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And death shall have no dominion
Solaris  (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Solaris  (DVD)
Advantages: Intelligent script, good acting and soundtrack
Disadvantages: No bug eyed monsters
(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
Summary: An interesting adaption of classic sci-fi story