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Blu-ray Reviews

Solaris (1972) Blu-ray



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#1 of 9 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted May 17 2011 - 02:17 PM


Solaris (1972) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1972

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 166 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: PCM 1.0 Russian
Subtitles: English

Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.95


Release Date: May 24, 2011

Review Date: May 17, 2011


The Film

3.5/5


After Stanley Kubrick both bewildered and delighted sci-fi fans with his epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, it seems as if Andrei Tarkovsky must have wanted some pieces of that mix of conundrum and enchantment to work just as harmoniously with his 1972 film Solaris. As frequently confounding on one’s first visit to 2001 was, Solaris seems clearer on repeat trips to its far out horizons. Kubrick’s mammoth film can’t be matched in terms of its sci-fi paraphernalia (especially for its time), but Tarkovsky’s epic may have the upper hand in emotional impact. It’s not as awesome a spectacle, of course, but despite its eternally slow pace, it manages to hold one’s interest through the slower, less interesting passages.


Strange events have been going on at a space station hovering above the planet Solaris for quite some time, so space psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to investigate, his report being the determining factor in whether the station will remain open or be shut down. At the station resides its last two scientists Snaut (Yuri Yarvet) who is in charge of the facility and seems to have something of a grasp of its secrets and the prickly Sartorius (Anatoly Solonitsyn). As reported by astronaut Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), the oceans of Solaris seem to have an effect on the minds of those on the station conjuring up hyper-real hallucinations that are impossible to get rid of. In Kris’ case, his hallucination is of his wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) who’s been dead for a decade. Initially he resists the temptation of believing she’s real, but eventually, he can’t deny his love for the creation, and she in turn seems to be changing into human form the more she experiences the outgoing affection from Kris.


Dealing with metaphysical issues of the nature of man and the elements, the real and the imaginary, the power of love versus the negative effects of longing, Tarkovsky’s screenplay (co-written with Fridrikh Gorenshtein and adapted from a book written by Stanislaw Lem) emphasizes the humanity of the situation and lessens any temptation to focus on the sci-fi aspects of the story (making comparisons to 2001 rather pointless in that regard). The growing feelings that Kris and faux-Hari experience are rather heartbreaking throughout, and Tarkovsky keeps the camera close (even in widescreen Sovscope) so we can see every flicker of an eyelash (or in the case of one extended shot, hairs growing out of an ear). True, he tends to dawdle over moments that just aren’t that interesting (several minutes spent scanning Breughel’s masterwork “Hunters in the Snow” in intricate detail; the climactic payoff wasn’t really worth the time), and he segues between black and white and color to no real purpose (except for a filmed report which makes sense in monochrome; the director was dealing with a shortage of color film stock but the transitions are sometimes jarring and nonsensical). It takes real patience to draw everything out of the rich palette the director is offering, and many may balk before the end due to the measured pacing and controlled emotions on display through much of the film, but the concluding scenes do have impact and are worth the wait.


Natalya Bondarchuk has some rich scenes as Hari which, even at age eighteen, she handled with aplomb. Donatas Banionis is really the heartbreaking spine of the movie, however, as the lonely and hopelessly in love Kris Kelvin. Emotions flicker across his face through the film’s more than two and a half hours, and watching him work will provide much enjoyment even for those who may find the languid pacing of the film a trial. Yuri Yarvet shows authority as the man in charge of the space station, and Anatoly Solonitsyn is his match as the hard-to-pin down Sartorius.



Video Quality

4/5


The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented I 1080p using the AVC codec. All of the black and white footage is stunning to watch, crisp and detailed with superb contrast. The color footage in the first ninety minutes is less sharp and satisfying. Color values are certainly acceptable, but details that normally pop in high definition don’t during many of these initial sequences. The film’s last eighty minutes or so offer a great improvement in clarity and intricate details. Color saturation seems more solid, and flesh tones are more appealing. The image throughout is very clean, but black levels are not the transfer’s strong suit being rather lackluster. The subtitles, sometimes ivory and something a pale yellow, are easy to read. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.



Audio Quality

4/5


The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track is one of the quietest you’ll ever experience, especially for a film of this age. Any age-related hissing, popping, crackling, or fluttering has been eliminated, and when things are quiet (as are lengthy passages of the movie), there is utter silence. Dialogue was post synched and is always discernible (if rather arid). Music doesn’t possess much fidelity until the climactic passages of the movie where it begins to soar.



Special Features

4.5/5


The audio commentary is provided by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie who deliberately swap off comments back and forth throughout the epic running time of the film. They offer facts about the production and offer opinions about ultimate possible meanings of the scenes throughout. Fans of the movie will find this a must-listen.


All of the video featurettes are presented in 1080i.


There are nine deleted/extended scenes which may be viewed separately or in one 25-minute bunch.


Actress Natalya Bondarchuk offers opinions about the director and his work along with stories concerning how she got the part, her definition of art, good times and bad times in their work together, and other information about her long career before and behind the camera in this 32 ¼-minute interview.


The film’s cinematographer Vadim Yusov talks for 34 minutes on his experiences with the director, not only on this film but on others. He also mentions his initial meeting with Tarkovsky, the origins of the project, comparisons to 2001, how the ocean effects were achieved, and location filming.


Art director Mikhail Romadin offers an entertaining interview which discusses his first encounter with the legendary director as well as their shared dislike for science fiction. This runs 16 ¾ minutes.


Composer Eduard Artemyev talks about his education in composition, his frustrating meetings with the director about scoring the film, and techniques he used specifically in working on his movies. This runs 21 ¾ minutes.


A very brief excerpt from a TV biography of author Stanislaw Lem stresses the author’s dissatisfaction with the film of his book. It runs 5 minutes.


The enclosed 21-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some color stills from the movie, writer Phillip Lopate’s analysis of the film, and a celebratory essay on the director and his movie by director Akira Kurosawa.


The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)


A difficult and challenging philosophical think piece on life’s mysteries and meanings, Solaris won’t be for all tastes, but this new Blu-ray release features excellent picture and sound and ports the contents of the previous DVD release onto a single Blu-ray disc. For the patiently curious, this comes with a firm recommendation.



Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 9 OFFLINE   Nelson Au

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Posted May 20 2011 - 07:50 AM

This is tempting to pick-up. I tried once or twice to catch it many years ago on PBS, but reception was very snowy and it was late at night. Made it harder to watch. I've seen the Clooney version out of curiosity, but I've not fully seen this, the original. The B&N Criterion sale is coming up!

#3 of 9 ONLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted May 20 2011 - 11:21 AM

Nelson, I really like this movie (and the special features, all of which were on Criterion's DVD, were great), but this is a movie that I'd never recommend anyone do a blind buy on.  If it's possible for you to rent it (even the DVD, which, while being SD instead of HD, is still quite good), it might be one of those titles best seen first before committing to a purchase.  Matt's above review is fantastic... but when he talks about things like the films "measured pace", he's been very generous - this movie moves about as fast as paint drying on a wall  (but despite it's flaws I'm still a big fan)

#4 of 9 OFFLINE   Professor Echo

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Posted May 20 2011 - 11:31 AM

I have a lot of patience for films and whatever pace they may choose to employ, which perhaps explains why I find this to be one of the most compelling motion pictures I have ever seen. But I think Josh is right about a qualified warning to any blind buys. For me, Tarkovsky's ANDRE RUBLEV is the one I never need to see again. Ponderous, pretentious and some ugly, totally unnecessary animal cruelty. Once was once too much for me on that one. The audio commentary for SOLARIS is probably my all time favorite audio commentary on any DVD. Listening to it in one sitting was like being in your favorite classroom and never wanting that bell to ring.

#5 of 9 OFFLINE   Nelson Au

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Posted May 20 2011 - 02:43 PM

Sure, I'm very aware of the slow pace nature of the film. I've seen portions of it when it aired on PBS, I may have seen the entire film during one of those PBS broadcasts. It's been a long time.

#6 of 9 ONLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted May 20 2011 - 03:15 PM

Glen, I only remember enjoying the commentary but don't remember specifics about it - sounds like I may be past due to give it another spin... I remember the first time I saw this movie was a subtitled, widescreen VHS from I forget who.  One of the more interesting subtitle jobs I've ever seen, it seemed like they subtitled/translated scenes when they felt like it, and felt perfectly willing to not subtitle them if the mood didn't strike, or something.  I still loved it, but to get the Criterion disc and actually understand what was going on in 100% of the dialogue scenes, that was pretty nice.

#7 of 9 OFFLINE   Professor Echo

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Posted May 20 2011 - 06:19 PM

Josh, one of the most interesting subtitle jobs I've ever seen was on the very bizarre Turkish remake of THE EXORCIST called SEYTAN. As I wrote in my Amazon review of the DVD:

Not only do they have a limited grasp of English, but often come with bizarre footnotes marked by an asterisk underneath them and even some editorializing about the film itself! It almost appears as if the translator made notes about his translations and the folks burning them onto the film thought EVERYTHING on his notes were intended to be used. At one point in an exchange using Latin, there is a translation that says "Search GOOGLE."



#8 of 9 ONLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted May 21 2011 - 05:38 PM

Wow! Really, just... wow.  I don't know what else to say about that.  Sounds like an interesting evening of moviewatching.

#9 of 9 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted May 22 2011 - 04:39 AM

This film has to be one of the best non-pharma based solutions to insomnia I have ever seen. I tried watching it twice and both times I was asleep before an hour had passed. Frankly, I found the Clooney remake of this story much more watchable. At least I was able to stay awake for the entire running length of the Clooney version. Josh Steinberg's comparison to paint drying is totally apt when it comes to this film.
"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."





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