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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.62%
Worth A Look27.59%
Just Average: 13.1%
Pretty Crappy: 16.55%
Sucks: 24.14%

8 reviews, 97 user ratings

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Solaris (2002)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Soderbergh's take on the classic story is worthy of Tarkovsky."
5 stars

There are spaceships, but we hardly ever see them in flight. There are no villains, scarcely even any heroes. The few love scenes are haunted by guilt and loss. There are no narrative beats -- they're closer to gentle taps -- and it ends with ... well, how the hell does it end?

Let there be no doubt: Solaris is far and away the most unusual movie to get a wide release in this country since Eyes Wide Shut. (In both, the virile male lead both flees and pursues female phantasms of regret and betrayal.) In adapting Stanislaw Lem's 1961 science-fiction novel, writer-director Steven Soderbergh has taken a page, if not the length, from Andrei Tarkovsky's celebrated 1972 take on the same story. The proceedings are hushed, intimate, a slow recoil from the pain of the past and future. Like Tarkovsky, and Kubrick before him, Soderbergh has made a philosophical art movie in a sci-fi costume.

In most of his films, George Clooney has been your masculine pal: the guy who helps you fix your car for the price of a few beers, then amiably whups your ass at basketball. There's none of that in his performance as the morose, distant Chris Kelvin, a psychiatrist recruited to fly out to a space station orbiting the remote planet Solaris. Strange things have happened to previous visitors to Solaris, a purplish wad of shifting matter that may or may not be sentient. Kelvin arrives at the station and finds two corpses and two living specimens: Snow (Jeremy Davies, looking like Michael O'Donoghue channeling Crispin Glover), who seems to have lost his marbles, and Gordon (the intense Viola Davis), who is skittish about everything and won't let Kelvin into her room. She, like Snow, has a regular "visitor."

Kelvin soon gets one too: his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone), who killed herself a while back. Kelvin's response to seeing his beloved alive again is not joy but horror: he locks her in a shuttle and shoots her out into space. Soon enough, she's back again, with no memory of what Kelvin just did to "her," but also not as needy as her previous incarnation. The mysterious life on Solaris -- or perhaps the planet itself (have fun guessing) -- seems to be reconstructing Rheya from Kelvin's memories, dreams, and yearnings. She is whatever he remembers, and nothing more. She may not be a human being, but she aches like one. She is essentially Kelvin torturing himself. He can no more not think of her than you can not think of a pink elephant; she keeps coming back, and eventually he stops resisting.

This Solaris lacks the ponderousness -- and, some will say, the oblique poetry -- of the Tarkovsky original. Yet each has its unique charms, and Soderbergh was right to give us a smiling, witty Natascha McElhone in flashback on Earth, to contrast with the whatever-the-hell-she-is Natascha McElhone we see near Solaris. (McElhone, like Natalya Bondarchuk before her, is hindered somewhat by the film's only-through-male-eyes construction of her character -- part of the story's point about how man wrongly bends reality to his own perception -- but manages to triumph over it by sheer stubborn femaleness: these women may be boxed into male memories, but they wreak havoc there.) Soderbergh cuts to the bone of the story: What would we do if confronted with an alien consciousness that parodied our own need to have the universe mirror our expectations of it?

I'll happily watch both versions of Solaris many times during the rest of my life; the basic story is so unbreakable that neither Tarkovsky (whose leisurely approach to the material did not please Stanislaw Lem) nor Soderbergh can dent it, though Tarkovsky tried to expand it till it popped, and Soderbergh tries to freeze-dry it down to a doomed love affair. The ingenious premise, tackled thirty years apart by two very different artists, still harasses our minds with more questions than it's prepared to answer; it locks us in a shuttle and shoots us into inner space, alone with our hopes and fears. Soderbergh's Solaris is gorgeously designed (he does quadruple duty this time, handling the editing and photography too -- how auteur can you get?), the most mystifyingly beautiful film multiplex patrons will stumble across this year.

Soderbergh hasn't had the gall to remake Tarkovsky -- he's made his own version of the book, and what took so long for someone else to do it? Personally, I'd pay to see Scorsese's 'Solaris,' Coppola's 'Solaris,' David Lynch's 'Solaris'; every few years a different director should take a shot at it, so we can see the story through their eyes, what they choose to accentuate or discard, perfectly in keeping with the story's own concerns. I draw the line, however, at Michael Bay's 'Solaris'; though, who knows, with this director-proof material even he might shine.

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originally posted: 01/13/07 22:45:55
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User Comments

7/08/13 Eh Artistic takes on science fiction are usually awesome 1 stars
7/28/10 bah another crappy christian propaganda movie 1 stars
4/30/10 Man Out 6 Bucks Stupid sugar-coated Reanimator-chimera of Tarkovsky's genius, montaged by Russian CGI 2 stars
9/02/09 Woofers Thought it was boring remake of Forbidden Planet 2 stars
5/31/09 Jeff Wilder A good idea. But one that would've worked better in book form 2 stars
9/01/08 Brian Mckay visually and emotionally engrossing. Long and slow paced, but never felt tedious 5 stars
3/22/08 Andrew Earl Singer A waste of film, I watched the commercials and switched off the movie! 1 stars
7/28/07 Martin I dissagree, it's one of the best movies of 2002 5 stars
6/10/07 LesnTea Watched it again, liked it more. Natascha's stare creeped me out! 4 stars
6/05/07 gr117 A tremendous bore. 1 stars
4/25/07 unknown Very blan.. takes a minute for you to understand the plot. Clooney is of course not bad 2 stars
12/15/06 MP Bartley Sombre, but thought provoking. Clooney is mis-cast though, while Davies annoys endlessly. 4 stars
7/31/06 Marty good acting, great visual/audio combo, and it keeps your mind busy. mood movie 4 stars
3/05/06 Indrid Cold The answers to metaphysical questions are too pat, but better than most Hollywood sci fi. 4 stars
1/21/06 Jim Huh??? 4 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands An overlooked piece of good filmmaking. 4 stars
11/24/05 JP I was mesmorized from the first frame. The blend of sound and pyschology were perfect. 5 stars
10/02/05 Tim the Enchanter Disemboweling yourself with a rusty fork is better than watching this movie 1 stars
9/10/05 R.W. Welch Doesn't make a lot of sense but has a certain fascination about it. WAL for sci-fi addicts. 3 stars
5/07/05 Ronin Not that good and not that bad either. The book is much better! 3 stars
5/01/05 Negative Emotionally stimulating ! 5 stars
2/02/05 the Grinch Honk SHEWWWW, Honk SHEWWWW, Honk SHEWWW 3 stars
1/05/05 Rinec A cerebral classic! Action film lamebrains avoid! 5 stars
10/20/04 Helen This movie is extremely confused and its very slow. 3 stars
8/26/04 Steve Newman Very confusing - would not watch again 3 stars
8/15/04 Daveman A disappointing remake of a masterpiece but still has its moments of genuine profundity. 4 stars
8/10/04 Rolo Watch it in the dark when you've had a few! Shame it wasn't longer! 5 stars
7/17/04 Absynthe Beautiful photography. You need an imagination and brain to appreciate this movie. 5 stars
7/10/04 Rob You need a brain to appreciate this film! 5 stars
7/05/04 dean loss 5 stars
6/09/04 Nadie Trust me this movie is extremely boring unless you're watching it while doing illegal drugs 1 stars
5/31/04 Charlene Javier Cute mooning, though! 1 stars
5/31/04 Nobody Absolutely the worst movie I have ever seen!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
5/09/04 reptilesni ZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzZZZZZzzzzzZZZZ 1 stars
4/23/04 Daniel Harris Mind-numbingly boring!What was Clooney thinking? 1 stars
4/23/04 Cupid Stunt No brainers will hate it! People who like lobotomised all action films will too! 4 stars
4/16/04 Michael Greenwaldt Could have been interesting/hypnotic, but is instead boring/stupid! George's ass was nice. 2 stars
4/13/04 The More You Know had the eerie effect of glazing over my eyes til i swore i'd died & put in a cryo-chamber. 3 stars
4/11/04 Wildcarde1 not good science or fiction 1 stars
4/05/04 Agent Sands Definitely Soderbergh's most claustrophobic, but effectively creepy. 4 stars
2/05/04 coladdict Watch it when stoned. it moves at just the right pace 4 stars
1/22/04 The Velcro Warlock Best part is fleeting glimpse of Natascha McElhone's pooper. Otherwise muddled. 3 stars
12/20/03 I Would Not as good as Tarkovsky's masterful version, but still well worth your time. 4 stars
11/22/03 smartmusician so dull I fell asleep 1 stars
11/06/03 Capt' Fox Strange like the original book by Stanis Law Lem. But it draws you in and you have to watch 4 stars
10/23/03 Frostbite Falls Gonna' Love It or Hate It - Loved It 5 stars
9/26/03 othree compelling like Vonnegut and Bradbury 4 stars
9/23/03 JesseL Through a garden hose! I'm a Clooney, this was painful. 1 stars
9/15/03 Kyle Seems a tad pretentious. 3 stars
9/12/03 wyntrout Worse than 2001 -- the movie, not the book! 1 stars
9/10/03 Ph0 the most underrated film of our time 5 stars
8/24/03 Jason I fell asleep. I hate it. I hate it. 1 stars
8/11/03 Big B Fails on every level. Candy shell with helium inside. 1 stars
8/11/03 Amy About that.... 4 stars
8/03/03 AgoraphbicVideoAvenger About an hour and a half of George Clooney's face and not much else. 2 stars
8/03/03 James Crabtree Much better than expected. I dislike Clooney, but this was good. 4 stars
7/30/03 Daddy Plaid Twas a love story, plain & simple. 4 stars
7/06/03 Matt Thiel I still don't think this film works 3 stars
7/06/03 Mopsa I saw it months ago and I'm still yawning 1 stars
6/24/03 toto Ha,collupsed movie previews of Original.Cameron is only enough for buisiness. 1 stars
4/13/03 George Jung One of the best movies of 2002. 5 stars
3/20/03 Goksel Sahan Definetely, a great movie..... 5 stars
3/16/03 Cameron Slick Slow-moving, cerebral, and ambiguous, Solaris is not a movie for everyone, but IMO awesome 5 stars
3/03/03 WestcoastPunk What a load of shit. I fell aslead like 10 times 1 stars
2/28/03 alien assassin If you don't like this, watch "Event Horizon" on DVD 4 stars
1/29/03 Troutman Coolee Dumb story. Fleeting glimse of Natascha McElhone's pooper was best part. 3 stars
1/25/03 thejames Great film, wished it was longer but its good for the attention span of most people. 5 stars
1/21/03 Angolmois Seems like the movie takes 2 chapters out of the book and expands it. Lem deserves better. 3 stars
1/12/03 TheOthersFan its almost endearing how philosophical Solaris wants to be, if it didnt suck so bad as this 1 stars
12/16/02 D Not as beautiful as the original, story was tighter.Should have expanded on book. 4 stars
12/15/02 Mickey With A C Linda Lovelace didn't suck more than this 1 stars
12/15/02 Titus Bizzare. Fun to watch if you're into slow and subtle. 4 stars
12/11/02 WestcoastPunk What a load of shit. I fell aslead like 10 times 1 stars
12/11/02 Max recomended to read a book before seeing a film. it's deep, filosofical&poetic. 4 stars
12/11/02 TheOthersFan Solaris wants so much to be the philosophical allegory that it knows full well it isn't. 2 stars
12/11/02 cpbjr Really uninspired and completely uncompelling. 1 stars
12/10/02 R. Siby Horrible 1 stars
12/10/02 Greyjack Kind of a Terence Malick meets Stanley Kubrick kind of thing. I liked it. 4 stars
12/09/02 ^ZuLu^ Reminded me about 2001 - except for the depth of the story. Nothing special. 3 stars
12/08/02 "Yes the shit." I ll give it time. But not yet. I was annoyed by the abrupt ending. Davies was wasted. 2 stars
12/06/02 astrotart Don't see it if you're sleepy. Otherwise its bright, dreamy & romantic (w/Clooney's heiny!) 4 stars
12/06/02 ownerofdajoint prettybadstuffbigletdownexceptfornataschamcelhone 2 stars
12/06/02 Suzz interesting in a slow, uninvolving way, not on a par with 2001 3 stars
12/04/02 KingNeutron Loved it. B patient - like 2001ASO but shorter. If u cant understand it @ 1st give it time. 4 stars
12/04/02 Vagile Rare a film like this is made anymore 4 stars
12/03/02 Angry Black Man Clooney's ass stole the movie!!!! 1 stars
12/03/02 Justin A. Dyer This is by the far the worst film that I have ever seen. We walked out during the film. 1 stars
12/03/02 whtie bread A big waste of fucking money!!! This film is shit. An infant compared with 2001. 2 stars
12/02/02 rue the whirl very good if you can wrap your brain around it 4 stars
12/02/02 jc its slow but intresting 4 stars
12/02/02 Rich Cirivilleri I'd liken this to eating a bowl of mashed millet while sitting in a stainless steel cube. 2 stars
12/02/02 Mickey With A C You should die for this Soderbergh 1 stars
12/02/02 poetchuck Hal is the only thing missing from here 4 stars
12/02/02 Bert Zillian Intriguing, and Clooney's great, but in the end, not that provocative. He's dead. The end. 4 stars
12/01/02 ajay The movie is way too slow-paced, I wanted it to be over. 2 stars
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  27-Nov-2002 (PG-13)



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