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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • Russian PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with Geoff Dyer, author of Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room
  • Interview from 2002 with cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky
  • Interview from 2002 with set designer Rashit Safiullin
  • Interview from 2002 with composer Eduard Artemyev
  • An essay by critic Mark Le Fanu

Stalker

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
1979 | 161 Minutes | Licensor: Mosfilm

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #888
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 18, 2017
Review Date: July 14, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Andrei Tarkovskyís final Soviet feature is a metaphysical journey through an enigmatic postapocalyptic landscape, and a rarefied cinematic experience like no other. A hired guideóthe Stalkeróleads a writer and a scientist into the heart of the Zone, the restricted site of a long-ago disaster, where the three men eventually zero in on the Room, a place rumored to fulfill oneís most deeply held desires. Adapting a science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky created an immersive world with a wealth of material detail and a sense of organic atmosphere. A religious allegory, a reflection of contemporaneous political anxieties, a meditation on film itselfóStalker envelops the viewer by opening up a multitude of possible meanings.


PICTURE

Andrei Tarkovskyís Stalker receives a much needed North American upgrade with this new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. The film is delivered on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a brand new 2K restoration performed by Mosfilm, scanned from the original camera negative.

Iíve basically lived with the old RusCiCo DVD (distributed by Image Entertainment in North America) since it was released and that thing, going back to it, is actually more of a nightmare than I remembered. It was fuzzy and hadnít had a lot done restoration wise but it was also laced with a number of artifacts, particularly ghosting and an odd shift that made it look as though still objects were dancing around on the screen. Oddly, the film was spread over two-discs (between the two parts), a single-layer one and a dual-layer one. It was, in retrospect, an especially obnoxious edition. Kino released another DVD in 2006, though I never ďupgradedĒ to that one.

At any rate, this release really had no other way to go but up in quality, unless someone royally screwed up. Thankfully that is not the case and though I expected it to be better this edition exceeded my expectations by a fairly large margin.

The image here is so much sharper and the level of detail is staggering. Itís such a different looking film in comparison to what Iím used to. The shots of the Stalkerís home and the bar our three protagonists meet in during the opening of the film deliver so much more information, the textures of the ramshackle settings that much more life-like and clear and the improved clarity also helps with the depth of these shots. The exteriors in the fields of the Zone also deliver the sharp details I hoped for, with every rock, pebble, blade of grass distinctly rendered, no longer the blobs Iím used to from the DVD. Same goes for the close-ups of faces, which look more weary and rundown.

Colours look rather wonderful despite it being an admittedly dull looking film in this regard, and I guess the tones arenít too different from the DVD, but the saturation levels in the colour sequences are so much better with absolutely stunning greens. Black levels are also better and the filmís darker sequences still manage to deliver excellent shadow detail without any evident crushing.

Another big change, though, and one that was a bit shocking, were the black and white sequences of the film. On the DVD these scenes admittedly had a bit of a sepia, brownish tinge to them, but were still essentially black and white. Here they have a far heavier sepia tint and that did take me aback at first when the film opened with this look. I actually have no doubt this is correct, though I canít confirm: Iíve only seen the film on VHS and then DVD. At the very least, though, getting past the initial shock I thought it looked quite good and suits the film.

With no digital anomalies to point out the final presentation looks beautiful, Iíd even say reference quality, and watching the film through this edition made the film a whole new experience for me. Wonderful!

10/10

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AUDIO

Criterionís Blu-ray only presents the filmís monaural soundtrack, delivered in lossless PCM, and drops the RusCiCo 5.1 surround track, which Iím thankful for. That track was a mess: itís mix was completely unnatural with audio effects just dropping (and missing!) and it ended up being more distracting than immersive.

Those problems, including some of the missing sound effects, have been corrected, and without that distracting mix the audio is far more engaging. Dialogue is clear, music sounds rich, and sound effects deliver surprising range and depth, particularly the lengthy trolley sequence and its hypnotic effects. I also didnít detect any damage and fidelity is excellent. Yes, itís technically a downgrade, but it is such an improvement in the end. The 5.1 track was such a stupid idea to begin with.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Unfortunately where this release really disappoints is in the supplement department as Criterion primarily reuses bonus material available on previous editions. From the old RusCiCo (and Kino) disc Criterion includes the interviews with production designer Rashit Safiullin and director of photography Alexander Knyazhinsky, and then from the Kino DVD is the interview with composer Eduard Artemyev.

The 6-minute interview with Knyazhinsky is a fairly depressing one since heóthe last surviving member of the filming crewówas incredibly ill at the time it was recorded (1996) and he would die shortly afterwards. In this interview he talks about coming onto the project later in and talks a little about dealing with the water levels and recalls stories about the dog in the film and its trainer.

Knyazhinsky doesnít share anything about the original shoot for the film since it sounds like he came in much later but Safiullin gets into this to a surprising degree in his interview. I expected him to talk solely about the filmís look and his contributions, which he does, covering the difficulties in creating a world that looks like it had been untouched for years (which proved more difficult when tanks had to be driven in) and the limited funds he had to work with. But he talks more about the first year of shooting and the use of an experimental Kodak film that may or may not have played into it being destroyed during development. The destruction of this footage devastated Tarkovsky (and Safiullin seems especially upset by this) but this led to the filmmaker going a different route with the film. Safiullin even talks about some of the differences between the early version and the later version. Itís a good interview overall but the details about the original filming makes it a rather invaluable inclusion.

Artemyevís 21-minute contribution of course focuses on the filmís score and he recalls the discussions he had with the director (whom he only met a handful of times), who was into Zen Buddhism at the time he was making the film and this did influence the sound of score somewhat. He also gets a bit more technical talking about the instruments used and getting the musicians to play them.

Getting details about the filmís production is of course great but I admit I was hoping for more scholarly material from Criterion and the only on-disc feature that comes close to that is a new interview with writer Geoff Dyer, author of the book Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room. The film is of course very much open to interpretation and Dyer doesnít seem too interested in trying to explain what the film is about necessarily, but he talks about it on a fairly personal level, going over his initial impatience with it and how repeat viewings helped him come around more to it and Tarkovskyís work. He also talks a bit about Tarkovsky, his beliefs and how they come through in the film, the filmís construction, and the more technical aspects of it, like its imagery or how Tarkovsky is able to build tension even though nothing bad seems to come of it. Itís a fine discussion for those coming to the film for the first time, and Dyer has a good sense of humour about his younger self, but it still falls short of a commentary or a visual essay of some sort, which is something I would have expected.

Mark Le Fanuís essayófound in the included insertóalleviates the disappointment a bit, the writer making references to some of Tarkovskyís diary entries to show what the director was going through and how this film probably developed in his head. But this is a title that cries out for more significant material and itís a bit surprising Criterion settled mostly for material made for previous DVD releases.

6/10

CLOSING

The supplements are mostly recycled and the academic material is slim, but the new restoration is such a stunner that I think itís worth picking up just for that. It looks absolutely fantastic.


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