It’s clear Blu-ray will be the last hurrah of physical media before home video enters all-streaming nirvana, and as that transition demands fresh transfers optimised for new platforms it also presents an opportunity to plug gaps in the library left by titles which have yet to make the leap from, or even to, DVD.
Among those gaps is Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 Solaris, currently restricted to DVD for anyone who can’t play a region-locked German Blu-ray. Not that the DVD is a poor transfer or badly encoded (and it’s at least presented in anamorphic widescreen), but it’s simply not up to the standards of modern home video, leaving ageing 35mm prints in rare repertory screenings to convey the film’s full visual impact.
It appears this is about to change: in a wide-ranging interview with Filmmaker on the occasion of the new Criterion release of sex, lies and videotape, Soderbergh reveals that requesting a 4K HDR re-master of that movie is part of a longer-term project to bring his filmography into the 4K HDR world (hey, Steven, no huge rush on upscaling the prosumer DV of Bubble, okay?). This just so happened to coincide with Fox taking it upon themselves to do the same for Solaris, the results of which he recently saw.
There’s no word as yet of a release, physical or otherwise, but the simple existence of a new high-definition transfer of Solaris is exciting: the movie’s precise production design and gorgeous CGI rendition of the Solaris planet and space station just cry out to be seen in the best format possible, and Solaris occupies an important place both in Soderbergh’s evolution as a director of genre pictures which fundamentally disrupt genre and the broader landscape of idea-driven modern science fiction movies which includes Interstellar, Under The Skin, Arrival, Annihilation, and the forthcoming High Life and Ad Astra (although none of those feature Insane Clown Posse on the soundtrack).
Often buried under the conversation around Soderbergh’s box office fortunes, Solaris regularly comes up as a movie ripe for wider appreciation of the humanity it displays in painting the initiation, progression and deterioration of the relationship between Natascha McElhone and George Clooney’s delicately calibrated characters through Soderbergh’s patented time-slicing. The movie also has a hauntingly beautiful, if absolutely terrifying Cliff Martinez score that deserves to sprawl across a full six channels.
Hopefully we’ll get a proper Blu-ray release which ports over the DVD’s fascinating commentary track by Soderbergh and producer James Cameron (who’s still dragging his heels on that other notably missing Blu-ray, The Abyss), and maybe even unearths some of the deleted scenes that brought Solaris down to a brisk 98 minutes while introducing obvious continuity errors. Furthermore, a cinematic re-release of a 4K version, as happened with Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris, would be a welcome opportunity to revisit the movie and reignite the conversation around the different versions of the story.
The interview is well worth a read, covering the production and re-mastering of sex, lies and videotape along with Soderbergh’s latest thinking on the general state of the industry in typically concise, honest and insightful style while also revealing that his fabled Kafka re-edit is still in the works. Over to you: excited for a new transfer of Solaris and looking forward to seeing more of that docking sequence, not to mention Clooney’s bare butt in 4K? More broadly, which Soderbergh movies (hint: The Good German) don’t really rate a 4K HDR re-master? And which is your preferred version of Solaris? Chime in below.