Eye For Film >> Movies >> Stalker (1979) DVD Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Artificial Eye's presentation of Stalker is a bit higgledy piggledy, with the extras scattered across two discs. Perhaps the best way to describe them is "before" and "after".
On the first, we are presented with the first part of the film along with an excerpt from Tarkovsky's diploma offering, The Steamroller And The Violin, Tarkovsky's biography, a Tarkovsy-esque meander through the house he lived in as a child and in-production shots, leaving the post-production interviews and other cast and crew biographies for the second disc.
Aside from the slight quirk of positioning, the presentation is excellent. The animated menus are engaging and easy to navigate, with a good size of print which doesn't leave you squinting around to find the subtitle menu.
The colour and clarity is excellent for a film of its age, with no obvious scratching. The sepia portion is richly coloured and the colour sequences also well realised.
The sound is available in the original mono and in Russian 5.1. Beware, these two representations are distinctly different in places. Perhaps most notable is on the train trip into the Zone, where the original version relies on the rhythmic "music" of the train, travelling over the tracks, to carry the viewer, while the 5.1 version overlays some of Artemyev's ambient music.
Occasionally the music in the 5.1 version seems overly loud and once or twice the sound is "cleaned up", losing some of Tarkovsky's original intention. The 5.1 version, I suspect, equates more closely to Artemyev's vision than that of Tarkovsky.
As regards the extras, they are few but enjoyable. The excerpt from his diploma film demonstrates how good Tarkovsky was, right from the outset of his career, and it is only a shame that there isn't more than the few minutes we get to see. With luck, Artificial Eye will release the full version at some point.
Tarkovsky's House is, in fact, a short film, entitled Memory, which intercuts sequences from Stalker's dream with Tarkovsky's derelict boyhood home. Shot in the style of the director himself, this is a poignant and thought-provoking sequence in its own right. There are just 10 production photographs here, with only one shot in colour.
The most interesting - and most sad - extras are the interviews with director of photography Knyazhinsky and production designer Saifiullin. The former, filmed in a care home, seems overcome with melancholy at the thought that so many of the cast and crew, who worked on the film, have since passed away - he, too, died not long after. His brief interview - at around five minutes in length - offers an insight into the area of Estonia, where most of the Zone shooting occured, explaining that much of the standing water used on the sets was present already and discussing how they used this to their advantage, but it is disturbing to watch somone who is so ill talk about things that he misses.
Saifullin's interview is much meatier, as he talks about the devastating loss of the first half of the film after negatives were spoiled a year into the shoot. He also reminisces about Tarkovsky's eye for detail - "He wanted to know the motivation of every flower" - and discusses his belief that elements of the Stalker character were based on himself. The only downside is that occasionally the subtitles slip into pidgen English, not so much that you lose the thread, though.
The cast and crew biographies are in a sensible typeface, so that you can read them from across the room - other DVD manufacturers please take note. Watch out, while you are reading them for Artemyev's, which contains a not-so-hidden feature of a 21 minute interview. Why Artificial Eye hasn't just packaged this to appear alongside the other interviews is beyond me, as it is a fascinating insight into the way that Tarkovsky viewed the scoring of his films. He was keen to use as little music as possible and had Artemyev reading dissertations before composing in order to achieve the right ambience for certain scenes. Also, squirrelled away in Artemyev's filmography, is a teaser for Solaris.
Overall, the DVD extras have been chosen well and genuinely add to the viewer's understanding of the film, without seeming contrived. It is just a shame that some of them are so hard to find.Reviewed on: 23 May 2002