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Solaris (1971)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

review by Ceri Jordan

This Soviet era classic, adapted from the novel by Stanislaw Lem, sprawls across two discs in Artificial Eye's DVD release, perhaps in emulation of Tarkovsky's epic vision of the future. Sometimes called "the Russian 2001", Solaris is, on the surface, a simpler story than Kubrick's masterpiece. After a series of incidents on a research station orbiting the giant marine world of Solaris, a scientist is dispatched to decide whether to terminate the project on safety grounds. He arrives to find an old colleague dead, and the two remaining crew members mad - or are they? Is the world they are studying attacking them - or trying to communicate with them? And who is the strange girl he glimpses in the corridors?

This is not a film for the action fan. Tarkovsky's deliberate pacing and endless tracking shots can become wearying, and the obtuse, metaphysical reduction of Lem's classic story is often frustrating. The final scenes, while startling, aren't an ending in any real sense of the word, and many events go unexplained. However, in a film about the alien both outside us and within us, that seems strangely appropriate.

What Solaris most resembles is one of those conversations about the meaning of life that you have at two in the morning after a bottle or two of wine - but rendered into a stark, beautiful dreamscape that only really comes into focus long after the film has ended. Persevere, and you will be rewarded.

Solaris (1971)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

review by Gary Couzens

Chris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, which has no land but a single vast, possibly sentient ocean. Kelvin arrives to find the station in disarray, with only two survivors, Snaut (Yuri Yarvet) and Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsin). Kelvin discovers that Solaris can manifest people's memories into physical form and soon enough his dead wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), visits him...

Tarkovsky's film is less philosophical and more emotional in content than the Stanislaw Lem novel on which it is based. (It's still nothing resembling a Hollywood SF film, so it will be fascinating to see what the forthcoming remake, written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starring George Clooney, will be like.) The film begins with a long sequence set on Earth that sets up the premise and establishes Kelvin's relationship with his father. This has a lot of relevance later on, especially in the final sequence. Adjustment has to be made to the film's slow pace (not for nothing has it been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, for both its pace as well as its conceptual ambitiousness), but images - water, especially - stick in the mind and accumulate considerable power as the film goes on. Hari knows she isn't real, but that doesn't stop her replicating Kelvin's wife's suicide... only for her to return to him the following night.

Solaris is part of the Russian Cinema Council's (Ruscico) project to release 120 of its country's classic films on DVD. This will include all five of the films Tarkovsky made in Russia, which Artificial Eye will distribute in the UK. Before this DVD, I had only seen Solaris panned and scanned on TV. Seen in the correct ratio, the film is a revelation, and not just for this DVD's excellent picture quality. Burton's drive through a futuristic cityscape, which previously seemed pointlessly over-extended, now makes sense - and the remixed soundtrack, which particularly benefits Eduard Artemyev's electronic score, certainly doesn't hurt.

This is quite simply, one of the finest SF films ever made, and this DVD certainly does it justice. The film is split over two discs (76 and 84 minutes), breaking at the original intermission point. It has a widescreen-enhanced picture with three Dolby digital soundtracks: the original Russian, plus English and French dubs. There is a choice of menus in all three languages, with 13 subtitle options. Extras: interviews with Tarkovsky's sister and Natalya Bondarchuk, a featurette on Donatas Banionis, cast and crew filmographies, biographies of Tarkovsky and Lem, and a stills gallery. The Lem biography has an embedded extract from the 1978 film Investigation Of Pilot Pirx (mis-transliterated from the Cyrillic as 'Pirks'), based on another of his novels. In the filmographies you can find several trailers for other Ruscico releases, distributed by Artificial Eye in the UK.

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