(Film only review)
Although this film is now almost ten years old I came to watch it ronly ecently. I had heard of the original story by Stanislaw Lem but hadn't read it and although I had seen the Russian film adaption of Solaris made in the 1972 it was a long time ago and my memory of it isn't all that clear so I really came to this version without many preconceptions except maybe knowing that it had rather average reviews at the time of release.
A space station is in orbit over the oceanic planet known as Solaris. The planet seems to be organic in nature a huge sentient being, a type of life form that has never been encountered before. The crew of the space station made up of scientists begins to notice strange activity on the planet which seems to be affecting the crew in disturbing ways. One of the scientists Gibarian in desperation contacts Psychologist Chris Kelvin whom he knew from university to see if he can help solve the mystery of what is happening to the crew. Kelvin recently widowed and still haunted by his wife's suicide agrees and arrives on the spacecraft to find Gibearian dead and the remaining members of the crew apparently suffering from paranoid delusions and hallucinations, then Kelvin's dead wife Rheya appears...
If you are expecting a science fiction action movie then you will be disappointed. If you want to see a well acted tense disturbing psychological drama, which happens to be set on a space craft orbiting an alien planet then this might be the film for you. Right from the start this film poses intriguing questions at first you wonder what traumatic events has obviously affected Kelvin, then when he get the call from Gibarian we are thrown into mystery about the events happening on the faraway ship, but the film takes unusual turns and doesn't progress in the way you might expect of a less thoughtful film in the genre.
Once we enter the claustrophobic environment of the orbiting space station and we are confronted with the truth behind the demise of the crew, we then begin then realise the true nature of this film. This is not space opera but a tense psychological drama. From what I know of the original book this adaptation by Steven Soderbergh is faithful to the extent of plot and characters but has a different emphasis on themes. Lem's original was amongst other things about the impossibility of interspecies communication, the idea being that humanity was too rigid in its view of how to relate to other species and that trying to understand the nature of alien life by those parameter would inevitably lead to failure. Soderbergh includes those themes in his script but uses the story to examine the inner feelings that go with the loss of someone close to you. While Lem takes a philosophical view Soderbergh looks at the psychology of the story by taking us into the inner turmoil that Kelvin is put through and the emotional journey he goes on when he gets to Solaris.
As we have come to expect from Soderbergh the script is and intelligent examination of the subject and his direction is very tight bringing out very good performances from Clooney and the gorgeous (and fellow Brightonian) Natascha McElhone. This is a film dealing with loss, regret, desire and ultimate redemption. A difficult decision leads to tragic consequences, in life there is normally no going back but what if a second chance was within the realm of possibility? Can the past be changed? Should it be? The setting of the drama in space intensifies the emotional impact of the story and doesn't allow the characters any rest from their predicament. From the moment Chris Kelvin step on board the stricken space station we know he is in jeopardy but is the danger external, physical or is within his own mind. Kelvin who has been brought in as a last resort to make sense of what is going on but very soon we realise that he and his sanity is greatly at risk.
Apart from the human characters featuring in the story the other important protagonist is the living planet Solaris. What is this living, sentient entity up to? Is it trying to reach out to the people, is it reacting to their actions and emotions? Is it trying to harm them or giving them a unique chance to redress mistakes they have made in the past and deeply regretted ever since. Solaris is shown as a swirling gaseous sphere, constant storms and electrical discharges ravaging its surface. It is a violent place unnatural to human beings but at the same time extremely beautiful and attractive to human sensibilities. The planet is a mystery to parallel the fate of the crew on board the ill-fated space station.
This film represents a bit of a watershed for George Clooney, up to this point in his career he had basically made action movies or acted as the romantic lead, this film really tests him as an actor and he surprises many by dealing with the challenge with ease. This is certainly the beginning of a more serious strand to his acting which has more recently seen him do films such as 'Syriana' and 'Good Night and Good Luck'.
There are many things to commend this film, and intelligent script, some great performances by the leading cast and tight direction but mention must also be made of the design and music which add so much to the overall experience. The music especially by Cliff Martinez who collaborated with Soderbergh on other films including 'Sex, Lies and Videotape' is hauntingly seductive. It is not bombastic or intrusive in the way of many classic film scores, you could say it is more in the minimalist sphere, think of Philip Glass. Ordinarily I would be drawn to this but for the purpose of this film the music perfectly intensifies the drama while never being overpowering. I might even seek out the soundtrack cd.
Overall 'Solaris' is a very intriguing film, beautifully shot and scored. I'd say it would not be to every science fiction fan's tastes but for those who believe science fiction is not only about bug eyed monsters and light sabres then this would be a welcomed change. Good performances all around and while the DVD doesn't offer much else in the way of extras I think this would be worth buying and you get to see George Clooney naked which might sway some people...
'Solaris' can be bought from Amazon UK for £4.31 (incl.p&p) at the time of writing this review, which is well worth it. UK certificate 12A for some nudity and images of corpses and blood.
© Mauri 2011
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Chris Kelvin is a psychiatrist who has a trouble past. He gets a call from his friend who asks him to go to their space station studying Solaris to investigate strange things which have been going to the member on board. Chris agree and sets of to Solaris, fortunately the shuttle flies itself so he needs no training! When he arrives he notices how eerie and quite it all is and soon finds several dead people.
Chris manages to speak to the two remaining people and fins out they are reluctant to talk and warm him to lock his room before he goes to sleep. That night Chris gets strange things happen to him too, he dreams of his dead wife and then he wakes to find her alive and in his room, he has no idea how this has happened and is determined to find out.
Will Chris be able to uncover the truth behind the appearance of his dead wife and get the others to talk and what secrets does Solaris hold?
The plot for this film may seem a bit basic but believe me it is. I felt there could have been something great made from this film but it was lacking and not developed enough to make me fully enjoy it.
The acting was not too bad, the lead role of Chris Kelvin was played by George Clooney and he did a good job. He started off as a hard and troubled man but when his dead wife arrived we got to see a different side of him and he started to express more emotions which made he seem more human. He worked well with the role of Rheya, his wife, played by Natascha McElhone and there was a good chemistry between them both. She played a good role and I loved how she seemed genuine when she had no feel feeling or recollection of their past. She developed into a good character due to the flash backs we got of their life together and I don't think the film would have worked if we did not get to see these as much as we did.
We had 2 good support actors, Gordon and Snow, played by Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies and they gave a lot to their roles even though we did not get to see much of them for the first half of the film. There were no others involved in the film as we were aboard a space shuttle so no others visited it.
The film was set on this space station which was reporting and investigating Solaris and for me it all looked good but a little dull. I liked the high tech equipment which was everywhere but I would have liked a bit more colour to help with the viewing. The images we got to see out of the shuttle windows were good and I loved the pink and white which it all was but for me there was something about it that made it look so fake. I think with a little more work this Solaris planet, or whatever it was supposed to have been, could have looked more real and less created. We did have a few other small effects and they were good but nothing amazing.
The costumes and sets were good but lacking in any colour which did make the film quite dull to watch. I cannot remember a single track which as played throughout this film and therefore I cannot work out if this is a good thing as it blended so well into the film or a bad thing as it was not noticeable.
As this is a film only review there are no bonus feature to mention. The running time of the film is 99 minutes and I found this to be quite long enough. The certificate is a 12 A and I do agree with this as some of the scenes when we get the flash backs are quite hard viewing. The film can be bought on DVD for just a few pounds now but I certainly would not pay to watch this.
Overall I can only give this film 2 stars and it gets one of these as I like George Clooney as an actor. The story could have been developed so much more and this could have been a really good film but for me it was not good enough and certainly not one to go out of your way to see.
This afternoon I settled down to watch Solaris. A Steven Soderberg film starring George Clooney. I didn't really have much of a clue about the premise of the film, but that's okay, that's how I like it. Clooney plays "Dr Chris Kelvin", a man who is given the task of going aboard a space ship/station - the "solaris" mission. It's all a bit weird from the off. Kelvin finds two corpses on entering the space station and events being to unfold. It's not really clear what's going on right from the off and that remains the feel throughout the whole film. It's hard to say whether I liked it or not, but it had an interesting storyline, that much is undeniable. Kelvin wakes from his sleep on the first night to find his wife sleeping next to him. Not too odd you might think, except that his wife didn't go with him into space. That and she's dead. Yet there she is, laying in his bed and chatting away to him. Understandably freaked out, Kelvin bungs her in a escape module and shoots her off into space. Perfectly reasonable thing to do, I think we could all agree.
Understandably miffed, Kelvin quizzes the rest of the crew (the two of them that are left). They have also had "visitors" apparently. Some already deceased, some simply living back on Earth. So the question is, where do they come from and why are they there? That night he goes to sleep and wakes up in the morning with his wife, once again, in bed with him. Blissfully ignorant that she's not supposed to be alive and also unaware that he only just flushed her out into space the day before. Clearly this is rather upsetting to all concerned.
The other two members of the crew decide that the "visitors" should be zapped with a high powered sciencey ray-gun thing, which will hopefully disintegrate them. Kelvin is not too keen on letting his wife go, yet she seems insistent on topping herself. It's all rather weird. While he's sleeping, she kills herself with the help of one of the scientists on board. He's necessarily distraught once more. Then they make a discovery which puts them all on edge. Another body. This time it seems, one of the crew isn't who they appear to be. Dum dum dum!
I wont say any more for fear of spoiling the entire plot for you. But if you like a bit of sci-fi, this is worth a look. Bear in mind a few things though. It is rather slow, confusing and oddly frustrating. Throughout most of the film, the soundtrack is dominated by a low electric hum from the ships system, which adds to the atmosphere and makes the viewer uneasy. Once I noticed it, I actually thought it was quite clever. When that sound isn't present, a rather eerie musical soundtrack takes it place; and does the same job with ease. This is not a horror film, don't get the wrong impression. In fact, there's rather a lot of nudity and love, it could almost be a rom-com, but for the lack of comedy.
The ending might leave you feeling numb, but I actually quite enjoyed it. The question remains, what is Solaris?
Few that decide to watch Clooney and Soderbergh's remake of Solaris will even be aware that it's a remake, let alone that the original was directed by one of the greatest auteurs of all time - Andrei Tarkovsky. His film was an overlong epic but an utterly engrossing cerebral trip, and Soderbergh, thankfully, has the smarts not to try and overdo Tarkovsky's attempt, but instead create a homage for a new generation as well as those sadly too lazy to read subtitles. This is a surprisingly decent remake, and whilst a little uneven, has the very best intentions at heart, and has a good hit percentage.
Nevertheless, the film does suffer from some terrible pacing - for a 90-minute film, it's very rare to see things trundle along as painstakingly as they do here. It's a shame, because the exposition otherwise is very compelling, but unfortunately drip-fed rather than dished out continuously. That said, the performances in the interim are stoic but clearly composed with deep considerations rather than vapid emptiness.
George Clooney and Natascha McElhone provide solid performances to this remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi classic, and whilst its considerations towards existence and the overwhelming power of guilt are intriguing, they are muddled amidst a disorientating and painstaking delivery.
Solaris is the film version of the amazing book written by Stanislaw Lem and has been put together with a huge Hollywood actor in George Clooney which leads to people going in with the expectation being ultra high as they are used to Clooney's other movies.
First thing is first with the film Solaris - this is based on a book by a Polish author and has been adapted to make a film so if you have read the book then you are going to have the same issue as with so many other film adaptations that you compare the film to the book, if you are going to do this then you are likely to feel a huge sense of let down as the film is never likely to live up to the expectations.
Second of all is that if you are going to watch this as you love George Clooney films then remember this is different from what he usually does and so you may feel let down which is neither a fault of the film or of Clooney but more that this was outside his comfort zone.
So with the points made a quick rundown of the film...Clooney and crew are on a space mission and come across a new region where all they want to be true is true to them but yet they know not actually true (sounds a confusing concept and in the book this works but with the film it felt like it dragged somewhat) and it becomes a moral issue of what price for happiness. Are we happy to believe a lie we know is a lie so long as we have what we want in front of our eyes?
I can't recommend this film as I read and loved the book but I will say that if you haven't read the book and go in with low expectations then the film is intriguing.
When I first heard about Solaris I was fairly sure I wouldn't like it. It is based on Stanisław Lem's book of the same name which had already spawned a cult-classic film. The reviews, and even the opinion of the aforementioned author, all pointed to bad things. Me being me though, I rooted for the underdog and bought it anyway having never seen nor heard of the other versions. I was pleasantly surprised!
First things first, I can completely understand why many people would loathe this. It is pretentious, artsy, slow and has an inconclusive ending. Am I a masochist? Maybe.
Story: Solaris is set mostly on a space station over the mysterious glowing planet of the films title. Recently estranged Chris Kelvin is sent to discover why the crew has left an unsettling video message and soon finds most of them are either gone or severely disturbed. It isn't long before his dead wife is appearing on board as if she was never dead, and what follows is his struggle with what is happening and the conflict of feelings in dealing with a resurrected wife that surely can't be real.
The story cuts back and forth between stylistic snippets of the couples life together and the situation on Solaris, letting us get acquainted with their feelings as the situation escalates. This isn't sci-fi, I would reluctantly call it a psychological love story. It also has no happy romcom elements. Solaris is pretty depressing, but engrossing.
Cast: George Clooney Plays against type as a somber, reflective astronaut. I really liked him here and have to give him respect for reigning his ego in. Natascha McElhone as wifey Rheya was about perfect for the role. She has a majestic, intelligent, amazonian quality that really works with the atmosphere.
Score: Whoa! Amazing soundtrack. Completely unlike any other, consisting of mostly mysterious echoing steel drums.
Overall: Rent or watch it on TV. It's a love it or hate it thing.
Directed by the man who brought us Traffic and Oceans Eleven. Produced by the helmer of Aliens and Titanic. Based on a Polish sci-fi novel, which was adapted into a two-and-a-half-hour ponderthon by Andrei Tarkovsky back in 1972. Given the mixed pedigree, is it any surprise Solaris turned out to be such a strange beast, one that 20th Century Foxs marketing department found so difficult to tame, it had to turn George Clooneys on-screen bum-flashing to try and sell the movie?
Not really. The real surprise is that Clooney exposes himself in a different way, jettisoning his trademark charms (the head-tilting, the eye-twinkling, the lop-sided smirking) to deliver a raw, under-the-skin performance.
Holding the screen for pretty much the entire running time, Clooney plays emotionally bruised psychologist Dr Chris Kelvin, whos sent to the Prometheus, a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, after the scientists on board inexplicably terminate all communication with Earth. When he arrives he finds corpses, several blood stains, two twitchy survivors and, strangest of all, his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone). Who died back on Earth several years earlier
Steven Soderbergh (who, as well as writing and directing, employs himself as editor and cinematographer) ensures that the unfolding story is as much a sublime work of art as a deep-space mystery. And if that sounds horrifically pretentious, I defy anyone to not be transfixed by Kelvins arrival scene. Here, we see his ship silently glide above Solaris to dock with the Prometheus, while Cliff Martinezs haunting, hypnotic score thrums from the speakers. Below, cloud formations of blue and purple pulsate across the planets surface as a lattice of lightning dances gracefully above them.
Its reminiscent of the patterns that play across the inside of your eyelids while drifting off to sleep, and maybe thats deliberate: Soderbergh regularly shifts the action from the space station to flashbacks, hallucinations or dreams (its never entirely obvious which), while some of the most important events occur as Kelvin sleeps.
Throughout, Soderbergh makes it clear that Solaris isnt necessarily a mystery that needs to be, or even should be, solved. As one character poignantly puts it: There are no answers, only choices. And this is where the movie really becomes challenging. Whether you treat it as a ghost story, a metaphysical romance or a philosophical investigation into the nature of memory and perception, it will either enwrap you entirely or eject you into the cold, dark reaches of confusion. But, given the emotional intensity and convincing complexity of Clooneys and McElhones performances, Solaris should resonate.
In short, come the end credits, you will either be shrugging your shoulders of blubbing your eyes out.
The space station is called Prometheus. Prometheus was the Titan who gave fire to man and in doing so, incurred the wrath of Zeus. His punishment was to spend eternity chained to a rock with ravens sent to eat his liver. Each time, his liver would regenerate, leaving Prometheus to endure the same agony day, after day, after day. However, Prometheus knew that one day Zeus would need him. One day, redemption and forgiveness would be his. He needed only to keep faith. The space station Prometheus is studying the planet Solaris. The question is what gift does Solaris represent? What punishment will this Prometheus undergo? And is redemption possible? Psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) receives a visit from The Company. They bring with them a message from Gibarian, leader of the crew on board Prometheus, begging Kelvin to come to his aid. Once on board, it is immediately apparent to Kelvin that things are not as they should be. Only two crewmembers remain alive: Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Dr Gordon (Viola Davis). Gibarian has committed suicide. Snow is lost in a manic world of his own and Gordon has locked herself in her room. Blood spatters the corridors of Prometheus. Then, Rheya (Natascha McElhone) appears. Rheya is Kelvin's wife. However, Rheya committed suicide three years ago. "I don't remember anything. I only remember you." Who is Rheya? Herself? A spirit? A ghost? A Solaris creation? Solaris has a bit of history. Based on a book by Stanislaw Lem and filmed previously by Andrei Tarkovsky thirty years ago, I have read the book but not seen Tarkovsky's offering. All three differ considerably and I think
that Soderbergh's interpretation deserves an individual review. And so, I shall forget the book, and the comparisons of the films I have read, and just let you know how I felt when I watched this latest version. There is little new, or groundbreaking here. That is not the point. We have seen monsters conjured from the darker recesses of our minds in much that science fiction has to offer. We have seen and read about angels. We know that we are an imperfect race and we have speculated often that the true power in the universe is an impassive force, uninterested in our hubris, but merely there. Solaris simply takes these various existential musings and offers them up to us for our consideration. It asks us not to look out, but to look in. It does not answer our questions, but rather directs us to the only answers of any use: our own. This is not a plot-linear film. The action sits in the background, behind the impressions. Solaris is beautiful: a pink and mauve electric storm. Yet it is also solemn, magisterial and impassive. Under its aegis, characters move around in a kind of dreamscape: puzzled; afraid; self-aware. Chris Kelvin is being asked to answer his own questions, just as Dr Gordon is being asked and just as you are being asked. Your own answer is the only thing that really matters. In a dream-piece such as this, I am not sure what there is to say about the actors' performances. Clooney walks around a bit, McElhone looks enigmatic, Davies twitches and stutters, Davis shuts her mind to possibilities and admits only fear and loathing. It's all internalised. The film flits back and forth between earth and Prometheus, between dream-states and true consciousness, between the past and the present. Everything is on hold. Scripts and visuals and score blend together, leaving you with a series o
f impressions, rather than a sense of plot or of resolution. The score seems deeply appropriate ? a percussive, floating, ambient sound of the type I don't generally like. However, it fits the moodiness of the piece perfectly. There are lots of pauses, quite a few words, a deal of soul-searching, and, significantly most of what action there is turns out to be pointless. Solaris is not about deeds; it is about thought. Eventually, Kelvin must make his choice, though, and this choice will be the one action in the film that has any real meaning. Will he choose faith, or reason? And there, with faith, we have it. For me, Solaris is a film about faith. Not any kind of denominational faith, although its musings on redemption owe a great deal to Christianity, obviously, but the faith in the heart of any human being. As the closing credits rolled, I felt uplifted, yet wistful. I may not believe in a god, but there is plenty in which I do believe. I believe in truth and justice. I believe in forgiveness and redemption and above all, I believe there is a moral purpose to life. And I think, in the end, Solaris celebrated that faith I feel inside. It gave me confidence to trust in my own answers. I cannot say what it would mean to you, for I think it is a piece of work that will mean something different to each person watching. That is its quiet truth. Solaris isn't for the fainthearted, because it is an exploration of your faith, and whether or not you have the courage to trust in it. Not all questions can be answered by the physical. It is not a film for those who like only to spectate. It is for those who wish to take part. And it really is quite beautiful. I am sure that Prometheus would have liked it. If you need narrative in your films though, don't bother, because Solaris will, go like the beauti
ful Concorde, way over yo' tiny head.
Remakes are a tricky business, especially when the original is considered as something of a classic. In the case of Solaris, writer/director Steven Soderbergh can claim to have gone back to the original novel by Stanislaw Lem, rather than just remaking the Tarkovsky film, and no doubt an English language version with a big name star like George Clooney will bring a far bigger audience than the original, so it has a chance of being a worthwhile remake. Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist living on earth at some point in the future. He receives a call from a friend on a research ship, asking for his help but not giving any real reason why. He journeys out to the ship, which is in orbit around the strange planet Solaris, to find his friend dead and only two other crew members alive. Snow (Jeremy Davies) is talkative but jittery, and tries to explain to Chris what's going on but is obviously quite disturbed and doesn't make much sense. Helen (Viola Davies) on the other hand seems rational but won't even leave her room. Chris gets some idea of what's going on when he wakes up and finds his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) next to him, after he'd been dreaming of her. His wife who died after committing suicide some years ago. Over the course of the film Chris struggles to understand what's happening to him, whilst coming to terms with his own past and relationship with Rheya. Solaris is a long way from what the Hollywood audience thinks of as being science fiction. Yes, there are a handful of special effects shots of ships in space and the planet they're orbitting, but the core of this film is very much the people and their interactions, concerned far more with conversations than action. As such, the performances are key to the success of the film, George Clooney's especially. He shows that he is entirely capable of being more than an action film lead, putting in a charismatic leading performance. Jeremy Davies
is effective as the far from sane Snow, though he does sometimes veer a little too close to comfort to Brad Pitt's character in 12 Monkeys. The weakest link in the cast is Natascha McElhone. She evidently has the right look for the part, but her character seems bland and uninteresting and doesn't really manage to convey the extreme emotions of the part. There is definitely a place for intelligent science fiction films, and the many visual homages to 2001 show where the intentions of Soderbergh lie. Like the earlier Space Odyssey this is a deliberate and careful film which is trying to make the audience think. There is even a sequence that could be likened to the famous 'stargate' part of Kubrick's masterpiece, though the journey in this case is more of an emotional one than physical. It fails though to have the same kind of an impact, due in large part to some flaws in how the plot plays out. For a film so based on character, Chris' actions seem inconsistent, the sudden switch from how he deals with his first visitation to his reaction to the second doesn't seem to make any sense. There is also a painful moment of technobabble that wouldn't seem out of place in an episode of Star Trek, providing a too easy solution without ever really explaining anything, and so taking away from the atmosphere of the film. In a film that's trying so hard to be intelligent and thought about, flaws like this are fatal, and make this a disappointing film. I have neither seen the original Tarkovsky film or read the book, so I cannot judge whether the problems I had with Solaris are with the source material or the adaptation. Steven Soderbergh has made an interesting film that tackles difficult issues of relationships and memory, but a film with flaws that prevent it from being anything more than just interesting.
Since I was given a UGC Unlimited pass at Christmas I've seen 14 films, and 'Solaris' is the worst of the lot - and that includes 'I-Spy'! When you don't pay for the cinema ticket you generally see a lot of films you wouldn't normally go to. 'Punch Drunk Love' and 'The One and Only' are two that I've seen recently that I found to be both enjoyable and rewarding. Indeed when I slope back to the office having abused the flexi time I normally pronounce my latest distraction as 'Alright' - giving me the reputation of having cloth eyes. But not 'Solaris' it's rotten! To establish its stinkiness I'd normally go through what was missing for me. At the risk of sounding like a Philistine I'd say this missed almost all of the things that make up a good film. So, in no particular order this film lacked tension, excitement, car chases, horror, laughs, mystery, fist fights, goggle eyed aliens, gun fights, ray guns, nakedness (excluding George's furry bum), swearin...Oh what's the point the film scholars will just regurgitate the Guardians review commenting that the lack of anything going on was a clever device to show the solitude of the central character. PLOT The film opens on a miserable looking future (is there any other kind?) with gorgeous George Clooney making appointments and the tea. Although not mentioned in the film we are aware that he is a widower from the pre-publicity. After cutting his finger whilst chopping a courgette (remember that!) he gets a call offering what to me sounded like a suicide job - go to a spaceship which has lost communications and report back. Despite the Special Forces also going missing George mysteriously agrees. After a few fancy spaceship shots he is on board the ship which is orbiting the titular planet. Lots of gore meets him and he can only locate two survivors at first although a small boy later shows up too
. The survivors soon get annoying, so after flashing his bum George gets into his space age bed with the silver sheets. Soon things look up as George is joined by a lovely lady whom the frequent flashbacks reveal to be his late wife. Less than impressed George chucks her into an escape pod and into space. Not getting the message she's soon back mirroring similar experiences endured by the crew. Clearly all is not right, with the flashbacks, metaphors and double talk masking any prospect of a clear coherent plot. Eventually the crew works out how to zap the facsimiles of their former chums but George is starting to take to his... THOUGHTS I like to think I'm slightly above dim, but this film had me foxed - I simply didn't get it. There are constant flashbacks and moody, knowing stares. People turn up dead and we wonder who is real and for what purpose. Is the planet benign and sending healing spirits or is it bent on creating it's own race? Several sci-fi plots were lifted with the 'Bladerunner' is he isn't he? ending lifted intact. The sets and '2001' style space scenes apart I found this film had almost nothing to redeem it. It's knowingly vague with no explanation or conclusion. People will say that you have to make up your own mind, but I for one do like some sort of closure a sense that a tale has been told, not some limp meandering space soap. Different?, Daring? - Nah, Pretentious and Void of interest and entertainment. See it if you fancy a nap - I nearly dozed of twice...
This is a film with a history. Based on an old Russian sci-fi novel by Stanislaw Lem, and previously filmed in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky, it comes fresh from flopping at the North American box office. This is unusual seeing as it features George Clooney's naked backside, and as it comes from Steven Soderbergh - however as he was behind Erin Brockovich the studios will probably forgive him. Enough of the background, then, let's begin at the beginning. And ooh look, there isn't one - no credits or even a title page, it's straight into the action, where George Clooney's character Kelvin wanders around slowly, being helpful to people and attending grievance councelling meetings. Late one evening Kelvin is interrupted by a couple of people from "The Company" (ooer), who make him watch a message from an old friend, who at the time of its sending was orbiting and prospecting a far-off planet called Solaris. The project there is in trouble, and a team of people who were sent out to assist certainly have failed in that goal. Kelvin, for some reason, is given the task of going to find out what's going on. The next thing we know Kelvin has been put in a craft and taken to Solaris. As he arrives over a very attractive electrical storm, he finds the space station far emptier than he had hoped. Spattered over all the glistening silver decor are large globs of dried blood. But worry not, this is not something akin to Event Horizon, nor is it indeed a proper science-fiction film. If it were then we would be subject to lots of shots of the hardware in action, space-craft docking phallically and so on. There will be a scene of technical mumbo-jumbo later on, but on the whole this is not a genre film. Kelvin gets to explore the station, and finds what few inhabitants there are are acting rather strangely. And here we have a problem with the film - Snow (played by Jeremy Davies) is just so odd-ball
with peculiar hand motions, pauses and silly spaced-out turns of phrase, it's hard to like him. Also around is Gordon, played by Viola Davies (another Soderbergh regular, it appears), who is the usual hard-as-nails, black, space-hardened scientist, who has a gutsy image but deep down is more than a little afraid. And as for the sender of Kelvin's "wish-you-were-here", his post-suicide body is in another blood-spattered room. Anyway, before we get to ask ourselves why Kelvin doesn't pack this pair up and take off back for Earth, the real mysteries start to begin. Interrupting a dream of home is the sudden arrival of Kelvin's wife, Rheya. Which is the real bottom-opener for him, as Rheya died several years previous. Startled, George manages to eject what clearly isn't Rheya into outer space, but what can he do when the following night the same thing happens? Where is this creature (if it is one) coming from? What is it's intentions? Who or what might be visiting the other people on board? And don't forget the dried blood... As we've found, this is not a genre piece; instead we get a lot of Kelvin and Rheya (played by Natascha McElhone) talking to each other, and engaging in thousand-yard stares. In a break from both book and original film, Soderbergh (who wrote and shot the whole thing as well) has added a back-story to their relationship, so we get to see them on Earth, meeting, marrying, and making love with each other, and problems for each other. If you remember the noted scene in Out of Sight where we see love-making while hearing the seduction that led up to it, in a way that allowed Soderbergh to save time, and appear artful and unusual, then you will certainly get to recognise the technique here. There are lots of shots of the two, either in the blue and silver spaceship or in their brown and ochre apartment, with flash-backs ahoy and lots of sound leaking f
rom one time to another as they dissect their times together and their current situation. This "alien" Rheya soon manages to get under Kelvin's skin and sort him out - that is, seeing to his problems, rather than "giving him a good (fatal) seeing to". It becomes clear that Rheya might be some sort of spirit, possibly a ghost, perhaps even an angel? ~ * ~ This paragraph might be best read after seeing Solaris. ~ * ~ As it is, Kelvin's conscience means he has to talk a lot with Rheya and sort a lot out, and the possibility that redemption is forthcoming means a lot to him. Indeed, if memory serves, there was a lot of languid discussion in the original film that Solaris the planet might be God. ~ * ~ Safe now. ~ * ~ On the whole this is a talkative film, even though the actual word-count must be well down on the modern-day average. George Clooney gets to walk around slowly, and talk slowly, and stare moodily (and slowly), and does them all really quite well. His certainly is the best character, as his is by far the most likeable - not even Rheya is particularly appealing. There is contrast between them all, however, with Gordon's gung-ho scientific plan to stop the visitations, for example. The script and direction are both done very well, if you can bear the continuous merging of past event and internal thought. It all looks very nice, although the wide screen could have been better used, and all Earth shots are internal or close-up ones with blurred backgrounds to avoid having to make it look futuristic. But is the film actually recommended? Knowing Soderbergh's recent appeal at the box office, and Clooney's crowd-pleasing attributes, there will certainly be a large number of the popcorn brigade filing out of their multi-plexes saying this is the biggest pile of tosh ever, and there are already a number of major slanging-offs on imdb. However, this isn't one of t
hem, and not just because it isn't on imdb. Theediscerning hasn't read the book, and was probably too young to get much sense out of the original film, but this time round he enjoyed the film as an appealingly different film, and on the whole, really quite good, should one not mind seeing a slow-burning, mature, sort of metaphysical mood piece. Certainly, this shaves a whole hour from the Tarkovsky version, which was called the Soviet 2001 at the time. And indeed this shares with the Kubrick a similarly 60's-style mystical ending, where Clooney's character is transported mysteriously into somewhere different - whether that be deep space or an inner, mental place. To discuss the rating, dooyoo's five stars are again inadequate, as theediscerning would like to give it three and a half. However his partner, while neither minding or enjoying the film as a whole, liked it to some extent and would rate it two and a half - hence the average. (And while we're talking ratings, theediscerning hopes you will be kind enough to crown this - he had to type the bugger in twice, as the first time dooyoo carefully lost it for him. It was a lot better the first time round, too.) Solaris, then - a film which one has to ponder on just as much as the main character. Hopefully you're now able to spend less time pondering whether to see it or not.