Review by Gordon Justesen
Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Yuri Yarvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko,
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 166 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2011
“There are so few of us!”
I’ve had several people call me crazy for praising director Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris, which upon watching, I realized would ignite many detractors as many distinctive films have a way of doing. Since I’m 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 Tarkovsky’s 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, Tarkovsky’s 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. That’s not to say that Tarkovsky’s version doesn’t 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 he’s 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 doesn’t 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 Soderbergh’s 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 version’s 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 one’s 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.
What we have here is quite simply one of the most beautifully shot films in science fiction history enhanced with Criterion's top of the line HD mastering. As expected, the presentation boasts nothing but pure astonishing results. Tarkovsky's unique mixing of color pallettes (which include blues, yellows, silver and tan sheens) pay off amazingly in the 1080p. And every set piece ranging from the space station to the surface of Solaris provide a solid treat for the eyes, with superb detail accompanying every image. It's a fantastic looking HD presentation that makes this unique visual film look even more unforgettable.
Sound is without question a key factor in this film's potent effect. A lot of the film is made up long, silent sequences and these are the moments when the PCM Mono mix shows off the best. Other set pieces such as the outskirts of the semi-futuristic city (seen early in the film), the interior of the space station and Solaris itself also give off some nice, crisp audio playback, which just goes to show you that HD and mono can make for an interesting mix. All music cues are most effective, in particular the piece that plays over the final image.
This Criterion Blu-ray ports over all of the great extras from their previous two-disc DVD release. We have a commentary track with Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, which is helpful in gaining a better understanding of the film. There's also nine deleted and alternate scenes, video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin and composer Eduard Artemyev. We also get an excerpt from a documentary about Stanislaw Lem, the author of the novel.
Rounding out the extras, in true Criterion from, is an insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate and an appreciation by director Akira Kurosawa.
Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris remains one of the most ambitious films not only in the realm of science fiction, but films in general. I admire the passion and visual artistry that went into the film, but it simply goes on far too long to make much of an impact. But those who love this film are in for a monumental treat when experiencing this film through Criterion’s top of the line Blu-ray release!