The Film (5/5)
Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris is a masterpiece of Sci-Fi cinema, scratch that, it is a masterpiece of cinema, as well as a masterpiece of the Science Fiction genre. Like the best science fiction films it is a reflection of its era, and uses the sci-fi genre as a springboard to tell a wonderfully emotional tale of lonliness, longing, and despair.
Films like Solaris are the reason I watch movies.
This film takes a genre I love, science fiction, and brings in the art house sensibilities Tarkovsky is known for. Creating a film with so many layers, that after viewing it four times I still feel that I have only recently begun to scratch the surface of what Tarkovsky has done with this film.
Solaris frequently offers comparsions to another film of the era Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while I love both films dearly, I have never fully been able to compare the 2. They are 2 different films with 2 different narrative, and emotional agendas, while Kubrick follows his atheist viewpoint to tell a story of human evolution, and scientific discovery. Tarkovsky's film is more spiritual in it's approach. Kubrick's film wows us with the wonder and spectacle of science and space, while Tarkovsky's Solaris makes us long for home, for simpler things like watching blades of grass blow in the wind.
Solaris tells the story of Kris Kelvin as astro-psychologist, who is sent to the space station Solaris (which is orbiting the planet Solaris) to examine and treat the 3 remaining crew members left aboard the vessel. The government is contemplating shutting down the station, as the current and past crew members have been suffering massive hallucinations, possibly due to the atmosphere of the planet Solaris, and it’s oceans below.
Kelvin is sent to investigate, and and evaluate the crew, but soon after arrival finds one of the crew has recently taken his own life succumbing to the hallucinations, and finds that he has fallen victim to them as well. The hallucination he experiences is in the form of his late wife Hari. At first he rejects her, sending her off into a capsule, however when she returns they begin their relationship anew. Unfortunately, Kris has grown as a person, and emotionally, and Hari acknowledges this eventually committing suicide much like she did the decade before, this sends Kris on a journey of self-discovery, in an attempt to change his life.
It is very weird to look at a film made close to 40 years ago, and see direct parallels to our modern times. I’m sure you could actually take almost any work of art, and find some link to modern situations if one were to really want to, however, the themes of nature vs. progress in Solaris seem to resonate quite deeply in our modern age. Kris, although on a modern marvel a space station, which is orbiting a planet far from our own Earth, is more in love with the simplicity of the nature of our planet. This is in direct contrast with the scientist, who only sees the future, and the technology around them.
It is well established that the author of the original Solaris novel Stanislaw Lem was not a fan of the Tarkovsky adaptation, and was looking forward to the Soderbergh reimagining when he passed on, and while the Soderbergh film is good in its own right, the Tarkovsky version while not accurate to the source novel definitely has a more timeless appeal. Tarkovsky, has taken the sci-fi framework and themes of the Lem novel, and has injected a spirituality all his own. This is less an adaptation of that work than collaboration, and should be seen as such. Solaris is a work of sci-fi artistry. If you have not seen it, seek it out. If you have it seen it, watch it again, this film has so many layers, that it practically requires multiple viewings to unravel them all.
Criterion has worked their usual magic on Tarkovsky’s Solaris. They have presented the film in its original 2:37:1 theatrical aspect ratio, in an absolutely brilliant 1080p transfer, that outdoes their prior (and still excellent) SD-DVD by miles. I will state out front that when it comes to Blu-ray transfer I am in the pro-grain camp, I love film, and Solaris gives off the look of what the film would like when it was projected back in the 70’s. There is, of course, no DNR apparent. The level of clarity and detail is nothing short of amazing. The colors from the greens of the grass and leaves of the early portions of the film, to the reds and tans of the space stations Solaris burst from the screen like never before. This is Solaris at its most beautiful.
There is only one audio option a Russian LPCM 1.0 track, that like the video is restored wonderfully. The track is extremely solid; dialogue is completely audible and easy to follow throughout. The effects and music are leveled well in the mix. There is no background distortion, or any other notable audio defects present.
Criterion has put together an excellent slate of extras for this Blu-ray release of Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The Blu-ray kicks off with a commentary by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie. We then have a 33 minute interview (BTW, all interviews are 4 x 3 in HD) with Natalia Bondarchuk, the actress who plays Hari in the film. She discusses her experience on the film, and working with Tarkovsky. This is followed by an interview with Solaris cinematographer Vadim Yusov, who details the making and visual design of the film. This is an absolutely excellent interview for those interested in cinematography. We then get an interview with Mikhail Romadin the art director on Solaris that runs about 17 minutes, and also a 22 minute with the composer of the score for Solaris, Eduard Artemyev. The disc is rounded off with a short interview with Solaris author Stanislaw Lem running about 5 minutes, 9 deleted, and extended scenes that total about 25 minutes, and a booklet with essays on the film by Philip Leopate and Akira Kurosawa (!).
Solaris is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, and this Criterion edition is the greatest ever release of that film. The transfer is an absolute stunner with an audio restoration to match, and the extras are absolutely in depth, and informative and offer so much information on the film. This is extremely highly recommended!