Review by Gordon Justesen
George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2003
does Solaris want from us?”
do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you
keep thinking there is a solution, you’ll die here.”
stories can be told in a couple of ways. It can be told within the format of
nonstop action and effects, but it can also provide the backdrop for something
completely unexpected and ultimately mind challenging. Solaris, director Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation of the novel
by Polish writer Stainslaw Lem, is very much an example of the latter.
To experience it is very much like experiencing 2001:
A Space Odyssey for the first time. Soderbergh’s film, which is also
produced by James Cameron, has much in common with the Stanley Kubrick
masterpiece in terms of being both cerebral and conveying the feeling of a
dreamlike experience. In the realm of science fiction, Solaris,
though made into a film once before, stands out as quite an original piece.
In a tour de force
performance, George Clooney stars as Dr. Chris Kelvin, an earthbound
psychiatrist who has been in constant mourning since the death of his wife. One
night, Kelvin receives a mysterious video message from a colleague, who is
requesting his presence on board a nearly marooned space station that is
orbiting the planet of Solaris. Kelvin’s assistance is requested to help
determine a particular problem that the crew of the station has been dealing
When he arrives at
the space station, he discovers his friend to be dead, leaving two somewhat
unreliable survivors, shipmates Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Gordon (Viola Davis).
Neither of the two seem to provide completely reliable information on the
condition of the station, especially with Gordon feeling continuously paranoid
with the status. Kelvin soon discovers the details for himself during his first
sleep on board the ship. After having dreams of his wife, Rheya (Natascha
McElhone), he is stunned to wake up to the sight of her right before his eyes.
Although he at
first feels to be hallucinating, Kelvin comes to realize that she seems nothing
short of the real thing. She is his “visitor”, which is what the other
crewmembers have been encountering as well. The visitor is a composite of
whatever lies mostly in someone’s memory. Because Kelvin cannot help but think
about Rheya, her presence is indeed created, resembling everything that he
remembers about her, including the emotional conflict that lead to her death. At
one point, Rheya herself, or the visitor, begins to question her own reason for
The strongest parts in Solaris
is the way Soderbergh constructs various flashback scenes of Kelvin and Rheya,
from their very first encounter to her tragic death. These sequences,
accompanied by a superb, haunting music score by Cliff Martinez (Traffic),
strike just the right notes in terms of revealing the right amount of
back-story. Soderbergh does a remarkable job at structuring these dream
sequences and flashbacks in a unique and fresh way, which is what makes him such
a standout filmmaker.
For George Clooney, this marks a solid career high point. He has given
many terrific performances, but nothing could have prepared me for his work
here, which was no doubt his most challenging to date. It’s a side of the
actor I’ve never seen before. Clooney is usually at best playing quick witted
and charming characters, but Solaris
requires him to venture into areas of anger and sadness, which very much
separate this from any of his prior work. With the entire film on his shoulders,
Clooney carries the weight flawlessly and magnificently.
I will go on the record to note that this is not a movie for everyone.
The structuring and execution of this film results in an eccentric way of
storytelling that mainstream audiences will find hard to swallow. It’s one of
those films that does leave a few unanswered questions, but purposely, because
it wants to challenge the minds of those who watch it. The film had many
detractors, which no doubt kept it from being a hit at the box office, but those
seeking a powerful, mind-bending experience should look no further, as this is
one of the best films of 2002.
Fox delivers their usual brilliance with a much beautiful looking presentation. It’s one of those films, like 2001, that HAS to be seen in widescreen, and that notion has been illustrated with this superb and terrifically detailed anamorphic transfer. Like his previous films, Soderbergh has fun using different tones of light and color. Solaris has many light and dark set pieces, all of which are displayed in magnificent form. Colors appear strong and natural as ever. The outer space shots are especially great to gaze upon. One of the best looking releases of this year.
The level of the 5.1 mix proves that even the quietest of the movies can
still perform as strong. In fact, it’s the very notion of silence that help to
provide some very sharp audio range. For instance, scenes without dialogue are
backed up by the music score by Cliff Martinez, which alone is delivered in a
superb form. Dialogue delivery is sharp and flawless to a tee, and the numerous
instances of sound effects provided by the very atmosphere of the sets are
nothing short of astounding. High marks, indeed!
A near-perfect offering of supplements, including a terrific commentary
with Steven Soderbergh and producer James Cameron, which is dead on perfect on a
second viewing in terms of explanation of anything that may leave you puzzled.
Also featured are two documentaries; HBO’s Making of Special and “Solaris:
Behind the Planet”, excerpts from the screenplay and a teaser and a trailer,
as well as trailers for Master and
Commander and Le Divorce.