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Solaris: The Criterion Collection

Andrei Tarkovsky was in something of a bind in the early 1970s. His major opus (Andrei Rublev) was caught in Soviet bureaucratic limbo. He needed a project. Out of his hat he pulled Solaris (1972), primarily because science fiction was a popular genre in the USSR and he knew he could get it financed. To be certain, one can admire the austerity and purity of Tarkovsky's films without necessarily enjoying them. But has a major filmmaker made as many mistakes in his films as Tarkovsky? In Solaris, the movie switches from black and white to color without rhyme or reason. Characters are introduced without identification or motivation. Passages are padded to make some obscure (or non-?) point. Timelines are incomprehensible. Dialogue consists of discrete sentences with no relation to those that precede or follow. Solaris begins on earth, where psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is visited at his dacha by a colleague named Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) who was stationed at the planet Solaris some 30 years ago and had a weird encounter, He has brought an old videotape that explains something of Solaris, because Kelvin has been given the task of visiting the troubled spaceship Prometheus circling Solaris and evaluate its value as a continuing project. Released in the US in 1976, Solaris was shorn of some 40 minutes, which didn't help to impress middlebrow American reviewers at the time. Nevertheless, the film's reputation, and Tarkovsky's, has risen over the decades, and he came to symbolize the will of the artist in the face of oppression. In Tarkovsky's defense, one must acknowledge that he makes beautiful looking movies, filled with sensual images that must have been the bane of the soviet Apparatchiks. And if one gets into the spirit of the films, they can have beautiful effects, such as the exquisite poignancy of Solaris's concluding shot. Tarkovsky makes movies that need to be re-seen, despite their forbidding pace. Criterion's DVD relase of Solaris offers an exellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from digitally restored materials, with audio in Dolby Digital 1.0. Features include an informantive commentary track with Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, nine deleted/alternative scenes, new cast and crew interviews, an excerpt from a documentary about novelist Stanislaw Lem, and a 12-page folding insert. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D. K. Holm

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