Solaris Blu-ray Review
I love you so much. Don't you love me anymore?
Solaris celebrates its 15th Anniversary in style; one of the most underrated sci-fi gems of all time, and arguably one of those very rare creations: a superior remake.Indie director Steven Soderbergh has enjoyed a distinctive style of filmmaking, with few out-and-out mainstream efforts beyond his ensemble Oceans escapades. In 2002 he teamed up with his most regular collaborator George Clooney, and garnered the support of none other than James Cameron as a producer (who originally wanted to direct), to remake the acclaimed Tarkovski classic Solaris, or rather re-adapt the original source novel by celebrated Polish author Stanislaw Lem. Soderbergh promised to be closer to the spirit of the original but, hindered by budgetary restrictions and studio demands, the end result was a surprisingly curt endeavour. Thankfully it still retains the emotional core and psychological depth of the source novel, arguably streamlining the similar work in the 1972 adaptation into a more efficient and effective - and arguably more powerful - remake. Critically dismissed upon release, and suffering generally poor comparisons to the original classic, it's remained a cult favourite that, for some, surpasses the 1972 film as an audiovisual piece of timeless beauty and psychological intricacy.Clooney was enjoying his heyday at the time, and picking the sombre lead here was quite a departure. His psychologist Chris Kelvin, reeling from a personal tragedy, is dispatched on a solo voyage to a station orbiting the unusual planet Solaris, the effects from which have done strange things to the crew, who Kelvin is sent to assess. The end result could have easily been another generic alien life outing, a thematic riff on the haunted house Alien formula, or, as Cameron had intended, The Abyss in space, but instead it's a far more intimate psychological study of love and loss; of heaven and hell, brought to life with near-perfect non-linear storytelling from Soderbergh, a powerful performance from Clooney (sharing great chemistry with Natasha McElhone), some striking ethereal effects work (and a metallic take on the 2001 interiors) and a timeless score from Cliff Martinez, who is now revered for his superb work with Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon), but whose haunting notes here help elevate the movie beyond genre restrictions. The end result has been greatly unappreciated across the years and is utterly unmissable.
Picture QualityAfter waiting 15 years for Solaris to reach Blu-ray, expectations are understandably very high, and Film Confect's 20th Century Fox-authorised German Region B-locked Blu-ray release goes some way towards meeting them, even if it is far from perfect. For all this time, fans have been lumbered with an anamorphic DVD, or an HD presentation on Sky (which had its own problems), and this release, whatever its faults, is a considerable step up, promoting what is an unquestionably audiovisually opulent feature in the best way it's ever looked.
Detail is pleasing for the most part, not quite devoid of softness, but also not displaying any plastic-like signs of over-application of DNR, with a balance that allows for very nice close-ups and strong enough mid-range shots, and only really lets the side down on the longer shots in corridors and darker rooms, where figures and objects aren't as clearly realised and where haloing and even some manner of sharpening become apparent.
This is the best that Solaris has ever looked
The colour scheme is lush and vibrant, despite the clinical, metallic interiors of the station and the rain-soaked Blade Runner-esque shots on Earth, with the striking iridescence of Solaris itself a beauty to behold, and to finally behold in 1080p HD. The broader 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been retained (where some TV presentations in particular contorted this) and allows Soderbergh's visual eye to be appreciated in all its glory. Darker scenes do suffer more than you'd have hoped for, but, for the most part, shadow detail is retained, and the image is never unpleasing to the eye, and even occasionally very impressive, although there's no doubt that you have to view the film and appreciate the presentation with the fact in mind that this is its BD debut. If this had come out a decade ago on the format, it would have been lavished with praise; it's only the advent of 4K and the commendable propensity for new 4K remasters to be commissioned even for new Blu-ray releases that leaves this very much a placeholder release - a good effort, but one which can still be bested by a loving studio returning to the camera negative and commissioning a full 4K remaster.
It should be noted that there are reports of screen jumps. These are, at times, impossibly hard to notice - imperceptible even, if you weren't given the specific time code and weren't watching with absolute eagle eyes. The more OCD amongst us (and, to be fair, as AV aficionados, it's something of a requirement to be anal about these things) will still find them an imperfection that really shouldn't be present, but, for the majority, it simply doesn't affect your overall viewing pleasure in any significant way, and certainly isn't a reason to avoid picking up this majestic sci-fi gem in the best shape it's ever looked.
Sound QualityThe audio options understandably include a German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub, but it's the presence of the original English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which will appeal to the majority. Given the striking, haunting and just downright perfect score from Cliff Martinez, which elevates the film no end, it's great to finally see what the track sounds like with HD audio, and the results are very good indeed.
It's Cliff Martinez's work that gets pride of place here, and rightly so
Whilst dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array (there's a lot of off-camera 'narration', not always set to the specific shots Soderbergh places on screen, which does make the lack of English subtitles a problem if you want to watch this at any kind of low-level nighttime volume) and given clear and coherent dissemination at near-reference levels of playback, and whilst effects are well-rendered, offered some degree of distinction and separation across the array, and bringing to life both the oppressively rainy Earth settings and the thrumming intensity of the clinical station (as well as the majesty of the whirlpool of energy that Solaris itself basks in), it's again Martinez's work that gets pride of place here, and rightly so.
Sweeping you up in every emotion of the voyage - from the first arrival at the station, to first blush with the love of his life, all the way through to the painful turns later into the feature - Martinez's melody is infused with powerful undertones, and striking in its ability to deliver feelings of love, and passion, whilst still nodding towards such disparate elements as sadness, horror and bleak uncertainty. Ultimately, it carries with it some acutely transcendental hope which also informs the very narrative itself, and it truly does sweep you up and engulf you, raising those hairs on your arms in a way that only the best scores can. Magnificent.
ExtrasFilm Confect offer up all of the old extras from the DVD, but thankfully they're still of some merit. Sure, the two EPK-style Featurettes are a little dated, with cast and crew soundbites but little insight, however the headlining Audio Commentary track from director Steven Soderbergh is still a great listen, not least because he's partnered up with James Cameron, who produced the film. Their discussions are very revealing, talking about Cameron's own vision, but also his support of Soderbergh's vision, whilst noting that there was a longer cut with far longer space sequences - one which they hoped would grace a Special Edition DVD release no less, so here's hoping it finally comes true on Blu-ray one day. Well worth a listen.
Somewhat frustratingly, the release does include a copy of the 1972 Solaris on a separate disc, however it's largely worthless because, firstly, it's only given a German dub with no subtitle options, and secondly it's only in SD on a DVD. Given the number of quality 1972 Solaris Blu-ray releases now available (including a recent one from Criterion no less) it's a shame they couldn't license one of those for inclusion here as it's something of a missed opportunity to include the original but then make it both inaccessible to anybody who even wants to hear it in its original audio (let alone the lack of subtitles) but also unattractive to those who want to see it in the remastered HD condition that is now so readily available elsewhere.
It's an impressive package
The package itself is also something worth remarking upon, with a lavish Mediabook design that rightly distinguishes this from just the usual Amaray norm, and has room for a Solaris poster, and a long booklet inside which, whilst entirely in German, still provides some welcome artwork for those who can't understand a word of it. It's an impressive package, worthy of the quality of film it holds.
Blu-ray VerdictAlthough largely dismissed at the time, these days Solaris would rightly hold its place alongside modern thoughtful sci-fi experiences as disparate as Interstellar, Ex Machina, Gattaca and Arrival, whilst comfortably trading in the same classic overtones as not only the original 1972 version, but also similar-era gems like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running.
Greatly unappreciated across the years and utterly unmissable
This Region B-locked German release, with English-friendly original audio but no subtitles and no English-friendly options for the accompanying DVD copy of the original 1972 Solaris, is still highly recommended for fans of the film. It's currently the only Blu-ray release that's available - or that has even been announced - and comes in a lavish package with strong enough video and excellent audio (welcome news for fans of Martinez's magnificent soundtrack), and also a couple of nice extras. Even if there's a special edition US or UK release eventually, this gets a high recommendation - the film its a gem, and fans shouldn't wait any longer to enjoy it in HD.
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