I haven't read the book, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, nor have I seen the 1972 movie version of Solaris. So I am approaching the new version, brought to the screen by Steven Soderbergh, without my usual biases. In fact, I think Soderbergh is cool especially since he is from Baton Rouge. Anyway, Soderbergh and George Clooney are working together again after last year's smash hit, Ocean's Eleven. Solaris stars Clooney as a psychiatrist who has been suffering from severe depression since the death of his wife (Natascha McElhone). The movie is set in the not-to-distant future and unlike most such movies, this future is not Blade Runner-like. The world looks normal with a few new technological innovations. Anyway, Clooney receives an urgent message from an old friend who is on a space station orbiting a far-away world named Solaris. It seems that weird things are happening up there and the crew is refusing to come back to Earth. So, Clooney puts on his spacesuit and goes up there. Two members of the crew (Jeremy Davies & Viola Davis) are still aboard and are acting strangely, to say the least. I won't say much more about the plot but if you've seen the trailers, you'll know that Clooney runs into his dead wife up there.
Kind of like Spielberg channeling Stanley Kubrick when he made A.I., Soderbergh seems to have tuned into Kubrick's frequency and decided to remake Solaris as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The pace of Solaris is very much like 2001. It is glacial. This isn't necessarily bad but be warned, this is not an action movie. The soundtrack is so similar to 2001 that I found it a bit distracting. I kept expecting to see a monolith come floating by. The look of the clothes, the spacesuits and spaceships are all very reminiscent of 2001. But who designed the space station with the ledges to trip over every few feet? And the plot is just about as inexplicable.
I like Clooney and he does well with this role. McElhone (The Truman Show, Ronin) is also good casting. She has a really interesting face and, like I said, we get to see a lot of her face in Solaris. But, Clooney and McElhone have good chemistry together. The supporting cast are weird but they are being told to act that way. As I mentioned in my review of Secretary, my view of Davies is forever colored by his role in Saving Private Ryan. Plus, his mannerisms are really annoying.
Solaris has a nice slow build-up
to the climax but it's a bit of a letdown when it happens. The setup
is great but once it is setup, they don't do much with it. In particular,
Clooney's character is supposedly a psychiatrist but he doesn't apply his
expertise to the problem at all. As the movie nears the end, you
can begin to see where it's going. Solaris seems quite derivative
but that is probably because so many scifi stories have stolen the concept
from Lem's book. The Nexus in Star
Trek: Generations and the plot of The
6th Day come to mind. Solaris is beautifully shot.
Soderbergh did all the camera work himself as usual. But the movie does
drag a bit. There are too many lingering moody shots of Clooney and
McElhone's faces and a few too many shots of Clooney's butt. I don't
know why but the two women sitting next to me in the movie, got up and
left after half an hour. I didn't leave but I did feel like looking
at my watch a few times. 2001:
A Space Odyssey, this is not.