In the Criterion-released ‘STALKER,’ follow-through meanders but lands in intriguing spot

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

STALKER (1979)
Not rated, 161 minutes.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast: Alisa FreyndlikhAleksandr KaydanovskiyAnatoliy Solonitsyn and Nikolay Grinko
Available today on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.

In the zone…

There is an art to holding a viewer’s attention. Some of the best directors show great skill at this and can make lengthy movies seem shorter than they really are. However, some movies, especially older ones, can test your ability to sit still and not check your phone.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s dramatic 1979 sci-fi film STALKER is a long, meandering film that will definitely put your patience to the ultimate test. Clocking in at nearly three hours, packed with many 5-minute takes and a pace comparable to molasses, I don’t see many unfamiliar audiences having much interest in seeing what this movie is all about. It’s a title that demands a lot of your attention. But if you can take the time and watch it (I suggest taking notes throughout), it will be a rewarding ride to take.

STALKER is the post-apocalyptic story of three men (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn and Nikolay Grinko) who embark on a journey to a mysterious place called “the Zone.” Legend has it that the Zone can grant three wishes to those who enter it. So these men are fed up with their sheltered lives and take it upon themselves to find what lies beyond.

The Russian-language film alludes to many events from the Sovet Union’s past, which is where its writer-director is from. Before the film was released, there were many nuclear testing facilities the public was unaware of. Many of the surrounding towns were closed off in fear of radiation spreading and infecting the world. Nearby residents were told that if they heard explosions or loud noises, it was because of meteorites. This fact formed the snowball for this film’s story.

What if the government told you that you had to stay where you are, when in reality you were in quarantine? Many films have tapped into this concept, such as the lackluster young adult series DIVERGENT or THE MAZE RUNNER. But STALKER was one of the first films to delve into it. While it may not present its ideas in the most entertaining way — many scenes feel like they go on forever, an intentional feeling to get audiences in a dreamlike trance — its literary and poetic nature is something you’ll find yourself thinking about.

Grade: B-

Extras: The Criterion Collection 2K restoration release includes a new interview with Geoff Dyer (author of ZONA: A BOOK ABOUT A FILM ABOUT A JOURNEY TO A ROOM); interviews from 2002 with cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky, set designer Rashit Safiullin and composer Eduard Artemyev; and an essay by critic Mark Le Fanu.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.