sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)December 2002
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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For Every Good in the Universe, There is an Evil
(Makes you kind of wonder what the point is, doesn't it?)

Solaris (Fox)
Review by Alex Lightman

coverOffical Website: 
IMDB entry: 
Original Book: Solaris (1987)
Original (1972) Movie: IMDB / DVD (Amazon)

Directed & Written by: Steven Soderbergh Writing credits (WGA) Stanislaw Lem (novel)

Cast: George Clooney .... Chris Kelvin / Natascha McElhone .... Rheya Kelvin / Jeremy Davies .... Snow / Viola Davis (I) .... Helen Gordon / Ulrich Tukur .... Gibarian / Morgan Rusler .... Berton

Sex. Space Stations, a movie based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem! The fact that it's a science fiction movie with a poster showing George Clooney kissing Natascha McElhone and nothing else makes you wonder if it's going to find an audience. I'm not betting on it. On the other hand, the official website has a nice space station simulator. Well, no it actually just has some shots from the film arranged around a schematic and some really annoying background noises. If anyone in the film goes crazy, I'll understand. If anyone falls asleep I won't be surprised. Did I mention it's a remake? - Alex Lightman joins us to review Solaris. - Ern

The shortest review of Solaris can be accomplished simply by shifting a letter: Sloaris, pronounced "Sloooow are - iss" with a voice like when you play at tape at half speed. That's the most amazing characteristic of Solaris: its sooo daaamn slooow. Still, my mother used to say that it's always nice to start and end criticism by saying something nice, so it's fair to say that the planet Solaris is very new, novel, and beautiful, especially if you have taken mind altering drugs. You see a lot of Solaris from space, so if you like trippy light shows, enjoy! 

Somehow, Soderberg has taken the material from a Twilight Zone episode (20 minutes if you take out commercials and credits) and stretched it to two hours. Here's what happens: George Clooney's character mops through several shots as a therapist who really should see a therapist, gets message that says "come to the Solaris space station, I can't tell you why", goes and finds blood and two weird people, meets his former wife, kills her, meets her again, she kills herself twice, a revelation occurs regarding one of the other characters and the blood, and Solaris gains weight causing one of the characters to leave.

Given how skilled Cameron and Soderberg are in writing love stories, it defies comprehension how they could seek to gain identification with lead characters (Clooney's and Natashia McElhone's) who, in effect, kill themselves four times and kill others twice. Though it's never explained in the movie, somehow Solaris is creating and recreating characters from their minds which persist. Why it only creates only one person each also isn't explained. Nothing is explained, other than one of the creations figures out how to kill the other creations - as if it this makes sense for an entity that is interested in self-preservation. The activity we see most is walking around corridors in the space station, and Solaris glowing with lightening bolts.

This bring me to the answer to the unanswered question: why would Academy Award winners like Cameron and Soderberg make Solaris? The answer for Cameron is in the credits: his company is called Lightstorm (my favorite name for a production company), and Solaris is a planet covered with…wait for it…a global lightstorm. In effect, Solaris is a subtle infomercial to iconically brand a production company run by the man who shouted "I'm the king of the world!" in front of a billion people after getting an arm full of Oscars. Since he didn't get to be king of this world, he gets to be king of Lightstorm world.

Soderberg's reason for making Solaris is simpler: he got paid to make it, and he got to extend the range of material that he has handled, in addition to Sex, Lies and Videotape; Erin Brockovich; and Traffic. This is Soderberg's first science fiction effort, and Cameron has been repeatedly quoted saying that George Lucas made Sci-Fi an "A-list" genre. I can see Cameron shifting this around to say, "You aren't an A-list director unless you do a science fiction picture, and George is attached, and we'll pitch this as a love story that transcends time, space, and even death! The greatest of love story ever!"

Somehow, though, these great storytellers lost steam, and ended up with a derivative product, which could be summarized as "2002: A Space Copy" since Soderberg's instructions to the cinematographer must have been, "Make it look like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - especially that scattering of light on the space helmets." It's likely that when people cautiously, nervously said that Solaris was too low, Cameron and Soderberg simply said, "That's what they said about 2001, but history proved that 2001 was a milestone in cinema." Well, Jim and Steven (and Stanislaw), sorry, but you're not Stanley Kubrik and Arthur C. Clarke, and, besides, that was thirty four years ago, before Star Wars and a number of other fun, fast-paced SF movies.

I promised to end with a something nice, and reviews should include recommendations to either see or skip a movie, so here goes: Go see Solaris, and feel the warm glow that comes from realizing that, given a studio budget, you could deliver a better movie than even two of the most credentialed talents in Hollywood. In the end, Solaris can deliver to its viewers what it gives to its lead characters: blissful existence from living inside a world created out of your memories and imagination.

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