Tidbits from our news Archives
The RusCiCo Stalker DVD
This following material, taken from Nostalghia.com news archives, is © Nostalghia.com;
it may not be reproduced without the express permission of Trond T. and Jan B.;
it may be quoted in part, provided credit is given to Nostalghia.com.
October 1, 2001
The Russian Cinema Council (RusCiCo) announces that both
their Stalker and Mirror DVDs are slated for release in
December 2001. The disks will be Region 0, both PAL and NTSC versions will be made available.
November 22, 2001
It's official: RusCiCo
announces the release of Stalker on DVD in December this year (no exact date yet).
January 1, 2002
According to play.com, RusCiCo-partner Artificial Eye, U.K.,
is releasing Stalker on DVD for the European market (PAL/R0) on January 21, on the same day they
are supposedly releasing Rublov and Solaris. There are also indications that
Mirror may be released as early as in February.
No word yet on when the corresponding NTSC version of Stalker will be available via RusCiCo-partners
st-p.com et al. in North America. Watch this page for constant updates.
January 6, 2002
A new section devoted to Stalker has been
added to the Topics page to help celebrate
the upcoming DVD release. Despite our promises, we couldn't resist adding
information so you are not missing anything if your browser doesn't display them.
January 13, 2002
RusCiCo has announced on their website the release of the long-awaited Stalker DVD.
The 2-DVD set is expected to hit the shelves in about 2 weeks. According to RusCiCo
the special features include: photographs and filmographies of the cast and crew members;
photo album; interview with the director of photography A. Knyazhinsky; interview with
production designer R. Safiullin; fragment from A. Tarkovsky's diploma work,
The Streamroller and the Violin; documentary about A. Tarkovsky's house,
January 29, 2002
The new Stalker DVD has arrived on our doorstep courtesy
of RBCmp3.com. The
picture quality of this disc is excellent, the film has never
looked this good on video before.
There is one problem though: the publishers
have crossed the boundary between restoration and alteration
when they decided to change the soundtrack. While there is
nothing terribly wrong in principle with a mere stereo remix
(especially if the original soundtrack is included as an
alternate audio), an altered soundtrack is unacceptable.
Here are some examples of the changes made for this edition:
A more careful comparison would certainly reveal many more
unauthorized differences. We frankly find this quite surprising.
Rewriting, say, Dr. Faustus would never occur
to a book publisher — why do film publishers
feel it's appropriate to make changes?
- Music added to scenes where no music existed before
(travel to the Zone on the trolley). In the original the
only sound is the wheels clanking amplified slightly
on the synthesiser.
- Music removed: Beethoven's 9th is gone!
- The mood of Stalker's rooms is changed completely by adding
ambient wind and water noise (his rooms used to be silent
except for train sounds).
There is also a slight jitter problem visible throughout in which
highlights seem to "float" independently of the rest of the frame.
Most of the time it's not noticeable, but it's a defect.
Very interesting interviews in the supplements. They include
snippets of documentaries which we would love to see in their
entirety. How about a separate DVD of Tarkovsky documentaries?
(Hint, hint...) Even if they are silent and/or unedited.
Summing up: a good release that needs a corrected soundtrack
and the jittering artifact to be looked into. Then it will be
a perfect 10!
January 30, 2002
We quote RusCiCo's official statement regarding their
Stalker DVD here, without any further comments (cf. January 29 news item, for context).
Thank you for your letters regarding STALKER DVD.
Please note that all changes in the film were made by
consent of the film's authors. But because of many requests, RUSCICO will
produce the original version of STALKER in February/March. And it will be
possible to change one version for another in a store where the first version
March 20, 2002
The Russian Cinema Council (RusCiCo) today issued a statement to the
effect that their re-release of Stalker should occur in "late March." Earlier purchased
copies of the defaced version may be exchanged for the new release at the point of purchase.
See January 29 & 30 news items below for the full context of this story.
Here at Nostalghia.com, we are eagerly awaiting the DVD release of the
director-approved version of Stalker. Once it arrives, we shall
provide you with detailed information on whether or not the various problems
associated with the DVD transfer, as reported on earlier, have been adequately addressed
April 24, 2002
Artificial Eye (U.K.) has released the much-anticipated Stalker two-DVD set into the
European (PAL) market. The release is a direct port of the disks released by the Russian Cinema Council (RusCiCo). As reported earlier
(see January 30 and 29 news items below), there were numerous problems associated
with the RusCiCo disks, in the areas of video as well as audio quality. RusCiCo promised to fix some of
these problems (see March 20 news item).
Initial reports from the U.K. indicate that the Artificial Eye release
of Stalker does not repair the various
visual errors of the RusCiCo disc. I.e., the video portion is identical to
that of the original RusCiCo Stalker release.
This unfortunately means that the float/jitter problem is still present,
and the B&W sequences would still be overly contrasty, with no shadow
detail and severely blocked highlights. We originally suspected that the
jitter problem was an artifact of the PAL to NTSC conversion, and that
the Artificial Eye release would thus be jitter-free. This is not the case.
The problem thus appears to be somewhere at the root of the encoding process.
However, when choosing the menu item "Play Film,"
you are now presented with a menu that says "Russian Version 5.1"
and "Original Version (Mono)". You can flip between the two audio tracks
on-the-fly while playing the movie, if you need to convince yourself of
the difference in quality between the director approved soundtrack and
the new 5.1 re-mix. The Original sound track sounds crisp, with
no annoying pops or hiss. Thanks to Nick Wrigley in the U.K. for contributing
to this report.
Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver emailed Nostalghia.com
some early impressions posted on his listserv by Nick Wrigley:
Oh God. [...] I've just watched the "train track ride to the Zone" whilst
flicking between the two, and the 5.1 added music sounds like a 1984 John
Hughes teen-flick as compared to the beauty of the original...
As for the North American market, RusCiCo distributors RBCmp3.com and st-p.com
are both proud to confirm that the version of Stalker that they are currently shipping
is the one with the "new soundtrack." We have desperately been trying to
ascertain whether "new" means "original" or "re-mixed," but have not been
successful in our endevours. There appears to be a lot of confusion regarding this issue
within the ranks of these distributors. If anybody knows exactly what version of Stalker
is currently shipping, please let us know. For example, what are the external (on the cover)
distinguishing marks between the two versions?
April 28, 2002
The Russian Cinema Council (RusCiCo) indicates that the new (unmodified) version
of their Stalker DVD (NTSC version) will be shipping "in the middle of May." Once it is confirmed that
the re-release is a fact, it will be reported on this page. So, stay tuned...
May 1, 2002
RusCiCo distributor RBCmp3.com has been kind enough to
provide us with this statement
regarding the status of the RusCiCo Stalker DVD. Please read it.
August 5, 2002
RusCiCo's Stalker DVD is set to be distributed
in North America (R1/NTSC) exclusively by IMAGE Entertainment.
The release date is October 15, 2002, and the price tag is USD 49.95.
Alarmingly, the IMAGE web site states that the disk has the 5.1 (i.e., the remixed) soundtrack.
We have not yet been able to verify whether or not the DVD will include the original, director-approved,
mono soundtrack as well. See our April 24 (and, optionally, May 1) news
item for a quick rundown of some of the numerous problems associated with this RusCiCo release which IMAGE has
now apparently picked up.
August 6, 2002
IMAGE Entertainment's web site states that their Stalker DVD (RusCiCo) will have an aspect ratio
of 1:2.35. We have received email from concerned readers who are fearful that RusCiCo may have horizontally
stretched the movie from its original 1:1.37 aspect ratio all the way up to 1:2.35. RusCiCo did indeed distort
their Andrei Rublov disk
horizontally (from SovScope 1:2.35, down to 1:2.21), but whatever else may be wrong with the video portion
of this Stalker disk (see earlier news items), we have reason to believe that this time it is simply
a case of IMAGE's web site being in error.
August 9, 2002
According to email correspondence from
both RusCiCo and Image Entertainment, the upcoming Region 1 Stalker DVD due
to hit the streets on October 15th will indeed contain the original Russian mono
track in addition to a Dolby Digital 5.1 remixed track. Good news indeed!
In addition, RusCiCo states that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is no longer altered, i.e., the
music score has been changed back to the original one, music cues are no longer changed/added.
It thus appears that we here have a third version of this RusCiCo product...
August 10, 2002
In our August 6 news flash, we briefly commented on the fact that Image Entertainment's
web site states that their upcoming RusCiCo Stalker DVD has an aspect
ratio of 2.35:1. We quickly dismissed this as a mere factual error in the Image Entertainment
database. This is almost certainly the correct explanation, but Nostalghia.com long-time advisor Alex Asp,
founder and CEO of DVD production company Solaris Digital Ltd., Tel-Aviv, sheds some more light on the issue of Stalker aspect ratios for us:
If I remember correctly, Philip Yermash (head of Goskino and Andrei's nemesis)
referred to the first version of Stalker as having a "wide format"
picture, which was a Russian expression for the 70 mm process (i.e., not SovScope).
However, around the time Stalker went into production Soviet film studios ceased
to use 70 mm cameras and the resulting negatives. Instead, films were shot in
an Anamorphic Widescreen process on 35 mm negatives (SovScope), and prints
for the initial release were then blown up to 70 mm and shown in theaters. So,
for example, Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, Konchalovsky's Siberiade, Danelia's
Mimino and others were released in 70 mm, but without the 6-channel stereo remix
of a genuine 70 mm production. And thus the magnetic tracks of those
prints contained only the original mono mix. What a waste of technology.
In the early 1970's a new system came into being. It was called Universalny Format
Cadra (Universal Frame Format), and it is basically what is known today as
the Super 35 (Spherical) process, in which all possible negative space between
perforations is used for the filming, resulting in an aperture size of about
19 by 30 mm, or an aspect ratio of approximately 1.58:1. This picture was composed
and cropped with regard to the final print, from the picture's top. Thus,
the desired release prints could be made with aspect ratios of 1.37:1 for
16 or 35 mm prints, 1.33:1 for TV releases, 2.35:1 for 35mm anamorphic
releases, 1.66:1 to 1.85:1 for spherical widescreen releases, or 2.2:1 for 70
mm releases. This results in the slightly paradoxical situation in which the
1.37:1 crop would actually include more picture information than its widescreen
The second version of Stalker was shot using this process. Andrei was
notoriously known as a director who despised anamorphic formats, which were
imposed on him by the studio on Andrei Rublov and Solaris. His preferred
format was 1.37:1. Needless to say, his widescreen compositions are among the
best in world cinema, but that is besides the point.
The point is, however, that an acceptable widescreen picture up to 2.35:1
could indeed be extracted from the original negative of Stalker. Of course Andrei
never endorsed this, and the picture as we know it was released in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Note that under no circumstances should we accept Stalker in
any other aspect ratio than its original 1.37:1, no matter what technology
may allow RusCiCo (and others) to do.
Incidentally, it is quite possible (albeit money-consuming)
to create a beautiful 1.78:1 (16:9) video transfer for the DVD release of Stalker
that will certainly please the owners of widescreen (16:9) displays and televisions, as
it would utilize fully the space of widescreen display with no black mattes.
It would have surely pleased me as a DVD producer from a technological point of view,
if only it hadn't been Andrei's masterpiece; such a transfer from the original
negative of Stalker would result in more than originally intended visual
information on the sides, and slight bottom cropping—essentially ruining
his painstakingly created compositions.
Here at Nostalghia.com, we can't help but think that if, say, Criterion should ever pick
up this title, a 1.78:1 version would provide a truly excellent supplement in a
multi-disk set, along with the first version of the film that was damaged in the lab.
Portions of the first version (if not the whole thing) were apparently saved and are quite
watchable—the damage supposedly consists mostly of a strong green tint.
In a news item yesterday, we erroneously stated that the Image Entertainment
distributed version of the RusCiCo Stalker disk is a third
version, as far as the audio mix is concerned. It is, in actual fact,
the fourth version, as the 5.1 mix on the Artificial Eye
Stalker is a tiny bit different than the 5.1 mix of the original NTSC
RusCiCo disk. Recall that the latter disk had no Beethoven's 9th at the end.
In the Artificial Eye release, presumably due to popular demand, Beethoven's 9th
is back, with a vengeance: it is mixed in obnoxiously loud.
Which is the exact opposite of what Tarkovsky had intended. Just for the record.
August 14, 2002
Further to our August 10 news entry on the intended aspect ratio of the
first and second version of Stalker, for our more technically inclined readers (optional reading):
In Johnson and Petrie, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, 1994, p. 137, we find
the following: "Filip Yermash [On byl khudozhnik (He was an artist), Sovetskaya Kultura,
September 12, 1989] records that the film was included in the studio plan for 1977
for 650.000 rubles [i.e., about US$2.600.000 as per official
exchange rate -Nostalghia.com], at 2700 meters, in a "wide format" (the Russian version
of Cinemascope [Johnson and Petrie are here mistaken -Nostalghia.com]), but that
the director soon changed to the regular format [i.e., Obychny Format or Academy
Ratio -Nostalghia.com]." This does suggest that the film was already planned to be shot
in the UFC process, otherwise it cannot be explained why the director changed the final film
format so easily from 70 mm [Alex Asp, personal communication]. Note again that the mentioned UFC aspect ratio of
approximately 1.58:1 is the internal aspect ratio of the camera negative, which
has nothing to do with the final film format or the intended composition.
August 31, 2002
The Facets' web site
lists October 15 as the release date for the Image Entertainment Stalker DVD (RusCiCo) in Region 1.
Many online retailers are now accepting pre-orders. Some of them are seen to carry the title at up to 30% off MSRP, so do shop around!
September 25, 2002
Further to our August 10 news item, Image Entertainment has made the following
statement regarding the aspect ratio of their upcoming Stalker (RusCiCo) DVD:
This was a database error on our part; it's been corrected and should
post to the site as soon as it updates. Thanks for pointing this out.
The disk thus appears to have the correct aspect ratio as well as the proper soundtrack (see August 9
October 2, 2002
As pointed out by many of our readers, the RusCiCo website is now finally
listing Stalker twice: (a) the version of the DVD with the mono soundtrack,
and (b) the version with only the unfortunate 5.1 remix. If they stick to this
approach, it may alleviate some of the confusion that we are bound to see
with the re-release of Mirror later this month.
October 15, 2002
We have just received word that the version of Stalker released by
RusCiCo R1 affiliate Image Entertainment does indeed contain the authentic mono
soundtrack, in addition to the 5.1 remix. This was confirmed by our frequent visitor
Doug Cummings, who received his copy of the DVD in the mail today.