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Andrei Tarkovsky is one of those severely serious filmmakers who are uncompromising in their vision, which few understand in their lifetime. If you think Bergman is severe, get a load of this guy. His films are slow-paced and deeply tax patience, but are brilliantly conceived and executed. In interviews and in his writings Tarkovsky was always saying that his big theme was love, and while the coldness of his films often belied his subject, he did view the world as a place that put human connections in peril. Stalker takes a somewhat different approach to that subject. Ostensibly a science fiction film, like Solaris it is mostly a movie of ideas, with even fewer of the trappings of the conventional sci-fi film. In a nutshell it concerns the trip by a guide (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Tarkovsky's favorite actor) and his two clients, the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) into The Zone, a mysterious, guarded area with a strange past. The Zone supposedly contains a room at its center in which the visitor's wishes are made reality. As in Solaris, the Zone plays tricks on the minds of its residents. The Zone is unpredictable. The Zone evokes less a wondrous land than one of those vast forbidden areas in the Soviet Union decimated by some calamitous nuclear explosion or meteor crash. And the film is less about The Zone than the men's reaction to it. Stalker comes from Ruscico, the Russian Cinema Council. The 160-minute picture is divided in half over two discs, the first 70 min. on Disc One, the final 90 minutes on Disc Two. The film comes in a very clean, full-frame image (1.33:1), though one can see "video lines" in several scenes. The Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 audio makes some effective use of the haunted world of The Zone. Supplements also are divided between the two discs. Disc One has five minutes of excerpts from The Steamroller and the Violin, Tarkovsky's film-school thesis, as well as Memory, a "documentary of place" about Tarkovsky's home. There is a stills gallery with 10 super-sharp "on location" images. A three-screen bio of Tarkovsky in uncertain English rounds out the extras. Disc Two features a six-minute video interview with cinematographer Aleksandr Knyazhinsky, a very poignant interview with production designer Rashid Safiullin, extensive filmographies, and a 20-minute interview with composer Eduard Artemyev (as an Easter egg). Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D. K. Holm

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