Plot: What’s it about?
Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is a psychologist who lives with his father and a woman, the latter of which is more enigma than known person. His skills as a psychologist are quite impressive, so when a visitor arrives in need of his services, it is no surprise. But this visitor seeks to gain Kelvin’s assistance in a very nontraditional approach, as it will require the psychologist to venture into the depths of outer space. The visitor is Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), a man who used to be stationed on a spacecraft that orbits the planet Solaris, but he experienced some unusual phenomena and has returned to ask for Kelvin’s insights. It seems others have also had some strange experiences aboard the Prometheus, the ship that rests in the heavens over Solaris. After a quick briefing on Solaris and the guidelines of the mission taking place there, Kelvin is asked to travel to the Prometheus and evaluate the situation. The troubled state of the mission has some of the backers nervous and unless Kelvin concludes a solution is possible to stabilize the Prometheus’ crew members, the project is likely to be canceled. Kelvin agrees to visit the space station and give his professional analysis, unaware of how troubled the Prometheus has become. But has he been drawn to Solaris by chance, or is there more of a plan for Kelvin?
This movie sounds like sci/fi, looks like sci/fi, and has the usual trademarks for sci/fi, but don’t expect a traditional sci/fi picture with Solaris. I’ve seen this movie with several people and it often divides the audience, some find it to be understated and powerful, others find it to be pretentious and cryptic. I can see the argument made by both sides, but I think Solaris succeeds more than it fails, thanks to Andrei Tarkovsky’s personal approach. Yes, he makes it all seem distant and hard to relate to at times, but this is true of most of his movies and Solaris turns out to be a memorable cinematic experience. The slow pace is sure to scare off some viewers, while the offbeat and cryptic moments might push even more away, but for those who have seen Tarkovsky’s films before, I think Solaris is a solid acquisition. You can’t be the kind of person who needs all the questions answered and the problems solved into a neat little package, but then again if you’re that kind of viewer, you probably wouldn’t even touch Solaris in the first place, though to be certain, you’ll spin the recent remake in a heartbeat. I recommend Solaris to those interested in well crafted, off the beaten path pictures, as it has little mainstream appeal, but has a lot to offer discerning viewers. Criterion’s two disc edition is also excellent and such, Solaris is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Solaris is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As I’ve owned a Russian import edition for some time, I was curious to see how the two versions stacked up, but Criterion’s efforts are superior in all respects. A few print flaws remain behind, but the restoration work done is superb and should thrill fans of the movie, who have wanted a cleaned up version for so long, without question. The image sharpness blows the import edition out of the water, with a more detailed and refined overall presence, simply excellent work from Criterion. The colors have a brighter look, but stay within the film’s visual range, while flesh tones are natural at all times. I saw no troubles with the contrast either, as black levels were fine tuned and detail is strong throughout, just another top drawer treatment from Criterion.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original Russian soundtrack is preserved via a mono option, which is clean and solid, about all we could ask for in this case. As you’d expect from a mono soundtrack, it never pipes up much and seems a little confined, but this material isn’t needful of much audio power, so it never becomes an issue. The music is clear and never becomes distorted, while the sound effects come across in adequate form also. Just as solid is the dialogue, which is crisp and never gets buried under the other elements here. You can also enable newly translated English subtitles, in case you don’t speak Russian.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary track with Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie starts us off, in which the pair discuss not only the production of this picture, but also the director’s personal life and how it impacted his movies. That is important here, as Solaris was an intensely personal project and the comments shed some light, which is most welcome in this case. A five minute excerpt from a television documentary is found here, but its too brief to be that helpful, especially since it is loaded with clips from the movie itself. This release also includes a selection of deleted & alternate scenes, as well as a host of interviews with assorted cast & crew members. These interviews aren’t the usual EPK fluff either, as real insight is given and for fans of this movie and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, these interviews are excellent inclusions. In all, you’ll find almost two hours of interviews, as two of the sessions clock in at all well over thirty minutes each, while the others also run quite a substantial duration.