Stalker Blu-ray Review
Your Own Worst Enemy
Celebrated Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, despite frequent preferences for Solaris, is often regarded as the director's defining piece.The cerebral sci-fi effort posits an unknown/alternate future where a meteor - or something - has caused a vast area of land to be sealed off, with no one allowed to go in. Led by the titular 'Stalker', two disparate individuals elect to be led into the heart of this 'Zone', for different reasons and with different motivations. Growing impatient of the Stalker's ramblings about traps and what 'path' they follow, the group become fractious and find themselves in increasing danger.Tarkovsky's seminal sci-fi drama is as much a tense, almost horror-themed, thriller as it is a socio-political reflection on the past, present and future. His talent is for crafting such an engaging, atmospheric piece that you almost forget that he's probably got some grander plan up his sleeve, the effect of which is to - of course - throw a curveball into the most mundane of situations. Taking as much a look inward as outward (as he did with Solaris), the end result is resonant.
Picture QualityThe near-40 year old Stalker reaches UK shores in its second release, this time though courtesy of Criterion, who deliver it upon a Region B-locked UK Blu-ray mirroring the Region A-locked US release which preceded it by a few days. It sports a deceptively striking 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition rendition of the film, maintaining its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 'academy', which makes the absolute most of the new 2K digital restoration work done for Criterion, based on the original 35mm camera negative.
The visual presentation looks tremendous, belying the film's age
It looks tremendous, although newcomers - more than fans - will be both somewhat spoiled and somewhat surprised by just how near-perfect the non-Zone sequences are, with the sepia monochrome absolutely astounding, allowing for a tremendous amount of detail, and often belying the film's age. The later Zone scenes are far more in-line with what you'd expect from a production of this budget and vintage, but are still impressive, with a fair amount of detail evident even on the mid-range and longer shots, whilst an understandable amount of softness also becomes more prominent than on the earlier scenes. Colours are vibrant, and black levels are strong, and the image itself is pristine in terms of defects, although, given the quality of the opening sequences, some might (stylistic intentions and implications notwithstanding) long for an entirely monochrome rendition, like Mad Max: Black and Chrome, or Logan: Noir, as it's almost certain you'd then be looking at a perfect image.
Sound QualityA strong and faithful audio offering
The accompanying original Russian dialogue lossless Linear PCM 1.0 mono track is a strong and faithful offering, reflecting the source material and delivering it with clarity and respect. Dialogue remains well-prioritised, and the subtle, often non-existent score sweeps in where appropriate, slightly lighter around the edges but still resonant irrespective of the limited scope of the array. Effects are surprisingly well observed, with squeaking rail cars, revving engines, thundering trains and echoing gunshots plopping into water. It's not exactly an engulfing mix, but it does a great job at representing the mood and style of the piece, and goes some way towards helping place you in the thick of this dingy, grimy tale.
ExtrasCriterion deliver the same strong selection of extra features that mirror their near-simultaneous US release, which includes a series of four Interviews, headlined by a half-hour brand new video interview from author Geoff Dyer, who wrote a book about the film and who discusses the impact Stalker had upon him. The rest of the interviews are archival, but no less welcome, with an interview with composer Eduard Artemyev, who discusses his work scoring the piece, set designer Rashit Safiullin, who talks about the problematic shoot and working with Tarkovsky, and cinematographer Aleksandr Knyazhinskiy, who also discusses the shoot and locations, as well as working with the legendary perfectionist director. The package is rounded off by one of Criterion's trademark booklets featuring further writings on the film.
Blu-ray VerdictThe end result is a resonant film and a lovely Blu-ray release
Criterion have once again done a spectacular job and, even though it is a re-release, fans would be advised to consider picking it up for the superior video quality alone, let alone the excellent additional material.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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