Solaris (2002), or Stars At Elbow And Foot, Indeed

23 04 2009

Wow. Yesterday seems so far away now, doesn’t it? Only yesterday I was brushing my long, luxurious rock & roll hair, writing down my thoughts on the 70s Russian classic, Solaris. Mmm. Those were the days. But today is another day, and so I watched another movie. Kinda. If you recall, in 2002, Steven Soderbergh remade this gem of a film and cast George Clooney as the lead. Wait, nobody remembers that? Nobody? *crickets chirping* Oh, that’s right! I forgot! Nobody saw this film! Out of the $47 million it took to make, it made an estimated $10 million. Oops. Why is that, I wonder? Well, after taking a look at it, it might not be the obvious reason you might think.

I’ve already gone over the plot to this film in my review of the original. Consider this a companion piece and read my take on the original Solaris here!

Now that you’re up to speed, let me first say that I liked this movie. I liked it even though it had a lot going against it as far as I was concerned. I was against a few hiring choices they made here, chief among them the director and star. I thought some of the artistic decisions were a little off. And if that wasn’t enough, they cut off an entire HOUR compared to Tarkovsky’s 163 minute opus. But I liked it.

Secondly, let me say that I don’t really think this is a remake. It’s more of an alternate interpretation of the source material. There really aren’t a lot of similarities between Soderbergh’s film and Tarkovsky’s other than the main plot. All the aesthetics are different, and the focus here has shifted even more from Lem’s novel, focusing HEAVILY on the relationship between Kris (here called Chris) and Hari (here called Rheya). And Solaris even represents something different for these characters, something quantifiable and less mysterious. If this is a remake, they did a piss-poor job. But I’m willing to bet that it isn’t.

Let me reiterate what I meant by disagreeing with some of the hiring choices. Steven Soderbergh makes movies that, for me, could mean something but do not. Solaris is a book that means a number of different things, and so it seems from a distance that perhaps these two would not mesh well together. Soderbergh, however, succeeds in finding meaning here, but only one. It is frustrating and distracting for me at times, but not nearly as distracting as George Clooney. I think it must be hard for Clooney to make himself vulnerable in a role, because he always has this movie star aura around him that follows him from scene to scene. Clooney’s Chris is not so much of a psychologist as much as he is a movie star playing a psychologist, and I can’t reconcile with that fact. I will say that he bares a lot of himself here, beyond his normal, stronger male roles. But perhaps he should not have been Chris Kelvin just because he was the biggest name on the casting sheet.

Now, after all this bitching, what do I like about this movie? Well, long-time Soderbergh composer Cliff Martinez turns in what might be his finest work on this soundtrack. It is truly, truly beautiful and heartfelt. I firmly believe in the power of music, and this score really has the power to break down one’s barriers. It’s a recommended buy on its own, as far as I’m concerned. I also like the ending, one of a handful of mysterious moments to be had during this breezy 95 minute affair. Clooney also gives Chris a particular atheist sass when it comes to arguments of faith that I particularly enjoy, but that’s really just a personal preference (though I feel as if his faithlessness gets swatted down at the end, and that bugs me a little bit). And, all in all, it’s quick and easy to watch. It’s not as engrossing as the Tarkovsky film but still asks all the mandatory questions, so it’s like a diet soda version of the 1972 version. And I can live with that.

It’s not bad. I liked it. I wouldn’t feel right saying much more than that, so I’m sticking with my gut. People probably did not flock to this in droves because the previews all sold it as “A GEORGE CLOONEY SCI FI MOVIE” instead of giving it the credit it deserved as being a smarter-than-your-average-science-fiction-film philosophical drama. It’s timeless love in space, and I can respect that notion as a hapless romantic. The soundtrack is great, the special effects are nice and shiny, and the acting keeps pace with Soderbergh’s vision. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, though, check out Tarkovsky’s unique version. I give this version of Solaris 7 1/2 sassy atheists swatted down by the Man out of 10. Check it out, all you fans of the original, and at least give it a chance.

Tomorrow is the PSA, where we fall into the abyss with Blue Velvet!

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3 responses

23 04 2009
cello85

James Cameron was originally going to write and direct this film, but then Soderbergh jumped on board so Cameron produced it. I wish they had let him write and direct it. Not only would it have been much more…hmm…how should I put it…INTERESTING, it would also be about ten times more meaningful than this sorry mess 😛

2 05 2009
cinematronica

Ouch!!! Scathing, indeed. Your opinion is certainly valid, and I’d almost like to share it, but there were just a couple things that I liked about it (NOT George Clooney) that kept me from giving it a worse rating. I’m just glad somebody else saw it though!!!

7 04 2011
CMrok93

Love it or hate it, however, there’s no question this is a seriously intended work by a major American filmmaker. The tension and atmosphere just works so well here, and you feel that the whole time something just isn’t right. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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