DVD Review: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Daring Science Fiction ‘Solaris’

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CHICAGO – Modern viewers may be more familiar with Steven Soderbergh & George Clooney’s remake of “Solaris,” a good film on its own merits as it’s so different from its source in tone, but the massively influential original version by the legendary Andrei Tarkovsky holds a far more prominent place in film history. Tarkovsky’s mesmerizing piece of science fiction has been a part of the Criterion Collection for some time but it’s been chosen to get the upgrade to the Blu-ray department of the legendary line of releases and so the standard DVD, which was the only version we could get our hands on, was given a new treatment as well.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

It’s hard to describe “Solaris” accurately. It’s such an unusual movie in that it’s a piece from a genre in which we’ve become accustomed to things like space creatures, but it’s far more based on human psychology than alien technology. With elements of “2001: A Space Odyssey” or, for younger viewers, even “Event Horizon,” “Solaris” is about the roots of madness and the devastating impact of human emotion.

Solaris was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 24, 2011
Solaris was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 24, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of The Criterion Collection

Based on the novel of the same name, “Solaris” is about a space station circling the titular planet. The crew has essentially gone crazy. A psychologist goes there to see if there’s anything can be done and he falls victim to the same problems. It’s not long before he’s communicating with his long-dead wife and things get weirder from there. The less you know about “Solaris,” the better. Just know that it’s a piece in which the subconscious of the average man is truly the final frontier.

Solaris was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 24, 2011
Solaris was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 24, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of The Criterion Collection

Tarkovsky’s film is strangely mesmerizing, in no small part because it’s so different from what we’ve come to expect from films set in outer space. It’s undeniably slow but it doesn’t feel overly long (even at close to 3 hours). It’s a masterfully crafted piece by one of history’s most-admired directors. If you’re a young reader who wants to expand his view of science fiction, it would be a fantastic place to start.

And you couldn’t do better than the Criterion edition which includes a complete second disc of special features along with a strong transfer, even on standard DVD. I wish we could appraise the HD transfer, and the Blu-ray is definitely the way to go if you have the option, but the standard transfer is better than average.

“Ground control has been receiving strange transmissions from the remaining residents of the Solaris space station. When cosmonaut and psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate, he experiences the strange phenomena that afflict the Solaris crew, sending him on a voyage into the darkest recesses of his own consciousness. In Solaris, the legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky created a brilliantly original science-fiction epic that challenges our conceptions about love, truth, and humanity itself.”

Special Features:
o Audio Commentary by Andrei Tarkovsky Scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie
o Nine Deleted and Alternate Scenes
o Video Interviews with Actress Natalya Bondarchuk, Cinematographer Vadim Yusov, Art Director Mikhail Romadin, and Composer Eduard Artemyev
o Excerpt From a Documentary About Stanislaw Lem, the Author of the Film’s Source Novel
o Booklet Featuring an Essay by Critic Phillip Lopate and an Appreciation by Director Akira Kurosawa

“Solaris” stars Donatas Banionia, Natalya Bondarchuk, and Nikolai Grinko. It was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was released by The Criterion Collection on May 17th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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