Criterion ports everything over from their 2-disc DVD set, starting with an 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 commentary 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.
Next up you get 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 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 the director. A shame the whole documentary isn’t here but this portion about the novel and film is a welcome inclusion.
You'll also find a booklet with two essays, one by director Akira Kurosawa, who obviously had a great admiration for Tarkovsky and another about the film by Phillip Lopate (this essay was updated to mention Soderbergh's remake but is otherwise the same). Both are great reads, but if for whatever reason you decide you're only reading one, I would read the Kurosawa one.
Unfortunately Criterion doesn’t upgrade the features in any way (they even all look to have been simply upscaled from standard-def sources), but thankfully their a strong set and worth going through for those that haven’t done so already with the previous DVD. 8/10