Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Solaris (The Criterion Collection) (1972)

SolarisThis review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

It also compares it with the version released by the Russian Cinema Council (RUSCICO)

Solaris, released as Solyaris in Russia, is among my favorite Russian films, and my favorite film by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is based on the sci-fi novel by Stanislaw Lem. It is been considered a Russian version of 2001 A Space Odyessy. While some consider it to be the polar opposite.

An interesting note is that the Criterion Collection edition was released exacltly one day before the theactrical release of the 2002 remake directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney.

It is about a space station orbiting an apparently sentient planet. The planet has the capability of reading the minds of the scientists aboard the space station and created 'doubles' of people from their past. When a psychologist comes aboard to investigate, he is confounded by the recreation of his dead wife.

It is a great film. Although it is slow paced, it has some excelent and unique cinematography. One example is one scene near the begining of the film where it focuses on raindrops landing in a full teacup. The special effects in this film are quite impressive given the time, place, and budget of filming. To top it off the film's score includes a superb rendition of J.S. Bach's Choral Prelude in F Minor, "Ich ruf zu' dir Herr Jesu Christ" BWV 639.

There are some subltle differences betweent he Criterion DVD and the RUSCICO DVD. The most noticable is a 5 minute POV scene of driving through the streets of a city. The scene is in both color and B&W. In the RUSCICO version part of the scene segues from B&W to color. on the Criterion DVD this part is solely in color.

The DVD has some excellent special features

Disc one contains the film plus an audio commentary by Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, who are experts on Andrei Tarkovsky and are co-authors of the book, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue.

Disc two contains 9 deleted and alternate scenes. There are also interviews with composer, Eduard Artimiev, lead actress Natalya Bondarchuk, (daughter War & Peace director, Sergei Bondarchuk) cinematographer Vadim Yusov, and art director Mikhal Romadin. There is also an excerpt from a Stanislaw Lem documentary.

The RUSCICO DVD is also good and has filmographys of cast & crew, a production photo album, an interview with Andrei Tarkovsky's sister, a biography of Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanislaw Lem, and a biographical film on lead actor Donatis Banionis.

Both versions are worth getting but the Criterion Collection version is far better. This one is a Must buy!

This film is long, poignant, interesting, haunting, dazzling to the eye, and actually quite scary. While watching it late one night, I found myself alone on the first floor of my house, and I must admit, I kept searching the room in fright after every little noise I heard. It's not a horror movie, but it rolls along at a slow, atmospheric, creepy-crawly pace.

One bonus of the film being so long with big spaces between dialogue, it gives you the opportunity to switch to the informative commentary track, to hear some interesting insight into the film. While most other movies you MUST watch it with the commentary off to be able to take it all in correctly, you can actually get away with switching back and forth without missing too much of the actual film. One part of the commentary I disagreed with was when the male narrator noted that in the scene where Satorius takes the gauze off Hari's finger and tosses it, that he is doing this because of contamination. One can clearly see by his expression and manner in doing this, that he is being sarcastic as he knows that Hari does not need a bandage, because the wound will simply regenerate and heal in a matter of minutes. There is also a sense of his envy toward her because Kelvin gets to have a doppleganger of his wife to somewhat enjoy, while Satorius only has dwarfs to deal with.

I think the scenes on Earth are gorgeous and completely necessary. Hoever, had they not been there like in the book, the movie would have been 2 hours instead of 2 hours and 40 minutes (a much easier time for mainstream audiences to grasp). I wouldn't trade it for a shorter run time at all. Tarkovsky is not a mainstream movie maker and thus the reason for him having these extra scenes on Earth, and he is still able to make a two hour film version of the book after that.

With the exception of Star Wars, many sci-fi films of the 60's and 70's (including Kubrick's 2001) went all out with Sci-Fi special effects, but then seeing them today, they still seem very outdated. Where this film had no special effects budget and minimal sets, I think it still holds up today without looking dated. The scenes on Earth could have all taken place right now, or 30 years from now without anyone doubting it. And the look of the space station's interior, albeit vague and minimal, still looks fresh and definitely wouldn't appear out of place in any current sci fi setting.

The only annoyance to me in the film was the switching between black and white and color. While a few scenes called for it due to a switch in tonality, or time within the film, there were other places where it made no logical sense to do so. Some say it was the lack of a budget that did not offer Tarkovsky a vast stash of color film, so he tried to artistically spare it. It's a shame if that's the case, because there are a few scenes in black and white, which would have worked much better in color.

Overall, a masterpiece of a film that is certainly not for everyone. The majority of blockbuster oriented moviegoers will hate this film, but true film lovers should treasure it. Stunning visuals, superb acting, and a one of a kind director.

Buy Solaris (The Criterion Collection) (1972) Now

First of all, this 2-disc Criterion "special edition" of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film _Solaris_ is clearly intended to capitalize on Steven Soderbergh's American remake. I'm not sure whether either will succeed; Soderbergh's version is an art film masquerading as a Christmas movie, and I think it's fair to say that those who can't stand the original won't much like the remake.

Tarkovsky's _Solaris_ has suffered unfairly from facile comparisons with Kubrick's _2001: A Space Odyssey_. The two films are deeply opposed in both tone and content, though on the most superficial level, the pace of both films makes them appear rather similar. That said, Tarkovsky's elliptical, nostalgic work stands very well on its own.

The first forty-five minutes of _Solaris_ are slow going, even by Tarkovsky's glacial standards. (They're also profoundly important to subsequent action, so don't even try to skip them.) Once the action shifts to the mysterious space station, the story quickly sinks its hooks into you and doesn't let go for an instant, up to its mysterious and unsettling conclusion.

Criterion's video and audio transfers are dependably high-quality, though in this case far from flawless. The extras on Disc 2 consist mostly of dull interviews with cast and crew (though, in a notable omission, there is no interview with Tarkovsky himself). But the audio commentary on Disc 1 with film scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie is absolutely indispensible (at least, if you're into this sort of academic analysis). As is usually the case with Criterion, the extras are directed chiefly at hard-core film buffs and scholars.

Some critics have noted that _Solaris_ is Tarkovsky's most commercial film, although in terms of his oeuvre that term is strictly relative. It's still plenty strange, and if you haven't been properly initiated into Tarkovsky's work, this film is as frustrating and impenetrable as anything he directed (except for his last, most accessible film, _The Sacrifice_).

If you're ready for _Solaris_, it's a deeply moving experience. If not, stay away until you know you are.

Read Best Reviews of Solaris (The Criterion Collection) (1972) Here

Tarkovsky's most popular film was often viewed as the atni-2001 when it was first released. In many ways it was--the story focuses on the personal and how we define our sense of humanity while 2001 focused on the way technology robs us of our humanity. The ironic thing is that Tarkovsky reportedly disliked Kubrick's masterpiece and yet it resembles 2001 more than it is different than it. More than likely, it was epic envy; the broad canvas that Kubrick used to make 2001 was something that would have appealed to the talented Russian director.

Based on Stanislaw Lem's classic science fiction novel, Solaris concerns a crew aboard a space station observing an unusual planet. Solaris is no ordinary planet, however, as it is sentient (much like the Monolith in 2001 which represented the remains of the alien civilization that created it). What's more, the planet has the ability to shape dreams that come to life. Psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent out to find out what's happened to the crew aboard the space station (much like the Monolith recreates its vision of a home--actually in 2001 it's an impersonal, gaudy hotel room or palace). Kelvin quickly finds himself sucked into the dream given flesh that has so distracted and unsettled the crew. He arrives to find the crew haunted by people and things from their dreams. After his first night on the station Kelvin is also effected. He awakens to find his wife with him. This is impossible, however, because she committed suicide years before.

Like all of Tarkovsky's films Solaris is long and short on exposition. It's character driven (much like 2001 was character driven--but by the machines that have supplemented humanity). The basic premise is similar to Lem's novel, but Tarkovksy uses it as a means to question reality and memory. It's a visually striking although spare film as well. Clearly Tarkovsky didn't have the resources of Kubrick but managed to make do with what he had. A warning for those interested in seeing this film. Tarkovsky's films, like many of Kubrick's, move at a glacial pace. They are not for everyone. There are many long, involved takes and there isn't anything approaching action in his films. I'd recommend renting it to see if you like it. For fans of the novel by Lem, you may want to approach the film with an open mind. Lem disliked the film because Tarkovsky's approach was very different to the same themes. There's also quite a bit of religious symbolism embedded in Solaris something Lem might have objected to as well.

Tarkovsky made few movies during his lifetime due to the restrictions of the communist government but this, in some respects, is his most intense and personal. Like Kubrick and Kurosawa, Tarkovsky was a master with his own, unique vision expressed in his films. Again, that's ironic given that his films were made during an era in Russia where the collectivism of Communism overshadowed the individual. Ultimately, what's most rewarding about the film is the questions it raises about what makes us human. Some of the answers are quiet startling.

The transfer is quite good and the soundtrack sounds pretty good as well although there is some distortion. The extras include a running commentary by two Tarkovsky scholars (although I disagree with many of their observations, some of them were on target). Additionally, the second disc has scenes excised from the film. Most of these scenes are repetitive and dilute what they explain so one can see why they were left out.

The loss of individuality and our sense of humanity in the vastness of space (a perfect metaphor for the Communist society--or any society for that matter)is a theme common to Kubrick and Tarkovsky. Their very different views and social values helped shape their differing film vision.

Want Solaris (The Criterion Collection) (1972) Discount?

Solaris is perhaps one of the most nerving science-fiction films I have ever seen. Beginning strongly with the skepticism of a tired, yet professional psychologist, Solaris follows this man into the outer reaches of our own world and knowledge, and to a place that is, 'simply,' unfathomable. Our lead character, after a strange briefing, arrives on the Solaris space station, orbiting the planet Solaris, to figure out what has gone wrong with the crew, and why they have cut off all communication with Earth. As answers develop, and further questions arrise, one immediately begins to feel the horror of human frailty. Solaris hits hard, develops characters unlike many films do anymore, and ends with closure, questions, and a satisfactory level of goosebumps.

Solaris is artfully filmed, with a lot of time spent on landscapes and close-ups. This is a long film, but is over quickly. The discovery of the 'mysteries' occuring on the Solaris space station are very disturbing, and leave the viewer with plenty to think about (or perhaps dream about), days later. The Criterion Collection was done well with plenty of special features, but really deserves a much better enhanced picture. There are many signs of aging in this film, and a remastering, or even a high definition version, could easily be an achievement for a film well-deserving. Additionally, the audio is Russian-mono with subtitles. I highly recommend this for purchase, however, despite aged film. The story alone is memorable for a lifetime.

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