Criterion’s original DVD edition, released in 2002, presents Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Criterion would revisit the film and release it on Blu-ray (and again on DVD) in 2011. The key difference between the transfers, other than the fact the Blu-ray’s transfer is high-def, was the re-tinting of the “black and white” sequences within the film. Previous releases and prints presented most of the film’s monochrome scenes with a blue tint to them. It had actually been assumed by many that this was a mistake, a consequence of print materials in poor condition, and Criterion actually removed the tint from these sequences presenting them as flat black-and-white in this original DVD edition.
Other than this fact I can’t say there is much of difference between the two editions in look. This DVD, despite have the nearly 3-hour filmed crammed on one disc, presents a rather lovely standard-definition presentation for the feature. The print is in great condition with only a few blemishes of note like specs of debris and a few scratches. Colours look particularly strong and nicely saturated, and black levels come off fairly strong. The digital transfer itself also holds up as well. Detail is very good, with even finer details coming through clearly, and edges are nice and crisp. It can be a little noisy in places but it’s not all that problematic and its very clean.
It does get the tinting wrong in some scenes, which in and of itself will cause many I’m sure to seek out either the newer Criterion DVD or Blu-ray, but past that the transfer here is still quite nice. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion loads this 2-disc edition with a high number of strong supplements. The first disc presents the film and then offers an optional audio commentary by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, who both authored the 1994 book "The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Figure". It is a very scholarly track and it can be a bit dull but it has some good moments. It looks at all aspects of the film and Tarkovsky, including casting, writing, the novel on which it’s based, and more interestingly, problems involving the government who were of course overlooking the production (that long freeway sequence can ultimately be attributed to them.) And as expected they do offer their own analysis of sequences in the film, giving us their own thoughts and insights as to what Tarkovsky was trying to accomplish. There’s also mention of Soderbergh’s “upcoming” remake, which would have come out after this track was recorded. Even if it can be a bit dry it's a good commentary for the most part and a huge improvement over the disappointing one that appeared on Criterion's Andrei Rublev.
Disc 2, also a dual-layer disc, presents the remaining supplements starting with 9 deleted & alternate scenes. You get an alternate opening of sorts, which I was surprised to see Tarkovsky even consider putting in, which is presented as transcripts from a Q&A session involving the main character, pretty much setting up the tone and ideas of the film. The rest are mostly alternate or extended sequences. There's a few that were genuinely cut, like a quick bit taking place before the scene where Kris “deals with” the first Hari, a dinner scene and an incredibly cool scene (that's all I can say to describe it) involving a mirror room, which is so technically impressive it’s kind of a shock that the director cut it (maybe he felt it too showy?)
According to the text notes these were in Tarkovsky's original cut and he removed them at the last minute. In total, the deleted scenes last about 25-minutes, each one ranging between just under a minute to 6-minutes.
The rest of the supplements are devoted mostly to interviews. They are all in Russian with English subtitles and are with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin and composer Eduard Artemyev.
Bondarchuk’s interview, running about 32-minutes, has her talk about the book and getting cast in Tarkovsky’s film version, getting the part thanks to director Larisa Shepitko. She talks to an extent about Tarkovsky, his personality and his attention to detail, and also share how he worked with her. She also talks about her character, Hari, and shares some on-set anecdotes about certain scenes. She then closes with her disappointment at not being able to see Tarkovsky while he was on his death bed. It’s a surprisingly personal interview filled with some great first-hand accounts. Probably my favourite interview here.
Yusov talks about working with Tarkovsky over many films and talks about the imagery and getting what Tarkovsky wanted. He of course spends most of his time talking about Solaris and its imagery on Earth, in the space station, and creating the Solaris Ocean as well as how they did other effects. He talks a bit about 2001, which they both saw before filming, and talks about their reactions to the film and how they aimed to make Solaris differently (basically they wanted it to feel more like a “human” film, even making the sets look more “hand made.”) There’s some interesting anecdotes involving this film (including some dumb luck that occurred for the final scene in the film) and some around other films they worked on, and also gives an idea about what it was like to make a film in the Soviet Union. He then closes with the last time he met Tarkovsky. More technical in nature it’s an interesting look at the filming of Solaris, its technical accomplishments, and the director himself. It runs 34-minutes.
Romadin of course talks about the design of the film and the difficulties in figuring out the look (Tarkovsky and team even subscribed him to an American science-fiction magazine to inspire him.) Part of the difficulties stemmed from the fact neither Romadin or Tarkovsky really liked science fiction but they eventually decided that the film would remain not as “fantastical” as something like 2001 and that the space station had to look like a “broken down bus.” Sketches and artwork are mixed in here. The interview runs about 17-minutes.
Artemyev spends 22-minutes talking about his career, working with Tarkovsky, the film’s electronic score, and the music that the director loved. He talks a little about the pieces that appear in certain sequences and working with the director, who, according to Artemyev, saw music in a film as a sort of cop out.
There is also a 5-minute excerpt from a documentary about the author, Stanislaw Lem, who strongly disliked the movie, as hinted in a few of the interviews included on the disc. It offers a look into the author and the book but unfortunately only covers his opinion of the movie in small detail, though it was amusing to hear how frustrated he was working with Tarkovsky. A shame the whole documentary isn’t here but this portion about the novel and film is a welcome inclusion.
You'll also find an insert with two essays, one by director Akira Kurosawa, who obviously had a great admiration for Tarkovsky and another about the film by Phillip Lopate. Both are great reads, but if for whatever reason you decide you're only reading one, I would read the Kurosawa one.
They’re a strong set of supplements covering the making of the film while also offering an analysis of it, and Criterion did an exceptional job putting them together. All of these supplements made it over to the new Blu-ray and DVD editions, though, so there is nothing truly unique in this department on the set. 8/10