on 28 July 2004
This is a fairly hard film to summarise, which is a Good Thing. However, when reading this review a rough idea of genre might help- other than the rather bland 'sci-fi', which is too conformist in this case. In elemental terms, Solaris is Vanilla Sky meets 2001 via Sphere, with light seasoning from a number of notable others. That formula of course still fails to describe it adequately, so it's best just to think of Solaris as beautifully unique.
It's also not the case that the film is overtly sci-fi, something which gave the distributors notorious marketting difficulty. It's more a high concept philosophical film which is incidentally set on board a space station. Psychologist Chris Kelvin (Clooney) is sent to the stranded space station through his association with someone on board, the enigmatic Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur). The Promethius had been orbitting the planet Solaris before contact was lost, and when Kelvin gets on board he is greeted with a disturbing trail of blood which he follows to the mortuary...
The film begins as it means to go on, with long, ponderous shots of Kelvin's Athena shuttle making its way through space against the backdrop of the beautiful, oceanic Solaris. These CGI shots of the station and the planet were rendered at 4000 pixels, and had to be reduced for the film (which is less). The attention to detail is unequalled, and on a good quality player it's totally stunning. Once on board the film heads into philosophical/psychological drama-cum-suspense territory, when Kelvin - and the audience - are faced with unraveling the mystery.
Director Steven Soderbergh (with producer James Cameron) has created a beautiful film - a work of art no less - but one that is extremely difficult to write about. There is little more of the plot that can be revealed without spoiling Solaris, so I won't. The rest of the small cast are all excellent, with the nervy Gordon (Viola Davis) and the skittish Snow (Jeremy Davies), as well as the excellent Natascha McElhone, making up the numbers. The film introduces themes of Descartian philosophy, with characters asking what reality really is, and with engrossing, hypnotic flashbacks and hallicinations (we are never sure which) the story is gradually revealed.
Credit too must go to the man responsible for the music, XX- a score which is so in tune with the action on screen you barely notice it, which is always the mark of greatness. The dreamlike quality of the film is enhanced by both this and the frequent use of soft focus lenses- both the visual effects and production design are stunning, creating a believable future, though one that is not too derivative of other films (Blade Runner's rain besides!). If you liked any of the films mentioned in the first paragraph then you'll almost certainly like this too. Top stuff.
The DVD features an all-too-brief, but awesome, 20 minute making-of including interviews and shoot footage, and the script itself which makes absorbing reading.
on 18 March 2006
While Solaris is inevitably labelled Sci-Fi its core themes are distinctly human. Loss, regret and the realization that memory tends to simplify events, people and places. While the original film allows the viewer to muse on the overall, Soderbergh's take focuses on the main protagonist's (Clooney) experience with the strange 'planet'. With only a standard 90 minutes to play with the director has done a good job of explaining the power Solaris wields without having to constantly remind us with new and more bizarre consequences (and special effects).
The visuals sway from the ethereal (Solaris), austere (Earth) and utilitarian (Space Station). On the commentary track, Soderbergh tells us he wanted Solaris to have a 'synaptic' quality to it and the effect is beautiful. Cliff Martinez's score, too, will follow you around for months.
As for the cast, Clooney is excellent as ever. While his performance doesn't require histrionics he makes believable a shrink thrown into a situation where his vocational skills are rendered useless by minds becoming matter. Natascha McElhone is charged with an incredibly difficult role. Her character on Earth is confident, sexy, playful, remote and ultimately suicidal; on Solaris she has to play whatever Clooney's character has in mind...hard work, but admirably done. It's unfortunate that in one weak scene of un-necessary exposition the focus is on McElhone but it's a fault of the screen-writer, not her. Jeremy Davies' Snow is perhaps the character that deserved more attention than was given. Considering his unique 'situation' it would have been worth an extra half hour to explore it. Viola Davis is okay but ultimately pointless. The removal of her character wouldn't have affected the film in anyway and her presence really only fills an authority vacuum on the station.
It's good to see adult themes being explored in the Sci-Fi genre and being embraced by Hollywood heavyweights....and not a LaZer BeAm in sight. Obviously this film won't appeal to the 'action' based wing of Sci-Fi fans and the polarity of opinions shown here is evidence of this. But as a serious slice of "what if", Solaris rewards attention and multiple viewings.
on 15 August 2003
Having known about the bad critical review of this movie I was hesitant to rent it but it was suprisingly better than expected and I did not reach for the fast forward button at all which says a lot. Do not expect a sci fi action flick. This is a love story with psychological twists and turns which may leave you confused about what is happening but with this movie that is a novelty and not something bad and definately intended by the director so that the viewer is in the same position as the characters. Although the movie is set mostly in the interior of the space station, the set is very well made and the photography excellent and I was not left groaning at anything fake looking. A wonderful performance by the beautiful Natascha McElhone and indeed by Clooney which gave the film a calm and relaxing dreamlike mood. The ending is not suprising but probably the best choice. I cannot comment whether it was true to the original as I have not seen it but look forward to.
on 9 January 2016
Having loved the Tarkovsky movie, then the book and read the reviews that stated this was a poor copy it took me 3 years to actually watch this DVD after buying it. Personally I think it complements the other 2 quite well, it is not as 'other' as the original film but Clooney is very good. The other actors are less interesting than the Russian counterparts but all are sufficient.
I'd certainly recommend it as better than 99% of movies you could watch, intelligent and thought provoking. 4 stars for this. Then watch the Tarkovsky movie and think about it's themes all over again..
on 16 January 2010
I haven't read the book, and after watching the film I don't think I want to.
This is not a criticism of the film; rather the opposite.
The film caused me to think deeply about life and really did disturb me at times - something which the director can claim as a success in what he was aiming to achieve.
The story begins rather vaguely, and continues in a flashback/forward mode throughout.
The main role was perhaps not suited to George Clooney, but he carried it out with a certain degree of success.
I thought the most succesful character was Snow - a person who was obviously physchologically damaged by the occurances on the spacecraft. His mutterings and sometimes delayed prose really made for capitivating and unnerving viewing.
The end will be discussed comprehensively amongst people who have seen the film. I thought it was a weak ending - perhaps the weakest part of the film. I consider myself to enjoy intellectually demanding films, but I was perplexed by the ending. Perhaps that was the desired effect. I still find myself thinking about this film on a daily basis.
Don't watch it if you're feeling existentional or a little down in the dumps - it's very harrowing at times with regards to humanity and our existence.
on 12 November 2003
Beautifilly shot and acted. Creates a great atmosphere and explores some profound philosophical isssues too. This is not a fast paced action movie (and it's all the better for it). An attention span of more than 5 minutes will be required. Those requiring action, special effects and big explosions will be dissapointed. This might explain some of the negative reviews of the movie! I was genuinely moved by this film and and watched it straight through again the same day (enjoyed even more the 2nd time too).
I have not seen the original, Russion 1972 version, but if it is better than this then I look forward to viewing it.
on 24 January 2011
Having just watched the trailer for Steven Soderbergh's remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's Russian sci-fi classic, it seems to be some kind of action-horror hybrid. In fact, it's a solemn psychodrama about a psychologist named Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) who travels to a research station orbiting a planet called Solaris, where his late wife is brought back to physical life by an unseen alien intelligence.
Tarkovsky's creeping meditation is more conversational and a (very) good hour longer than Steven Soderbergh's terse remake. Perhaps if Soderbergh and (producer) James Cameron had known it wouldn't break profit, they'd have gone easier in the editing room. Or perhaps they wouldn't have made it at all, which I suppose might have saved us from Ocean's Twelve.
Tarkovsky's vision is my favourite of that director's films, and is also, arguably, the most accessible. It contains a more straightforward narrative than The Mirror, a slightly quicker (though not quick) pace than Stalker, and it's less dense and stagey than The Sacrifice. I feel it's the most successful blend of story and character in Tarkovsky's canon; the best balanced both emotionally and philosophically.
Soderbergh's version, while seriously truncated, is an intelligent and often elegant work. Gone are the former filmmaker's Oedipal motifs, the existential monologues, and the weightless ballet. This is a taut film about the romanticising, catastrophising power of memory.
Soderbergh dispenses with the now infamous 10-minute car journey sequence taken by Henri Burton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky). Is Burton's car journey a reference to Bowman's "Stargate" experience in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? Later, aboard the space station, Snaut (Jüri Järvet) makes a speech questioning whether man should be exploring new worlds before he has learned to truly communicate with his fellow man. Burton's terrestrial "journey", after his experience with Solaris, is every bit as profound as Bowman's.
Natascha McElhone, while not the match of Natalya Bondarchuk, who acted everyone off Tarkovsky's screen, delivers an eerie, uncanny performance as the almost-human Rheya, "remembered wrong". Clooney's Kelvin is a more glaring, shell-shocked presence than Donatas Banionis - whether you prefer the former's range to the latter's subtlety is up to you; each belongs to their own film.
Soderbergh regular Cliff Martinez provides the bubbling, electro-orchestral score, lending the images a delicate sense of the lost, the wistful, and sometimes the dread. Where Tarkovsky's script was as cold and sprawling as space itself, Soderbergh's is warm and focused. And as for the ending - well, let's just say that the young buck doesn't try and take on the elder directly, choosing instead something softer, less awesome, yet still ambiguous and fascinating. Which fairly sums up the film, I think.
on 26 February 2006
Many have dismissed George Clooney as nothing more than a leading man with presence - by doing so they're missing the point entirely...sure he's handsome and charming with a patented grin but he's also one of the few actors in Hollywood willing to take a chance.Solaris shows a willingness to work outside convention that has typified Clooneys work for some time now (Three Kings being a prime example)- it's demanding and lyrical with an atmospheric feel augmented by the brooding and minimal soundtrack.Don't expect any easy answers - the whole point of the film is that it makes you question the reality of what we see and asks you to think beyond your average sci-fi flashiness...there are no CGI battles or talking furry aliens only a couple of powerhouse leading performances , masterful direction and some of the most beautiful uses of lighting and mood you'll see.
In a nutshell, Clooney is forced to investigate strange events aboard a scientific space station orbiting the planet Solaris...all is not what it seems however as the spectre of his recently deceased wife begins to take on a life all of its own outside his thoughts.
Solaris is one of the few modern films that stayed with me after I first watched it... something that's incredibly rare in these days of sequels and quick fire remakes (sure I know that Solaris is a remake but only an ardent masochist could sit through the original!). Challenge yourself and watch this film.
on 25 April 2004
This is an excellent film, but on watching the DVD I was immediately putin the wrong frame of mind for such a laid back movie.
The reason? TEN MINUTES of unskippable trailers for dreadful films and copyrightwarnings before the first menu is reached. Totally unacceptable for apurchased DVD.
on 22 October 2003
This is a film that polarises opinions like few others can... people either seem to love it or hate it. This seems partly based on the fact that many people found themselves watching a film totally alien (no pun intended) to the type of film they thought they would be watching. This is no tacky Sci-fi action romp but rather an immersive, emotional and atmospheric film. Because of the totally conflicting opinions I had read and heard I had to see this film and wasn't disappointed. The film is beautifully paced, shot and directed and creates an atmosphere that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. It raises questions and issues that are expertly delivered to you and then left for you to think about and resolve for yourself. The ending is like that, watch it, think about it and put forward your own theory as to what you think happened. A film doesn't have to hold your hand and lay out everything for you and everything doesn't have to be explained. The slow pace of the film allows you to take in that atmosphere, the wonderfully minimilist set and the understated performances. It gives you time to think and leaves a lasting impression. If you are the kind of person that finds that "uninteresting" or "boring" then stick to movie by numbers car chase films or the usual uninspired blockbusters. If you are a fan of the film making process, appreciate fine direction, cinematography and an atmospheric soundtrack, then what are you waiting for, get this film ordered!