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Blu-Ray Review - SOLARIS (1972)

Hi-def remaster of Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi classic.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky

Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Juri Jarvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn



At times, the dialogue can be a little on the nose, as Tarkovsky has his characters indulge in not so subtle digs at the Soviet regime, but this is a movie that trades foremost in mood and atmosphere, and if its themes and aesthetic are no longer quite so fresh, it's those elements that ultimately make Solaris a sci-fi tale for the ages.



If there's an up side to having worked as a filmmaker under an oppressive communist regime, it's that thanks to the cultural homogenisation of Soviet society, your films remain visually timeless. There's almost nothing in Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptation of author Stanislaw Lem's Solaris that points to it being made in 1972, none of the flared trousers or shaggy haircuts you find in Western sci-fi movies of the era. Tarkovsky also avoids indulging in any speculative technology. As a result, Solaris' aesthetic is as universal as its themes.

Few shot nature quite like Tarkovsky, and Solaris opens not in outer space, but on earth, in all its mystical glory. A shot of reeds seemingly dancing in a stream is beautiful but also inexplicably terrifying, a portent of the trauma to come. We're at the remote childhood home of psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) as he prepares for a journey to a space station orbiting the mysterious titular planet.


The crew of said station have been transmitting messages that suggest they may no longer be sound of mind, and so Kelvin is dispatched to give them a psychological once over. On arrival he discovers the place in tatters, sparks jetting out of overturned servers, the station resembling how I assume Apple HQ must look the morning after its Christmas party.

One of the station's three man crew is dead, having taken his own life after seemingly being driven mad by some mysterious force. Yet it seems the remaining two are not alone. One of the men oddly keeps a dwarf trapped in his room (each to their own). Kelvin discovers that Solaris is somehow capable of reading the men's minds, and he finds himself joined by what seems to be his late wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk).


Through this device, Tarkovsky explores the idea that we never really know those we love; they are merely the sum of our own selfish ideals. As such, the version of Hari that appears to Kelvin is incomplete, a facsimile formed by idealistic memories of his wife. Foremost in his memories is a recollection of his wife's suicide, which means the Hari conjured by Solaris is doomed to repeat such a fate through seemingly infinite versions, making Tarkovsky's film one of cinema's great doomed romances.

Solaris is like porn for sci-fi buffs. There's something endearing about the great fetishised corridors of '70s sci-fi movies and TV shows, and Tarkovsky's space station boasts some of the best. The station has a real lived in quality, and every piece of equipment looks like it serves a genuine function.


It's impossible to watch Solaris now without thinking of the many movies it has subsequently influenced. The ocean covered planet reappeared in last year's Interstellar; Han Solo's Empire Strikes Back outfit is borrowed from Kris Kelvin's wardrobe; the replicants of Blade Runner owe much to the 'guests' of Tarkovsky's film.

At times, the dialogue can be a little on the nose, as Tarkovsky has his characters indulge in not so subtle digs at the Soviet regime, but this is a movie that trades foremost in mood and atmosphere, and if its themes and aesthetic are no longer quite so fresh, it's those elements that ultimately make Solaris a sci-fi tale for the ages. 

Extras:

An analysis by psycho-analyst Mary Wild, a featurette on actor Donatas Banionis, and an interview with actress Natalia Bondarchuk.

Solaris is on blu-ray and DVD August 8th from Artificial Eye.


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