Solaris Blu-ray Review
Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 classic Solaris is often regarded as not only one of the Russian auteur's finest works but also as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.Despite decades of research from an orbiting space station, nobody seems to know a great deal about the Ocean-covered planet Solaris. The reports sent back make no sense; the astronauts who return plagued by haunting memories which their commanding officers write off as hallucinations caused by the strange planet. It falls upon psychologist Kris Kelvin to venture to the station and evaluate whether the project should be abandoned, or whether their is anything to be gleaned from this mysterious new world. Shot with frequent and striking use of monochrome (scenes only restored in the last few years), and some stunning sci-fi visions, Tarkovsky's Solaris is a tense psychological voyage basking in its contemplative, meditative overtones, whilst still telling a gripping story of haunting regret, loss and grief.Adapted from the novel by acclaimed Polish author Stanislaw Lem, Tarkovsky's Solaris is arguably the most highly revered of any of the three adaptations done of the novel - the latest of which was Soderbergh's Clooney-starring 2002 version, which is also a powerful piece with a stunning score. Tarkovsky's epic vision, though, has far more in common with other classics from the period, like 2001, The Andromeda Strain, or Silent Running. It's expansive, elaborate set-design impressed even legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa on a set visit, whilst the striking cinematography and visionary depiction of the Ocean-based planet looks impressive even four and a half decades later. Beyond the aesthetics, though, the fine observation of human emotion and psychological distress is highly effective.
Picture QualityCriterion's Region B-locked Blu-ray brings Solaris to our shores in its second UK release, delivering a fantastic 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
For a forty-five year old movie, Solaris looks tremendous, boasting striking detail and almost flawless monochrome sequences. Skin textures, wisps of hair, and beads of sweat remain intimately observed, whilst the worn space station interiors showcase excellent background nuances.
For a forty-five year old movie, Solaris looks tremendous on Blu-ray
The colour scheme, whilst still quintessentially 70s, is nevertheless rich and broad, and boasts some warm browns and healthy skin tones, as well as clinical whites, natural greens and dirty greys. Black levels are strong, and never more so impressive than in the monochrome video calls, whilst the shots of the planet's surface are, themselves, a work of art on their own.
The presentation is certainly not flawless. Some shots lose focus around the edges; others strangely appear to exhibit very little grain (the flashbacks look like they're shot through a prism), but boast a rich texture nonetheless; whilst most are privy to a thick swathe of grain. For the most part, this is consistent, however some of the shots - particularly of the planet's liquid surface - appear to be plagued by noise rather than grain. Although very infrequent across the epic runtime, there are moments where Solaris doesn't look quite right. There's even a shot where a hair has been trapped in the camera gate. However, they are very infrequent moments, and they barely touch upon your enjoyment of this visually impressive piece.
Sound QualityThe accompanying Linear PCM 1.0 mono track, in the film's original Russian, is a faithful, at times striking mix, however restrictive its design.
Dialogue is promoted with paramount importance across the feature, disseminated with precision across the frontal array. Although in Russian, with decent English subtitling, there may have been some ADR work, or outright dubbing, done, because some of the characters fare worse on the lip-synch front than others (Snaut, for example).
A faithful, at times striking track
Although Tarkovski wanted there to be no score, his integration of classic orchestral pieces from Bach as well as some excellent electronic work by Eduard Artemyev gives the film some very fluid moments and a more bracing atmospheric component, juxtaposing the alien world, as represented by electronic work, with the human world, with its classical pieces. It's a scattershot effort across the epic runtime, but it hits when it counts, and makes for a more powerful experience. Effects are typical for the period, trying their best with echoing, booming sounds of lift-off, grating mechanical noises and electronic buzzes, whilst the roads (then represented by a futuristic Tokyo) appear to come to life with electric engines and monotone reverberation.
Whilst the 1.0 mix can't exactly sweep you up in its majesty in the same way that a full array might have been able to, it does offer some striking resonance, even for a feature of this vintage.
ExtrasOnce again the Criterion Collection deliver the goods on the extras front. The selection is headlined by a Commentary from film scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, coauthors of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, which is an excellent, informative piece revealing just about everything you want to know about the production.
We also get a selection of Deleted and Alternate Scenes, cut from the film prior to its Cannes release in 1972, which make for an interesting look at what could have been. We also get an interview with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, who plays Hari, and who was very young at the time of filming, and found her life heavily influenced by both the movie and the time she spent with Tarkovsky, who she went on to have a relationship with.
Criterion once again deliver the goods on the extras front
Cinematographer Vadim Yusov, who did some striking work here, gets a further interview, where he talks about his own partnership with Tarkovsky, the fact that they had worked on all his films before, but struggled on this one, after which they would never work together again. Art Director Mikhail Romadin talks about the creation of Solaris's distinctive look in a further interview, and we also get a piece with composer Eduard Artemyev, who talks about his discussions with Tarkovsky on what would work best for the film. Rounding off the disc is a revealing excerpt from a Polish television documentary where the original author Stanislaw Lem - who did not appreciate Tarkovsky's vision of his book - talks about trying to reach a compromise with the visionary director.
Blu-ray VerdictSolaris is a tense psychological voyage basking in its contemplative, meditative overtones, whilst still telling a gripping story of haunting regret, loss and grief
Criterion offer up an excellent UK Region B-locked Blu-ray release of this sci-fi classic, with fantastic video to marry up to the exquisite visuals, and a strong audio component, as well as a superb selection of extra features. Rightly celebrated as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, Solaris deserves and demands to be in your collection. Highly recommended.
You can buy Solaris on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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