I love science fiction and I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi movies over the years. But I’ve been amazed at how many sci-fi flicks have slipped under my radar or that I have unfortunately ignored altogether. Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris” is a good example. I’ve had several opportunities to see it since it’s 2002 release but have always back-burnered it for some unexplainable reason. Well it took me long enough but I’ve finally sat down and watched “Solaris” and I can honestly say I understand why it’s a movie that’s driven a lot of debate.
Although “Solaris” is often referred to as a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s critically adored 1972 film, writer and director Steven Soderbergh stated that he intended it to be a new version of Stanislaw Lem’s original novel from 1961. I haven’t seen Tarkovsky’s film or read Lem’s book so I can’t make any comparable judgement. But I can tell you I enjoyed this version a great deal even though I can see where it would potentially push some movie fans away.
George Clooney stars as Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who is convinced to visit a space station orbiting a mysterious planet called Solaris. He receives a cryptic message from a friend on the station asking for his help with some troubling psychological events. I’m not sure how the process works, but Kelvin takes a solo flight to the station to investigate the situation on his own. I’m not sure if that was the best idea. What he finds is quite troubling and soon he’s fighting to keep himself from being consumed by the phenomena.
If it sounds like a science-fiction action story it’s not. “Solaris” is a psychological thriller told through the stylistic lens of Soderbergh’s camera. His impressive penchant for angles and shots that relay a feeling of observation is clearly seen here. These unique touches are sprinkled all through the film giving it a slight sense of unease. That’s exactly what Soderbergh is going for and he succeeds. I also love the accentuated use of sound. From the ominous and distinct hums of each of the space station’s rooms or hallways to the strategic use of Cliff Martinez’s simple but menacing score. Through these things the tone of the film is quickly developed and it never once ventures from it. I liked that.
Clooney is also very good in a role that requires him to do more storytelling through expression and body language than dialogue. It’s said that the role was originally written with Daniel Day-Lewis in mind but scheduling conflicts landed the script in Clooney’s lap instead. I’ll be honest, I would love to see what DDL would have done with this role but the film doesn’t suffer one bit by having Clooney onboard. He goes all out, pouring emotion and paranoia into the character. It’s a really good performance.
“Solaris” may be a challenging watch for some but I found it to be quite fascinating. I’ve intentionally stayed away from some pretty important plot points but lets just say things take some interesting turns. Some may struggle with certain aspects if the story but fans of unique science fiction that’s soaked in eerie ambience are going to be intrigued with this one.