzle whoever watches it, but at a longer length, the story even managed to scratch my head more times than normal. But in the end, I simply find the 2002 Solaris to simply be the better and more engaging of the two.

Video ***

Criterion really impressed me with how they handled this thirty year old release. The anamorphic picture is for the most part crisp and clear, given its age. True, the picture does encounter some expected flaws, such as a few cases of image softness and even some grain, but for a rare type of visual film, that switches back and forth between color and black and white, the overall result is a pleasantly impressive picture transfer.

Audio **

The given audio track is only of mono quality, so that pretty much explains the rating. Itís not a completely bad sound, but with several films from the early 70s, like Serpico, having just been given the digital sound treatment, one would hope for the same here. Overall, itís a case of not so bad, but couldíve been better.

Features ***1/2

By far the high point of the disc. Criterionís two disc set includes a commentary track by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, which may help to get a better understanding of the film. The second disc includes video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin and composer Eduard Artemyev, a documentary excerpt from Stanislaw Lem, the author of the Solaris novel, and film essays by Akira Kurosawa and Phillip Lopate.

Summary:

Maybe it was a mistake of watching a remake before the original, but I still stand by my opinion when saying that the new version of Solaris was far superior to the original film, even though it is original and includes moments of intriguing and haunting visuals.