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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.62%
Worth A Look27.59%
Average: 13.1%
Pretty Bad: 16.55%
Total Crap: 24.14%

8 reviews, 97 user ratings

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Solaris (2002)
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by Erik Childress

"Think About It! If You Don't Walk Out, You May Like It!"
4 stars

More than any science-fiction film in recent years, audiences must prepare themselves to walk through outer space when entering Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris. Not because the visual splendor of the effects transport them to another world, but because the weightlessness they feel may be all in their brain. Whether its just empty up there or you allow the thought and ideas to overtake you, either a shot of adrenaline or a snort of oxygen will be required to keep most people with the floating dreamlike state one immediately enters.

Stanislaw Lem’s novel was first adapted into a feature by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. At 169 minutes in length, one would be surprised to find ANYthing deleted on Criterion’s DVD package as Tarkovsky’s style tends to seem like more than 24 frames per second. For the new version 30 years later, Soderbergh has essentially defragmented the original like a computer. Trimming the excess fat to make it 71 minutes shorter and concentrating on the romantic angle while still maintaining to keep its quiet, languid pacing.

Psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) has lost his wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone). In the midst of his lonely grief, he is summoned by old friend, Dr. Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur) to help investigate a strange phenomenon enveloping the crew of the Prometheus space station orbiting the ocean-and-fog-covered planet, Solaris, before the project is terminated. When Chris arrives, he discovers Gibarian dead and the two remaining crew members in various stages of bewildered paranoia. Snow (Jeremy Davies, who would be nice to see in a role where he didn’t seem stoned all the time) talks in carefully phrased answers which only raise more questions and Gordon (Viola Davis) is initially too scared to even come out of her quarters.

The riddled tongues they speak to Chris slowly become a little clearer when he awakes one night to see his dead wife Rheya lying next to him in bed. (Clooney’s reaction is far more realistic than the way it was handled in the Tarkovsky film.) Is it all a dream? Or have his dreams and memories been materialized by the planet? His initial panic and confusion gives way to his old feelings and perhaps a second chance to forget about the past and how he may have contributed to their parting.

In a film of mostly singular shots and very few whole dialogue passages, the silence and unreliance on overemphasizing the glorious special effects gives the viewer plenty of time to think about the discussions the characters have. The question of one’s own existence and where they came from are ground level entries to the philosophy of memories. Memento developed these concepts more richly, but its still nevertheless fascinating to think that if we’re told our memories keep the deceased alive for us – does it matter if some of the details are off? Does it matter how we remember them? And is what the crew members experiencing all in their head or truly flesh-and-blood with ulterior motives not yet exposed? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you make us bleed, are you not indeed a prick?

Soderbergh keeps asking the questions but has no intent on anything but letting the audience answer them for themselves. So headstrong in this approach is he that it becomes off-putting when a character (here and there) decides to finally utter a line that DOES answer something. “They’re not human and that threatens me,” is a notion as old as sci-fi literature and one that I learned when I was seven seeing E.T. for the first time. Then sometimes even the characters don't give a second thought to the OTHER "visitors" they have received; audiences should give a second thought to the child on board as well. Solaris also reaches into the “God vs. Science” debate; the human Rheya is a believer, while Chris is not. Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact also explored this to the n’th degree and, like Memento, also more successfully.

Therein lies the main problem with Solaris in that the film doesn’t seem long enough to let its ideas breathe. By fashioning a story that is more thought than entertainment, it’s easy to look upon with glazed eyes as if you were presented questions on an exam that you didn’t study for. A thought is presented and, just as quickly, we’re on to the next scene ready to move forward. Except by now, you’ve realized that it’s not going to follow a traditional film structure, so you can only sit and wait for the next idea to manifest. At only 98 minutes, a film with ideas as immense as the universe itself deserves a longer treatment and Soderbergh’s approach, while commendable, could have added the elements to make the audience both cogitate and riveted.

“Don’t turn a scientific problem into a common love story,” one character says to the other in the 1972 film and traditionalists may fault Soderbergh for trying to use the romance between Chris and Rheya to make it more accessible to audiences. This is hardly the case since their relationship can be called anything but a common love story. Clooney gives perhaps his most human performance to date, vulnerable and full of regret while McElhone has the tricky disposition of revealing multiple sides to Rheya in the way that Chris remembers her. The director’s use of a flashback structure to familiarize us with how they met and eventually grew apart actually hinders the inherent passion already there in a tale when the eyes of someone who has loved and lost can tell more than a game of show-and-show-some-more.

It took a great deal of thinking on my part to finally say that I ultimately liked Solaris without having to say “I think I liked it.” I was challenged by it and will likely revisit it soon to see how my answers fit into what I had already experienced. Most viewers will be baffled by it and their confusion will turn to anger if they haven’t walked out halfway through already. Thereby, a fundamental paradox collapses on itself as people, who may not be ready for Solaris or are infuriated by it, may be seeing the film through Gordon’s eyes instead of Chris’; threatened by what they cannot comprehend.

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originally posted: 11/28/02 06:17:53
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User Comments

7/09/13 Eh Artistic takes on science fiction are usually awesome 1 stars
7/29/10 bah another crappy christian propaganda movie 1 stars
5/01/10 Man Out 6 Bucks Stupid sugar-coated Reanimator-chimera of Tarkovsky's genius, montaged by Russian CGI 2 stars
9/03/09 Woofers Thought it was boring remake of Forbidden Planet 2 stars
6/01/09 Jeff Wilder A good idea. But one that would've worked better in book form 2 stars
9/02/08 Brian Mckay visually and emotionally engrossing. Long and slow paced, but never felt tedious 5 stars
3/23/08 Andrew Earl Singer A waste of film, I watched the commercials and switched off the movie! 1 stars
7/29/07 Martin I dissagree, it's one of the best movies of 2002 5 stars
6/11/07 LesnTea Watched it again, liked it more. Natascha's stare creeped me out! 4 stars
6/06/07 gr117 A tremendous bore. 1 stars
4/25/07 unknown Very blan.. takes a minute for you to understand the plot. Clooney is of course not bad 2 stars
12/16/06 MP Bartley Sombre, but thought provoking. Clooney is mis-cast though, while Davies annoys endlessly. 4 stars
7/31/06 Marty good acting, great visual/audio combo, and it keeps your mind busy. mood movie 4 stars
3/06/06 Indrid Cold The answers to metaphysical questions are too pat, but better than most Hollywood sci fi. 4 stars
1/22/06 Jim Huh??? 4 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands An overlooked piece of good filmmaking. 4 stars
11/24/05 JP I was mesmorized from the first frame. The blend of sound and pyschology were perfect. 5 stars
10/03/05 Tim the Enchanter Disemboweling yourself with a rusty fork is better than watching this movie 1 stars
9/11/05 R.W. Welch Doesn't make a lot of sense but has a certain fascination about it. WAL for sci-fi addicts. 3 stars
5/07/05 Ronin Not that good and not that bad either. The book is much better! 3 stars
5/02/05 Negative Emotionally stimulating ! 5 stars
2/03/05 the Grinch Honk SHEWWWW, Honk SHEWWWW, Honk SHEWWW 3 stars
1/05/05 Rinec A cerebral classic! Action film lamebrains avoid! 5 stars
10/21/04 Helen This movie is extremely confused and its very slow. 3 stars
8/26/04 Steve Newman Very confusing - would not watch again 3 stars
8/16/04 Daveman A disappointing remake of a masterpiece but still has its moments of genuine profundity. 4 stars
8/11/04 Rolo Watch it in the dark when you've had a few! Shame it wasn't longer! 5 stars
7/17/04 Absynthe Beautiful photography. You need an imagination and brain to appreciate this movie. 5 stars
7/11/04 Rob You need a brain to appreciate this film! 5 stars
7/06/04 dean loss 5 stars
6/09/04 Nadie Trust me this movie is extremely boring unless you're watching it while doing illegal drugs 1 stars
6/01/04 Charlene Javier Cute mooning, though! 1 stars
5/31/04 Nobody Absolutely the worst movie I have ever seen!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
5/09/04 reptilesni ZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzZZZZZzzzzzZZZZ 1 stars
4/24/04 Daniel Harris Mind-numbingly boring!What was Clooney thinking? 1 stars
4/23/04 Cupid Stunt No brainers will hate it! People who like lobotomised all action films will too! 4 stars
4/17/04 Michael Greenwaldt Could have been interesting/hypnotic, but is instead boring/stupid! George's ass was nice. 2 stars
4/13/04 The More You Know had the eerie effect of glazing over my eyes til i swore i'd died & put in a cryo-chamber. 3 stars
4/11/04 Wildcarde1 not good science or fiction 1 stars
4/06/04 Agent Sands Definitely Soderbergh's most claustrophobic, but effectively creepy. 4 stars
2/06/04 coladdict Watch it when stoned. it moves at just the right pace 4 stars
1/22/04 The Velcro Warlock Best part is fleeting glimpse of Natascha McElhone's pooper. Otherwise muddled. 3 stars
12/20/03 I Would Not as good as Tarkovsky's masterful version, but still well worth your time. 4 stars
11/23/03 smartmusician so dull I fell asleep 1 stars
11/07/03 Capt' Fox Strange like the original book by Stanis Law Lem. But it draws you in and you have to watch 4 stars
10/23/03 Frostbite Falls Gonna' Love It or Hate It - Loved It 5 stars
9/26/03 othree compelling like Vonnegut and Bradbury 4 stars
9/24/03 JesseL Through a garden hose! I'm a Clooney, this was painful. 1 stars
9/16/03 Kyle Seems a tad pretentious. 3 stars
9/13/03 wyntrout Worse than 2001 -- the movie, not the book! 1 stars
9/10/03 Ph0 the most underrated film of our time 5 stars
8/25/03 Jason I fell asleep. I hate it. I hate it. 1 stars
8/12/03 Big B Fails on every level. Candy shell with helium inside. 1 stars
8/11/03 Amy About that.... 4 stars
8/04/03 AgoraphbicVideoAvenger About an hour and a half of George Clooney's face and not much else. 2 stars
8/03/03 James Crabtree Much better than expected. I dislike Clooney, but this was good. 4 stars
7/31/03 Daddy Plaid Twas a love story, plain & simple. 4 stars
7/07/03 Matt Thiel I still don't think this film works 3 stars
7/06/03 Mopsa I saw it months ago and I'm still yawning 1 stars
6/25/03 toto Ha,collupsed movie previews of Original.Cameron is only enough for buisiness. 1 stars
4/13/03 George Jung One of the best movies of 2002. 5 stars
3/21/03 Goksel Sahan Definetely, a great movie..... 5 stars
3/16/03 Cameron Slick Slow-moving, cerebral, and ambiguous, Solaris is not a movie for everyone, but IMO awesome 5 stars
3/03/03 WestcoastPunk What a load of shit. I fell aslead like 10 times 1 stars
3/01/03 alien assassin If you don't like this, watch "Event Horizon" on DVD 4 stars
1/29/03 Troutman Coolee Dumb story. Fleeting glimse of Natascha McElhone's pooper was best part. 3 stars
1/26/03 thejames Great film, wished it was longer but its good for the attention span of most people. 5 stars
1/22/03 Angolmois Seems like the movie takes 2 chapters out of the book and expands it. Lem deserves better. 3 stars
1/13/03 TheOthersFan its almost endearing how philosophical Solaris wants to be, if it didnt suck so bad as this 1 stars
12/16/02 D Not as beautiful as the original, story was tighter.Should have expanded on book. 4 stars
12/16/02 Mickey With A C Linda Lovelace didn't suck more than this 1 stars
12/15/02 Titus Bizzare. Fun to watch if you're into slow and subtle. 4 stars
12/12/02 WestcoastPunk What a load of shit. I fell aslead like 10 times 1 stars
12/12/02 Max recomended to read a book before seeing a film. it's deep, filosofical&poetic. 4 stars
12/12/02 TheOthersFan Solaris wants so much to be the philosophical allegory that it knows full well it isn't. 2 stars
12/12/02 cpbjr Really uninspired and completely uncompelling. 1 stars
12/10/02 R. Siby Horrible 1 stars
12/10/02 Greyjack Kind of a Terence Malick meets Stanley Kubrick kind of thing. I liked it. 4 stars
12/10/02 ^ZuLu^ Reminded me about 2001 - except for the depth of the story. Nothing special. 3 stars
12/08/02 "Yes the shit." I ll give it time. But not yet. I was annoyed by the abrupt ending. Davies was wasted. 2 stars
12/07/02 astrotart Don't see it if you're sleepy. Otherwise its bright, dreamy & romantic (w/Clooney's heiny!) 4 stars
12/07/02 ownerofdajoint prettybadstuffbigletdownexceptfornataschamcelhone 2 stars
12/06/02 Suzz interesting in a slow, uninvolving way, not on a par with 2001 3 stars
12/05/02 KingNeutron Loved it. B patient - like 2001ASO but shorter. If u cant understand it @ 1st give it time. 4 stars
12/05/02 Vagile Rare a film like this is made anymore 4 stars
12/04/02 Angry Black Man Clooney's ass stole the movie!!!! 1 stars
12/04/02 Justin A. Dyer This is by the far the worst film that I have ever seen. We walked out during the film. 1 stars
12/04/02 whtie bread A big waste of fucking money!!! This film is shit. An infant compared with 2001. 2 stars
12/03/02 rue the whirl very good if you can wrap your brain around it 4 stars
12/03/02 jc its slow but intresting 4 stars
12/03/02 Rich Cirivilleri I'd liken this to eating a bowl of mashed millet while sitting in a stainless steel cube. 2 stars
12/03/02 Mickey With A C You should die for this Soderbergh 1 stars
12/02/02 poetchuck Hal is the only thing missing from here 4 stars
12/02/02 Bert Zillian Intriguing, and Clooney's great, but in the end, not that provocative. He's dead. The end. 4 stars
12/02/02 ajay The movie is way too slow-paced, I wanted it to be over. 2 stars
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  27-Nov-2002 (PG-13)



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