Solaris (***1/2)

(2002) Steven Soderbergh – w/ George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur

Synopsis: It’s the future. Strange things are happening on the privately-owned space station Prometheus, stationed above planetoid (and potential natural resource) Solaris. “Strange things” as in, the crew’s turned a little batty; people have been sent to fetch the crew, but they haven’t been heard from since—well, since they were sent. The last message sent from the space station is of one of Prometeus’ crew, Gibarian, calling for help. (But in an introspective, disturbing kind of way.) Gibarian appeals to his friend, Chris Kelvin [George Clooney], to come and help sort things out on the station. “Kelvin,” he says, “you’re the only one who can help us.” Kelvin goes. Strange things continue to happen, not the least of which has to do with Kelvin being visited by his dead wife.

Review: As introspective humanistic sci-fi movies go, ‘Solaris’ isn’t half-bad. The acting’s relatively decent, the movie itself is surprisingly thoughtful—for a ‘mainstream’ movie—and for the most part the atmosphere is appropriately eerie. Yet despite the (comparatively) slow, meandering pace, you get the feeling that the movie’s being hurried along; you get the impression that important details are being left out in order to placate an audience that bores easily and that would rather be watching an action movie. The result of which being, film-goers hoping for a more thoughtful movie and film-goers hoping for a more exciting movie are both disappointed; the former are left wishing for more development, and the latter are left unnecessarily confused. This is an exaggeration, but hopefully gives you an idea of the movie’s problems with pacing. Still, I’d like to commend ‘Solaris’ for its efforts. Clooney does well in a different role, McElhone does fine in a fairly bizarre role, and Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis both do well as the being-drive-insane skeleton crew of the Prometheus. Aside from the ending, which Soderbergh completely mangles, the movie holds together pretty well; and, if it stood by itself, Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ might almost seem like it’s a masterpiece. Maybe. Possibly. Problem being, Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ isn’t the first movie to be made from the book by Stanislaw Lem. Andrei Tarkovsky was the first to make a film version, and his is far superior to this.

Rating: [•••½] out of [•••••]

Etc.: Official site; a much more thorough comparison of Soderbergh’s and Tarkovsky’s takes on Solaris.