Blu-Ray Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Read Tony Sullivan's film review of Solaris

Where some DVD/Blu-ray extras feel like little more than snacks, those in the Criterion Collection are full banquets and the set of extras with this special edition of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris is no different. alongside a new, high-definition digital restoration that offers crisp colours and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, there are a host of extras.

Chief among them is the audio commentary by Tarkovsky experts Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie. Not so much a commentary track as an academic lecture, the two take it in turns to discuss aspects of the film, in particular focusing on the thematic ideas and the way that it fits within Tarkovsky's back catalogue. They speculate on the psychological resonance of certain aspects of the plot, such as Kris' mother, for Tarkovsky himself and offer a good chunk of observations from his associates. This isn't a particularly dynamic commentary, but it is most certainly a thorough one, although does not, unfortunately, come with HoH subtitles. The reviewing copy I received also had one or two technical issues with the sound levels on Johnson's contributions, although they have doubtless been rectified for the finished edition.

Copy picture

More dynamic are the video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk (Hari), cinematographer VadimYusov, production designer Mikhail Romadin and composter Eduard Artemyev. Between them, they paint a vibrant picture of Andrei Tarkovsky in his youth and his working methods. "We had heated arguments but they never got personal," recalls Yusov, while Artemyev talks about the level of artistic freedom he was given leaving him "floundering" initially. Bondarchuk shares both her memories and fondness for Tarkovsky and an insight into how she approached the role of Hari - like "The Little Mermaid - as well as expounding on what she views as the key themes of the film, while all of them note his remarkable control of detail, while still offering them broad creative freedom.

There is also a brief segment from a Polish documentary about Stanislaw Lem, better for inclusion than not, but only mentioning the film in passing. All of these segments contain excerpts from previous prints of the film that only serve to further underline how good this restoration looks in comparison. Tarkovsky completists will also enjoy the 25 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes here, showing subtle differences from the final cut.

This comprehensive and informative package is rounded out by a booklet featuring a new essay by Phillip Lopate - Inner Space - and an appreciation by director Akira Kurosawa - whose visit to the set is touched on here in the interviews. Lopate sets the film in the context of Tarkovsky's wider career and, as many of the extras here do, touches on the relationship between this film and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and is best read after watching the film, since it discusses plot developments in detail.

Kurosawa's essay is a delightfully personal take on his meeting with Tarkovsky, peppered with observations about the man himself, such as the drink the pair of them had after watching the film. "Tarkovsky, who does not usually drink, got completely drunk and cut off the speakers at the restaurant, then began singing the theme of Seven Samurai at the top of his lungs," writes Kurosawa, it's a joyous image, riotously at odds with the contents of the film itself and a reminder that there is always more to a filmmaker than just his work.

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2017
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Solaris packshot
A psychologist is sent to a space station to find out what has become of the occupants.
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Region: 0

Ratio: 2.36:1

Sound: Russian: LPCM Mono

Extras: Commentary track, interviews, documentary excerpt, essay booklet, deleted and alternative scenes

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