Solaris (2002) Poster


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Absorbing, haunting and gorgeous.
david-winborn13 May 2006
Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick decided to make the 'proverbial good sci-fi movie' when they jointly created the film and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. There have been few comparably good sci-fi films since. Solaris is, however, one of them.

Whilst the Russian original is an epic and demanding film, Soderbergh's work should not be considered a remake. The director himself considers it his own interpretation of the book, quite apart from the earlier film. Because of this, the two should not be compared.

If you hated Alien 3 because it didn't have any guns or 2001 because the ending was confusing, do not waste your time with Solaris. It is not for you.

Conceptually, the story is standard psychological sci-fi fare, with simple but effective theological and philosophical themes. In this respect it breaks little or no new ground over the Tarkovsky predecessor. It has elements of romance, thriller, and drama, all necessarily set in sci-fi land, as the setting is integral to the storytelling.

Visually, the Solaris future is a conservative, believable vision, reminiscent in look to that of Gatacca. Solaris space is a minimal, beautiful place to be. Not dirty and used like the celebrated Alien 'space trucker' look, Solaris vessels are gleaming, intricate and stylish, but seem to have been designed by engineers rather than artists, such is the practical realism. Their design is complemented by some of the best CG spaceship effects I have seen (incredible that it has taken this long for computer graphics to look as good as the model-based technology of 2001, Star Wars and Aliens in the 1960s and 70s).

Solaris, the planet itself, is a clever piece of art, seemingly evidencing a degree of emotion by its colouring and detail, as no doubt was the intention. In the commentary to the DVD it is mentioned that many of the lingering shots of the planet were cut, which may have been necessary for the pacing of the film, but I found every shot an absorbing spectacle and would have enjoyed more.

The sets and costumes also retain the sense of engineering realism combined with beauty. Soderbergh's eye for detail is evident here, as everything has a purpose and look that fits perfectly with the overall feel. Somehow, this look is original and avoids many of the clichés we come to expect of sci-fi mise-en-scene.

Channel Four recently showed this on UK television and billed it along the lines of a 'George Clooney Sci-Fi Romance'. A tenuous interpretation, perhaps, but you can see why they did it. Whilst Clooney adds Hollywood star appeal, fans will be slightly disappointed, not because his work here is in anyway weak, but because he is understated, convincing and very un-Hollywood. With Solaris he adds another fine performance to an already commendably diverse filmography.

Natascha McElhone too plays a difficult, emotive role without resorting to melodrama. The small supporting cast doesn't put a foot wrong, with a delightfully odd but subtly creepy performance from Jeremy Davies worthy of note.

Solaris is slow, abstract, haunting stuff. The direction is subtle, dare I say almost Kubrick-esquire. The camera work is non-intrusive, solid stuff without gimmick (apart from a touch of shaky-cam in the restaurant scene where Kelvin meets Rheya) or overstatement.

Add to this a beautiful, timeless score by Cliff Martinez and you have one of the better psychological sci-fi movies ever made.

The majority of people will hate Solaris. Let them. Let them have instead the mindless Hollywood trash released every week and keep this treasure for yourself.
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Powerful, thought-provoking metaphysical journey - A great remake.
mstomaso4 May 2005
My two favorite examples of Hollywood utterly destroying GREAT foreign films are Vanilla Sky and City of Angels, which were abominations of two of my favorite films - Open Your Eyes and Wings of Desire. If you've seen Tarkovsky's brilliant "Solyaris" this film will seem more like an Americanized tribute than a Hollywoodization of a great piece of Soviet cinema. Some will likely ask why Soderbergh bothered to make this film if he couldn't improve on the original. Personally, I could not care less. This is a great film, and shows that it is possible for Americans to remake classic non-American films sensitively, intelligently and well.

To cut to the chase - if you like sci-fi with a soul,which stretches the boundaries of imagination, explores the uncharted realms of the human condition as much as the unknown realities of the universe, and swims upstream against the currents of ethics, physics, and even metaphysics, you will probably enjoy this moody, slow, multi-leveled and heavily textured film. If you're looking for light entertainment, stay away from this. This is a slow, intense film - dominated by dialog - and there is no action to speak of. Also, you need to let this movie pour into you slowly, so if you're not in the right frame of mind to pay attention and be receptive, you should save it for another occasion.

The cast is exceptionally good. This is unequivocally the best performance I have seen out of George Clooney, but the supporting cast and the female lead all blew me away. Soderbergh does have a talent for making actor's look good, even mediocre actors, but there is nothing mediocre about any of the performances in this film.

Though I recognize his talent, Soderberg's dialogical technique has worn particularly thin with me. The once fresh fast-paced, rapid-fire cuts and close-ups with the low-toned exchange of sentence fragments, and the myriad Soderberg imitators, particularly in television crime drama, have really gotten on my nerves. Solaris, however, is a bit different. There are only a few "Soderbergh moments" in this rich remake of the classic bit of 1970s soviet SciFi "Solyaris". Both films are based on a novella by the brilliant Stanislaw Lem. This film, perhaps even more than Tarkovsky's 1972 edgy, dark, and intense original, will appeal to exactly the sort of movie-goer that Lem's writing appeals to. Neither film captures Lem's quirky sense of humor. I am quite glad that Soderbergh chose to make Solaris with very much the same atmospheric eeriness, plot, and intellectual and emotional depth as the original. It is a tribute to his artistic integrity that he recognizes the brilliance of the original work, and imitates it wherever he can do no better, adding subtle and appropriate nuances and embellishments to make it his own. Some examples are the wonderfully minimalistic soundtrack, and the very Soderbergh symbolic use of lighting and color saturation to shift from the retrospective to the live-action shot. Perhaps the best tribute I can give this film is the fact that I am going to watch the original again in a few days for comparative purposes.

In other words, this isn't going to be for everybody, nor, even, for most. I am hardly surprised by the very low (in my opinion) ratings received by this film here on IMDb. Solaris is a love story, a story of exploring the fringes of sanity, and of questioning the very nature of reality, and much more. Enjoy it!
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Intriguing mood piece
Roland E. Zwick8 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Since nobody had the wherewithal or wisdom to re-release `2001' in the actual year 2001, a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's comparable `Solaris' in 2002 would seem the next best thing. Like those two earlier films, Steven Soderbergh's latest work is something of an `art' science fiction film, far more concerned with philosophy and theme than with action and suspense. This may make the film a tough slog for modern day audiences who have been conditioned to be jolted out of their seats every five minutes while watching films of this genre. But for the deeper thinkers among us, `Solaris' offers a fairly intriguing sci-fi vision of the afterlife, a sort of new religious paradigm for the twenty-first century.

George Clooney stars as Chris Kelvin, a successful psychiatrist whose mentally ill wife - ironically enough, given his profession - killed herself a few years back. Chris is commissioned to travel to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris after strange things begin happening to the crew aboard the ship. It turns out that dead loved ones have started appearing to the people there, leading a number of the crewmembers to descend into madness and, in the worst cases, even commit suicide. It's not long before Chris' own dead wife, Rheya, arrives on the scene, prompting him to question whether she is real, a replica created for an unknown reason by the forces of the mysterious planet, or merely a figment of his own troubled conscience and imagination. The film taps into that desire we all have of somehow being miraculously reunited with a deceased love one. We can't help but be moved by Chris' intense desire to believe that all that is happening is real and that life with this person could indeed start back up where it left off. Clooney does a beautiful job conveying the inner struggle between the grieving husband who wants to reconnect emotionally with this strangely familiar woman whom he had thought forever lost to him and the rationalistic scientist who suspects that both she and their relationship are illusory and ephemeral. The film itself may be glacially paced, but the tension created by the situation pulls us through. Natascha McElhone brings an ethereal beauty to the role of the dead wife, and we are moved by her own confusion as to whether she is really this woman Rheya or merely some fabrication usurping the memories and feelings of someone long gone from the scene. Clooney and McElhone generate a strong romantic chemistry between them, both in the scenes aboard the ship and in the manifold flashbacks the storytellers use to reveal their relationship back on Earth. Viola Davis gives an intense performance as Helen Gordon, the rationalist of the group who tries to convince Chris that he must overcome his feelings and destroy this facsimile of Rheya or risk bringing potential destruction to the people back home.

`Solaris' has been shot in the widest screen ratio I have seen in years. It almost feels like one of those old Cinerama pictures from the 1950's and 1960's, which is surprising actually, given the fact that, for all its outer space trappings, the film is really an intimate, personal drama in quality and scale (if you rent this on video, do NOT opt for the `full screen' treatment; rather, make sure it is in the letterboxed format). Also, the set design and special effects are actually rather understated for a modern science fiction film – as is everything about `Solaris' in fact. Like `2001,' `Solaris' is filled with images and concepts whose significance and meaning aren't always readily apparent or easily spelled out for the audience. Just be forewarned that the film is more along the lines of a tone poem than a rip-roaring action adventure tale.

`Solaris' isn't a great film and I can certainly see why many people, expecting something different, might find themselves becoming restive and bored by it. For me, the film managed to seep under my skin and kept me interested most of the time. This is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but for those with patience and an appreciation for something a little different, `Solaris' has its share of rewards.
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SF for the Blade Runner/2001 crowd... not necessarily for the Star Wars crowd
Surecure27 June 2004
First off, if you are looking for shoot 'em up, space ship flying through the stars, hunting aliens type of science fiction, don't even bother with this film. If you are looking for a Science Fiction film that explores the human condition in the way that Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey or Contact does, then this is right up your alley.

This film is not about events and actions, it's about ideas and concepts. People looking for plot points to move them along will be bored to death with this film because most of the action of this film are those that will happen in your head. It is about people, desires, regrets and what we would be willing to do if we could have that one thing we cannot have back.

Some people complain about the fact that Clooney's character of Chris does very little psychiatric work in this film. But, the truth of the matter is that his occupation is used more to propel his anti-faith views. I haven't seen it mentioned, but there is a reason why there are a lot of discussion about God, religion and faith in this film.

Throughout the film, Chris questions and belittles Rheya's religious views, seeing the idea of putting stock in something that he sees as fantasy as being useless and just a crutch for people deluding themselves into a happiness based on illusion. Chris comes to realize that he would give up anything to be with Rheya, whether being with her is an illusion or not. His happiness depends on her, and he realizes that accepting what he needs is not a weakness -- as accepting faith is not a weakness -- it is simply a choice to fulfill one's life, whether it be real or illusion. And, as philosophers would argue, who can really say which is which?

For those who want a science fiction film to make you think (like Blade Runner does), this film is it. With a tremendous cast, beautiful production design, excellent direction, and one of the best film scores in recent years (hats off to Cliff Martinez), I have no trouble recommending this film to anybody who is in the need of an intelligent, thought-provoking film.
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Eternity has just gotten a new name.
Warning: Spoilers
Reading the reviews of this movie, I cannot help but recall a short comedy clip which I saw somewhere. It featured a modern art gallery, full of well-dressed high-class people, walking around and commenting on various wacky paintings, until the camera pans over to several elderly men surrounding another example of art on another wall. They point at it, comment how surrealistic it is, how the author managed to capture this and that, how perfect and how brilliant it is - until the "painting" begins moving, and drives off, it being just a piece of a soft drink advert pinned to the side of a truck that was parked outside a gallery window.

"Deliberately slow-paced"? I don't mind slow-paced movies, not at all, but watching minute after minute of slow walking and talking about nothing in particular while the important issues remain completely unmentioned, is a bit too much. "Brilliant in its meaning"? _What_ meaning, excuse me? I cannot find any possible interesting explanation of its ending, really - the only two meanings I can see is one horribly shallow, cheap sappy excuse for a romantic sacrifice dressed in an old "meaning of humanity" robe, or a big twist beyond any possible reasoning. The former being surprisingly more likely.

** SPOILERS ** - my quick overview of what, in my opinion, went wrong in the movie.

First of all, who in their right mind sends a single civilian to a space station, when previously a military task force failed in there?

Next, suppose your deceased beloved one materializes next to you. Would your first impulse be to chat a bit and then simply kill that person again (as they're not real anyway), then watch them reappear, and then become emotionally attached to them again? Sounds weird, doesn't it? But that's what Clooney does in there.

This only gets worse in the ending. Clooney sees a vision of his own "clone" (cloone?:) on Earth, and decides to stay on the crash-coursed station. Why? For the sake of his dead wife that wasn't even there? Come on. But if it is so, what does this "Clooney-clone on Earth" stuff mean? It just doesn't make sense at all. The only thing that comes to my mind is "we are all clones created by someone", but I refuse to believe in such a banal idea, which actually doesn't fit in that moment anyway.


So what point the movie is trying to make, remains a mystery to me. "We live only for the ones we love, even when they're dead"? Please. "We only exist when someone remembers us"? Not explored enough. "Everything is just an illusion"?? Puh-leeease...!!

In a nutshell, the biggest problem with this movie was its pride. It presents itself like a piece of deep, meaningful art, giving time to think, to absorb, to conclude... but there is nothing to think of. The message is shallow and undecided, jumping from Harlequin romance to weary existence questions, like a hamburger served on a silver plate. There is nothing new in this movie, except exceptional boredom. It failed as a "cerebral movie", it failed as a SF, it failed as a romance. I'm sorry, but it is simply a bad movie defended only by an old "you don't like it because you don't understand it!" line. Yeah, been there, done that. 2/10.
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Disappointing if you've read the book; baffling if you haven't
charles_knouse3 September 2003
Since I had just read Lem's novel Solaris and had in the past seen the 1972 Russian movie Solyaris, I was interested in seeing the new Solaris. Someone not familiar with the story may well be baffled by the movie. Those who have read the book will recognize the plot up to close to the end, where the movie veers off in its own attempt for a resolution that Lem did not seem to think necessary to provide in the novel.

I was disappointed that the movie had almost nothing to say or show about the sentient ocean of Solaris and humanity's failure to comprehend it. The book went into great detail in describing the fantastic phenomena of the ocean and the various failed theories to explain them. In fact I think that was the central theme of the book which is almost completely lost in the movie.
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boring, undeveloped remake is a total waste; save your money
lilbuffguy1 December 2002
The first five minutes of this film are so torpid and dull, you just know you're in for something. You're hoping it's a set-up to pull the rug out from under you when you least expect it. Sadly, there is no rug; the rest of the movie remains at this underwater pace all the way to its unsatisfying and hokey ending.

The premise is intriguing enough, but little is done with it. Instead of focusing on the thriller (unraveling the mystery of Solaris), the back story of Clooney and his lost love takes over. This is dull beyond belief--partly because we know it's history and partly because Clooney's lover is a character that is so moody, aloof and unsympathetic that we really don't care about her at all. What should have been one flashback--or at most a montage--becomes almost half the film. And the wrap-up of the main story ensues without answering any of the mysteries of Solaris. We never know why it does what it does. There's nothing to spoil, here, folks. Because there are no surprises.

Then, as if the content weren't dull enough, they add insult to injury by filming the thing like a student film on a shoestring budget with unending tight shots and though they couldn't afford any sets. With the amount of money amassed by the talent involved, this is not just annoying--it's unacceptable. If it was an attempt at an effective use of claustrophobia, it failed miserably. As does the film. We were sold a sci-fi thriller with big names at the helm. What we got is a cheap, poorly conceived, dismally executed, plodding shaggy dog story that should be used to calm ulcer patients and nothing more.
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It's emotions and reactions - terrifically engaging!
janyeap26 November 2002
The state of human minds has always been so abstract and never easy an easy subject to comprehend. It's even more complex to decipher on screen. Nope, this film is not strictly a ghost story, nor is it a Star Trek adventure story to interest most science-fiction craving fans. Don't expect to see the usual Hollywood sweet romantic tale either! This film focuses on the psychological journey faced by the despaired and unstable minds. It's a film that totally relies on the characters' emotions and reactions. Awesome!

Has Steven Soderbergh succeeded in sprucing up Andrei Tarkovski's 1972 psychological cult sci-fi classic to make it worth the while to pay a regular price of a tix? Can't really say, as I've never seen the Russian version. But I was truly mesmerized by this film's approach to what, I think, is the study of human insanity slipping beyond saving.

The film is slow in pace and lengthy, with stretches of tedious silence, letting the imagination of the viewers try understand what happened to each of the characters seen, or heard. Silence comes with such intensity that it works very proficiently in this film. There are dazzlingly and ecstatically artistic visual moments to offer that dreamlike stance. At other times, Soderbergh provides a more solid spectrum allowing the viewers to grasp intellectually the conflicts faced by the human minds - Kelvin, Snow and Gordon - as a result of some traumatically emotional events. Viewers are told that Dr. Gibarian has already committed suicide. These may all be psychologists, but they all seem to exhibit signs of stress and paranoia. Oh yes, the psychological intent of the film's contents is truly complex and we are slowly led to see who will finally be capable of making the right choice, and escape insanity. Earth, presumably, is a symbol of normality!

It's about the existential exploration of the minds' sufferings, almost as if the memories of the human mind are being driven to a test. It's reliving a past and letting memories play tricks on the minds. It's living on regrets, hoping they could rewind the clock backward to bring about changes to events that are gradually driving the victims to complete madness. Indeed, a very haunting! Almost like the work of Bergman, Ophuls, Kubrick, and Welles, Soderbergh brings a well-crafted mysticism to the screen.... as if to to say that only one out of many entering a mental asylum can ever hoped to be cured. This film is very hypnotically effective and unique! Solaris - seemingly like an alien memory-stimulating anthropomorphic life form - is so eerily powerful on the screen. It's the `mirror that reflects' what the mind is not willing to forget. It's the driving force to the human insanity.

George Clooney is simply awesome. Follow his Kelvin as he deals with the issues of love, fear and death. It deals with his choice to throw away every memory of his past or to cling to them. That's to say he has the choice to allow his memories to manipulate him, or throw them out altogether. I find it hardly possible not to get totally absorbed with Clooney's character. Scary as it may sound, ghostly memories are never easy to shake off and thus lead men to more deadly conditions. Sometimes for these beings, their choice of death becomes their ultimate solution of finding peace. The performances of the ensemble of cast are solid, but the dialogue is the strength of the film, providing hints to what actually is happening to the characters.

An intriguingly engaging film - that's my opinion, of course! The narrative progression is nicely eloquent and the ending is impressive - providing the viewers with the feeling of having unraveled the mystery and capture the relief. It's certainly not a film for everybody... especially for those who dislike deciphering abstract ploys in films. Readers of Jung and Freud may find this film interesting as it supports the theory that conflict arises within the mind, mental health and illness, dominance, creativity and hearing voices. Fan of Clooney may miss his usual extraordinary charm and wit, but I'd say, thumbs up to him for his courageous choice to engage the viewers with his talent in exhibiting his emotional expressions.

A brilliant film!
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Could have gone much deeper
blue__yoshi9 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
NOTE: Spoilers for Solyaris too.

For me this version stripped away a lot of what made Tarkovsky's Solyaris so interesting. Solaris turned into a more simple movie about a guy dealing with a regret. Perhaps it went a little larger, and was about dealing with painful memories. (I couldn't escape the sense that it was 9/11 influenced - from the scene early on with people talking in a room about their reactions to painful memories that was sounding a lot like 9/11). But overall it missed exploring the bigger questions that Solyaris raises. There's still more substance here than your average Hollywood film but I much preferred the way Tarkovsky went deeper into every idea.

Some interesting ideas from Solyaris that were only lightly explored in Solaris - Exploring the concept of creation - Solyaris created the living memories from the minds of the scientists so in a way Kelvin was the god of his dead wife. The way in which Hari was more aware than Rheya and fought more for her humanity made this connection more interesting. She did not just want to kill herself she and truly struggled with who she was and why she existed. (as humans could do as well if they are posed the right questions). She also eventually had to come to terms with the discovery that while they had were once been in love, their relationship had ended before her death (humanity abandoned by 'god'?). This changed in Soderbergh's Solaris and made it more focused on Kelvin's character and I felt weakened it overall because of it.

Solaris also missed the scientist's plan to beam their waking thoughts down to the surface so it could understand them better. There was no strong suggestion of threat as found in Solaris (another post 9/11 influence?). There was just curiosity from the planet and the possibility that human-like intelligence was not as unique as we often like to think.

I like the idea of having your memory brought to life, having to face it and interact with it, while also having it exposed in front of people you don't know, but Soderbergh's version made it all about Kelvin and missed some of the greater questions about humanity that Tarkovsky was able to explore.

Ignore the long car sequence (apparently kept in the film so he could justify his crew's trip to Japan), I recommend watching Solyaris if you can. It may be slower paced, but it eventually goes much deeper.
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