Running Time: 163 minutes
UK Certificate: PG
Budding philosopher with two-and-a-half hours to spare? Then the big screen re-release of Stalker, the almost painfully deep-thinking sci-fi epic from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, could be right up your street.
Based on the short story Roadside Picnic, its set in and around The Zone an uninhabitable area of wasteland, cordoned off and guarded at gunpoint by police following a rumoured meteorite crash. Only a handful of people are knowledgeable enough in the ways of The Zone to handle the eerie dangers within, and such folks are called stalkers. The film follows one particular stalker appropriately enough, named Stalker (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) as he acts as guide for a writer and scientist (Anatoli Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko) who wish to reach a room in the centre of The Zone where wishes supposedly come true.
Like a dodgy taxi driver trying to fleece as much as he possibly can out of a couple of unwitting tourists, Stalker leads them first one way and then the next, insisting that for safetys sake no direct route can ever be taken in The Zone. Whether or not hes charging by the hour is never stipulated, but youve got to be suspicious, dont you? I mean seriously, you cant trust anyone nowadays.
Excruciatingly slow-paced (it takes a good ten minutes at the very start simply to show Stalker getting up out of bed and washing his face, and most of the rest of it is shown in whats pretty close to real time), and almost relentlessly uneventful, this isnt the sort of viewing experience that comes easily. And, with its dismal scenery and uncompromisingly pensive characters, its all so bleak that it could just as easily have been titled 1970s Russia: The Movie. By the end of it all, youll be so nauseated by the starkness of the landscape that youd settle for a nice bunch of flowers, never mind a secret room capable of granting your every desire.
But, for all that, I found Stalker a fairly rewarding experience, and not just in that once it was finished I could finally go off and do something else. It admirably sticks to its own remit without giving in to generic conventions, and theres little doubt that it gets you thinking. Although far from perfect and certainly not the sort of flick capable of garnering widespread appeal (Independence Day it aint), its thoughtful, considered, uncomfortably intense and, in short, its probably the most challenging film Ive ever watched.
It's Got: A Wizard of Oz-style switch to full colour after opening in black-and-white (well, its more like brown-and-white really, but you get the idea).
It Needs: Only to be seen by those who understand what theyre letting themselves in for this might be sci-fi, but you wont find any marauding aliens, big budget explosions or, for that matter, excitement of any sort kind in this one.
This difficult, long-winded Russian parable has the capability to enthral but only for a very small, select audience.