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 a few JavaScript "Easter eggs" to one of the pages. They contain no new 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, Memory.

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:

  • 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).
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?

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
were purchased.



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 by RusCiCo.

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 counterpart.
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.

Image Entertainment
Publicity Dept.

The disk thus appears to have the correct aspect ratio as well as the proper soundtrack (see August 9 news item).

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.

Case closed. end block

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