by Dave Starry
The recent theatrical release of Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel Solaris presents an excellent opportunity to re-examine Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's earlier version. Fortunately, the Criterion Collection has abided with a wonderful double-disc DVD set of Tarkovsky's 1972 original. By wrapping the narrative within the context of a futuristic setting, Tarkovsky was able to present the philosophical themes he desired in the shadow of the ever-watchful eye of the Communist regime he toiled under.
The narrative opens on Earth with psychologist Kris Kelvin preparing for travel to a space station orbiting the titular oceanic planet. The Solaris mission has been plagued by strange occurrences, and it will be Kelvin's job to investigate and determine if the station should be shut down.
He is drawn into a surreal existence aboard the vessel when the planet projects a physical manifestation of his long dead wife. Is she real, or just a reflection of Kelvin's memories? As she struggles with her existence, the crew members must also come to terms with their own humanity. Is the planet trying to understand the human psyche, manipulate it or use it to effect a change within itself? In sum, Solaris is a challenging, spellbinding experience -- from its serene opening sequence to its final haunting image.
The package has been brought forth with Criterion's usual stunning presentation and attention to detail. The first disc features an excellent transfer of the film itself (in its native Russian with optional English subtitles) as well as a commentary by a pair of Tarkovsky scholars who explore the film's at times obtuse symbolism. Included on the second disc are 20 minutes of deleted footage, contemporary interviews with some of the movie's principal players and a short European television interview with Stanislaw Lem in which he expresses his dislike for Tarkovsky's elliptical vision of his original work. Also included is a fold-out booklet containing a critical essay and an interesting analysis from filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.