When the best Steven Soderbergh can do in his ill-advised remake of Andrei Tarkovsky classic masterpiece is give us a few of George Clooney's back-side it is painfully obvious that this entire movie is one huge mistake.
Drained of all real meaning, we are left with soft-focused view of depression and angst.
Saw this on 27/7/15
Solaris is an ultimately pointless sci-fi drama with good visual effects that is ultimately letdown by it's 'love in outer space' formula. The film tries to deceive the audience into believing that it's a high minded movie, but somehow it's just nothing but a derivative of many other films. The cinematography and Soderbergh's direction are good though it could have been better with a sound screenplay.
What I got was a plodding, incoherent, far too deliberate mess.
I love George Clooney - he's a great actor, especially in "Ocean's", "The Descendants", and "The Monuments Men". However, he seems bored in this flick - he seems like he's in it as a favour for old pal Soderbergh.
I also like Natascha McElhone, very very much - The Truman Show showcased this greatly. But she's so off-course here, playing someone who feels artificial - well, ok, I guess that's the point - and bored at the same time.
This movie features way too much bad dialogue, awful CGI, Clooney's buttocks, and weird emphasis in sentenes. The set design is good, but the odd interfaces on the ship's displays and the constant flashbacks make this movie a derivative mess - a living nightmare.
That look on McElhone's face (you'll know it when it happens) will always haunt me.
Although Solaris will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Andrei Tarkovsky's unbeatable adaptation of the text, Steven Soderbergh respectively makes the decision to focus his efforts on creating his own adaptation of the text rather than a remake. His adaptation is his own work and does not try to be anything else.
Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris puts the focus on the relationship between the two main characters as it is essentially the heart of the tale. Unfortunately, it gets so caught up in doing so that it ends up ignoring a lot of the more complicated science fiction and psychological plot points that Andrei Tarkovsky's version touched upon. The visual effects and production design of the film do an impressive job of conveying the nature of the setting, but the central point of Solaris is that it is a science fiction concept for the mind and not for the eyes. Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptation only touched upon the concepts of the titular planet lightly to the disappointment to the author of the original text Stanislaw Lem, but Steven Soderbergh's does it even less. There is no sight of the supposed ocean that is the planet, and so the film really neglects its potential to expand upon what the author would have wanted, and it lacks enough psychological elements to stand up too high. Instead of focusing on the melancholic emptiness of being in space, Solaris constantly reminds viewers that the protagonist has constant human contact with the other character Doctor Gordon. Since the film has less running time than the original and limits its material to a mere 99 minutes of cinema, the movement of everything is a lot quicker and so the sense of emptiness is not felt, except for in the limited exploration of the material that Steven Soderbergh puts into the film. While Solaris has been criticized for its slow pace, it moves along at a quicker rate than Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptation, largely because among other things it only runs for around half the running time. I hardly felt that the pace of Solaris was anything but necessary because it once again worked to capture the intricate and humane nature of the premise. Unfortunately, there is just not enough of it. Frankly, Solaris is a stylish adaptation of its text, and I may not be the perfect person to critique it as I have never read the novel itself but I was very fond of the complex psychology presented in the 1972 adaptation which was not found in this version. Perhaps the adaptation feels a bit too contemporary and perhaps it is an unnecessary film as the ideologies and themes in the film were already proposed 30 years prior by Andrei Tarkovsky in a superior manner and by this point it just doesn't feel as intelligent. The screenplay itself maintains strong dialogue and there are some smart aspects to it, but it just feels all done before.
But even though there is not too much new to learn from Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of the classic text, he still handles the film gently. As well as ensuring that the language in the film is intelligent and the atmosphere of the film is emotionally atmospheric in a gentle fashion, Steven Soderbergh really has Solaris looking and sounding good. With the use of the aforementioned production design and visual effects as well as strong cinematography techniques, Solaris is a very good looking and detailed film which is thoroughly convincing which is illuminated further by the use of colourful lighting. The simple yet effective production design of Solaris manages to depict a not too distant futuristic setting. And the musical score of the film is also strong, even though it cannot compare to the work of Eduard Artemyev, Cliff Martinez manages to create an appropriate mix of emotional and science fiction mood for Solaris. The film is a treat on the eyes and the ears as well as the mind, though the third option is determined by whether or not the viewer has seen Andrei Tarkovsky's version.
The one area that Solaris actually succeeds at being better than the original is in the casting of its lead actor. George Clooney is perfect for the leading role of Dr. Chris Kelvin. In a performance which transcends the one given by Donatas Banionis in the original Solaris, George Clooney manages to approach his role in Solaris with a strong sense of emotional involvement in his role. Facing a complicated character but doing it with such humane dedication to the role, George Clooney manages to bring his role to life by convincing viewers that he truly understands the complicated concepts behind the narrative and then developing the character as he faces the emotionally complex nature of the narrative. George Clooney does not play his role as an archetype, he actively pours his heart and soul into the performance by slowly but surely exploring the emotional pain of his character and rendering audiences easily able to sympathise with him for all his suffering. He really puts a lot of depth into the role which single handily makes Solaris a very character driven feature, also meaning that his role in the film is one of the finest aspects of the production. George Clooney proves once again that he works well alongside Steven Soderbergh, and his leading performance is one of the much more sympathetic efforts of his career and potentially one of his finest.
So while the 2002 adaptation of Solaris lacks the originality, depth and flair of Andrei Tarkovsky's superior 1972 adaptation Steven Soderbergh's directorial work ensures that it is an intelligently written, emotionally gentle and stylish film which looks and feels good all while it is anchored by an extremely touching lead performance from George Clooney.
A near perfect blend of visual storytelling, atmosphere, performance and dialogue. Slow but sometimes unengaging, Solaris is a film which garners the attention of the viewer for much of its running time, and refuses to throw itself to genericisms. A wild, heartfelt and beautiful ride that slightly stumbles in terms of its sometimes choppy editing (I don't give a shit if it was intentional; the editing took me out of the immersion a few times throughout) and dull final act, which only picks itself up with ten minutes to go.
Music to set the tone
The azure brilliance glows glorious; it is blatantly made out to be otherworldly. It holds no life, nor anything that could sustain such. Instead, it cultivates, manipulates and destroys the lives of others that come to rest at the shores of its influence. It is an alien planet that truly possesses a form of higher intelligence; perhaps not the type that we as humans for thousands of years have estimated ethereal beings would be capable of, but a quantity of perception and intellect all the same. It is both mesmerising, seductive, but utterly dangerous. It has the ability to exploit our own emotions and use them against us for its own benefit. And whilst that benefit is unbeknownst to us, its effects are still very much noticeable and potent.
Welcome to Solaris.
Steven Soderbergh's sci-fi picture about the human condition in terms of its emotional boundaries, as well as otherworldly creatures and planets, our hypothesis', our desires, is a masterclass of ambiguity, patience and dedication. Solaris centres around a psychologist named Kris Kelvin, played by George Clooney, who is sent to a space station orbiting the enigmatic and peculiar planet Solaris, after a distress message is sent out from one of the passengers, a passenger who happens to be an associate and friend of Kelvin's. After he is sent up to the space station, he discovers strange doings performed by the inhabitants; they exhibit unexplained behavior that Kelvin himself can not fully decipher. It is not until he is subjected to the strange powers of Solaris himself that Kelvin becomes prey to the same condition. As his ability to be able to discern what is and isn't real deserts him, he becomes subject to erotic fantasies and dreams about his late wife, Rheya. Soon enough though, such fantasies escalate, and Kelvin's imagination may prove more realistic than it seems.
Solaris starts on Earth, with cold and distant lighting beckoning us forth into this story of peril and personal destruction. Soderbergh explains little to us within the initial scenes, primarily utilizing visual cues to describe certain ideas about our protagonist, the world he calls home and Solaris. These initial scenes are cold and lifeless on purpose, any ounce of heart or warmth long departed. There is a texture to Earth, thanks to the rain displayed (one of the opening shots is somewhat reminiscent to my favourite take from Seven, which features a mood-setting and dark heavy rainfall), but that does not necessarily evoke any sense of life. The extras are nearly all faceless and distant from the central character; even when Kelvin interacts with them and the minor characters, we don't see their faces. We hear their voices, see their bodies and watch their movements, but we never properly see their faces. We are alone with our detached psychologist, detached for reasons unknown at this point in time, and Soderbergh evokes this as much as he possibly can. It's gripping work, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the picture.
Kelvin receives a message from his scientist colleague and friend Dr. Gibarian. Gibarian implores Kelvin to come to Solaris to witness the manifestation of a strange power; one that is weakening the mental endurance of all those on the space station orbiting the planet. As a psychologist, Kelvin is qualified for the situation at hand, and is requested by envoys of the corporation who own the space station to trek out and convince the crew members to abandon the mission and return to Earth; all members of the mission had been reluctant to leave prior to this point. This entire scene that features Kelvin receiving the distress message contains a slow and begrudging atmosphere, the message from Gibarian long and drawn out with few cuts throughout. There is no score over the top, nor is there any overtly dramatic lighting cues. Gaffer James Plannette delivers a cold orange colour for the set, and it feels hostile and unwelcome. All throughout the scene, the camera lingers on Kelvin, his every movement and emotion accented with the long takes utilized. Soderbergh undertook both the editing and cinematography roles, and his work here is exceptional. He doesn't cut away, nor does he seek to add flair to the visuals. There is a keen simplicity to the scene that articulates Clooney's performance; a performance which understates the residual and underlying emotional complications that exist within his being. At this point in time, we do not know why he is the way he is. Only time shall tell.
With Cliff Martinez's surprisingly versatile score blaring over the top, thematic inclusions abound, the film instigates the central plot, Kelvin heading off to Solaris. The film doesn't waste much time with unnecessary reflections, but instead simply cuts to Kelvin's ship approaching the space station that orbits the clear and bewildering planet below. It is a beautiful sight, and whilst rendered not as realistically as other planets depicted in films in the past, takes on a more transcendental quality. It feels spiritual and wholly otherworldly. As Kelvin draws closer to his target, the slow tone and visual splendour evoke comparisons to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. As of so far, Solaris is entirely enthralling. Kelvin enters the space station shortly after, and finds himself alone amongst the sterile and antagonistic corridors of his directive. Within these scenes, Soderbergh and Martinez resist the urge to build anticipation with a predictable score that ostinatos and performs volume fluctuations for cheap gasps. The director wishes to capture a vibe and mood as Kelvin takes his first steps around the new location, and he achieves as such. It is both gripping and engrossing watching our protagonist traverse the unknown predicament, his lack of knowledge about the situation echoing our own.
The sound design is hollow and lacking personality. Everything sounds metallic and lacks human quality. The framing becomes wider and even yet more distant. As Kelvin explores, he comes across a child walking around the space station. He attempts to capture the youngling, but to no avail. Questions arise in our head, but the film refuses to acknowledge them. It will get to them in due time. Instead, we are met with our first major supporting character; a crew member named Snow, played by Jeremy Davies. There is something promptly strange about Snow. Davies fidgets with his surroundings and moves his body in strange and inhuman ways, and it is immediately off-putting. The screenplay echoes the sentiment that his body gives us; that this character is not to be trusted, Snow's dialogue jumping around in an indecipherable form that leads to more questions than answers. Kelvin's lack of emotion is still evidently unpleasant, but his distance feels more at home here more than ever. Alongside Snow, they make a strong team, their minimal individual personalities and uninviting dialogue blending together to form a very strange but reassuring chemistry.
Snow points Kelvin towards an emotionally distraught female crew member named Dr. Gordon, played by Viola Davis. She is more spiteful to both the situation and Kelvin, and provides him few answers as to why the rest of the crew part Snow and herself, including Dr. Gibarian, are either dead or unaccounted for. Soderbergh paints Gordon in a light that makes her seem more fragile and malevolent than Snow, despite the fact that she is revealed later on to be of a more stable, intelligent mind (supposedly) than him, and containing of more logical thoughts and answers than anyone else on board. It's this effect instigated by the powers of Solaris; the ability to provoke an emotional dissonance between individuals, and even themselves, that unsettles and disfigures our ability to quantify and calculate the underemphasized competence of the antagonistic planet.
Despite all the strange and inconclusive answers provided by the two remaining crew members as to what occurred to their fellow men and women, as well as themselves, there is never a building force that allows us to anticipate any conflicts or issues. The first concern that arises, part the fact that the two crew members sound and act half-mad, is evoked after Kelvin goes to bed. He dreams about a beautiful, stunning lady. She is staring at him, and he is staring back. The size and distance of the frame that accompanies the scenes that are shot within the space station is replaced with a frame that features lesser aperture. The focal length is increased, and we are gifted with a far more intimate palette of visuals, something that proves more aesthetically pleasing on a fundamental level. We witness Kelvin smiling; a first in the film. The subsequent scene reveals to us the identity of the woman, thanks to the aforementioned Gibarian; Rheya. She brings out a warmth in Kelvin that is most appreciated, and their following love scenes show a tenderness in the protagonist that has been unprovoked prior.
All seems well and good, until Rheya appears in the space station. Flashing in and out of the supposed dream-sequences, we witness two intertwining sex scenes; one occurring inside Kelvin's mind, and the other happening above Solaris, in modern times. Perhaps these are intertwining dream sequences, one is prone to questioning. Such an argument is proven meaningless when Kelvin awakes to find Rhaeya beside him. His confusion is obvious, and we finally get a proper answer to a question that we have possessed the entire time whilst on the space station; what truly are the effects of Solaris? Through subsequent scenes, we come to understand that Rheya is dead, and the cause of the perpetual depression that Kelvin resides within. He is emotionally distraught due to her harrowing suicide, caused after she terminated a pregnancy and was pushed away briefly by Kelvin. Soderbergh again allows his visuals to expand upon the relationship, their closeness and understanding of each other elaborated upon with scenes of love, heart and passion that contain few words.
At first, Kelvin knows his duty. He sends this fake Rheya off in an escape capsule, sending her out into the abyss of space to die. At this point, he can decipher between what's real and what isn't, and the audience is reassured by this. Soderbergh begins to explain himself, that this sudden and strange conflict is due to the powers of Solaris. He does such with visuals and dialogue between namely Snow and Kelvin. He uncovers the fact that Rheya will not stay dead, as she is a figment of his memories and personality that Solaris is evoking as a physical being. To what end does Solaris seek with this strategy, we are led to ask. The answer is not clear at any point throughout the film, and frustrates not only ourselves but our protagonists. They, along with us, desire meaning behind such an event, as otherwise they are unable to combat the threat. But little do they, or more so Kelvin, know that the planet looming beneath them can not be fought or contained; its powers are too great for one to even consider taming them. So Gordon establishes a plan to rid themselves of Rheya and the other beings created from memories (the other crew members have endured the same as our protagonist), and to flee to Earth. But Kelvin is suddenly hesitant to do so. Kelvin now has an opportunity to correct what he believes were misdeeds in his past, and so he is unwilling to leave his dead wife to the past.
Soderbergh's cinematography continues to grow in size and distance, leaving us to feel as if the protagonists are being watched by something. Mayhaps it is the child that Kelvin attempted to capture as he arrived on the space station; the answer I'd prefer to side with would be that it is Solaris itself watching. This adds a whole new dimension to the drama, that leaves the titular planet feeling less like an antagonist, and more so reminiscent of a curious being that wishes to study the emotional ramifications that presenting a physical memory to a human would bring about. Suddenly, Solaris has personality. Meanwhile, the space station drifts closer to the planet, the gravitational field increasing supposedly as a response to the actions of the humans. A newly formed Rheya comes to understand the artificial nature of her existence, and wishes to be destroyed by a machine that Dr. Gordon has constructed. Kelvin, who wants to relive his better days and wishes to stay stuck in the past, does not desire Rheya to leave him to his own devices again, especially after the perilous and never-ending despondency he had to endure after her initial passing. But this artificial version of the real Rheya can not construct her own memories (for some reason, I find this comparable to the short-term memory loss suffered by Leonard in Christopher Nolan's Memento), and does not desire the opportunity to live. So Gordon destroys her whilst Kelvin sleeps, and gifts our protagonist the opportunity to leave the dreaded orbit. They discover that "Snow" is in fact the brother of the real Snow, and he himself is one of the constructs of Solaris' powers. This reveal leaves the two surviving, human astronauts no resolution but to leave immediately.
And this is where the film stumbles for a portion. The film's climax was never intended to come as a rush, and whilst that is understandable, the fact that the film never feels like it's stepping up in stakes proves troublesome. The slow pace as the film hurtles towards the ending contradicts itself, and the audience member is lost for an extended period. Kelvin abandons the escape pod and Gordon, leaving himself to die as the space station sinks closer and closer to he dreaded surface of Solaris, the waves of pink grandeur consuming the ship. Gordon drifts outside the gravitational field, whilst Kelvin submits to his inevitable doom. The lure of Solaris has finally become too much for him, and he decides to stay. The addiction becomes too much of a burden though, as shortly after Gordon leaves, he loses his ability to stand, his weakness obvious.
The child from before appears, offering a hand to Kelvin. We cut suddenly to Earth. It appears as if our protagonist has miraculously made it back to home, but is struggling to return to normal functioning after the strange occurrences abroad. But this is not real, we soon understand; whereas in the beginning of the film we see Kelvin cut himself and deal with the injury over time, he cuts himself during this period but the injury instantaneously heals itself. So what has happened, we are led to ask. Is this Kelvin now a replica of the original Kelvin, living in a constructed, fanciful version of the real Kelvin's life, assembled by Solaris? Is this the real Kelvin, still alive thanks to the curiosity and power of the ethereal being he fell into?
All we know for sure is that Kelvin meets his wife, and Rheya exclaims that they can finally be together now, free of the past. They are now transcendent of the general definitions of life and death, and their future can be spent together infinitely, thanks to the power of Solaris. No longer do the two have to live according to the memories Kelvin had constructed with him and Rheya; he can finally make new ones, and bring about a whole new life for them. But what is the value of that relationship continuing in such a context as this? Is this relationship actually occurring in reality, or is Solaris so curious about the human condition and our emotional attachments that it may even be recreating the relationship, to study and observe it?
All acceptable questions; some more so than others. What I can say for sure that is definite, is that Solaris is an exceptional picture. It reflects on the power of memories, our individual relationships, and the detriment that living in the past can cause. Soderbergh is unafraid to prod at emotional and moral conflicts, and what results is a film that is utterly sensational in its dedication to tone, themes and message. It's not perfect; the final act, as I mentioned, features numerous periods of stale film that doesn't really click perfectly. It finds its footing again in the final ten minutes, but for a good period, there is little to fully grip the audience member. That, and there are a number of disjointed pieces of editing, perhaps caused by the fact that Soderbergh himself took on such a role. Whether these were intentional or not, I do not care; they broke immersion, and proved irritating. That said, Solaris still contains enough technical wizardry and passion to be considered an absolutely commendable piece of entertainment. It even features an actually impressive score from Cliff Martinez; a man whose recent work could be considered less than acceptable. His humming and droning is sacrificed for a more melodic approach that achieves better, ethereal, stunning results. The same can be said for the majority of this film. This is a transcendent experience that has to be seen to be believed. It is lavish, beautiful, gripping for much of its duration, and contains strong performances and tight cinematography all throughout. Soderbergh's meticulous vision and auteur style dictates that Solaris is undeniably a triumph throughout thick and thin.