Stephen Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ is the first English language adaptation
of Stanislaw Lem’s legendary 1961 science fiction novel. The previous
adaptation, by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, is considered by many
as among the finest films in the genre. Soderbergh’s film is more than
an hour shorter than Tarkovsky’s masterpiece and much more
conventional. To the American director’s credit, though, ‘Solaris’
(2002) remains quiet and dignified.
Soderbergh’s ‘Out of Sight’ (1998) and ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2001)
collaborator George Clooney plays psychologist Chris Kelvin, a man
contracted to investigate reports of an unexplained phenomenon aboard an
orbital space station. Clooney certainly looks the part of an
all-American hero, but he brings a slowly emerging frailty to the role
that reminds us of his considerable talents.
arrives aboard the space station, we are offered a number of hints as to
the perplexing nature of his impending calamity. In an off-the-wall
soundtrack selection, the Insane Clown Posse can be heard performing
‘Riddle Box,’ a track in which the phrase ‘the joke’s on you’ is
repeated several times. When Kelvin interviews Dr. Gordon (Viola
Davis), she tells him, ‘Until it starts happening to you, there’s really
no point in discussing it.’
presents us with the age old fable of an explorer venturing deep into
uncharted territory only to come face-to-face with himself. Kelvin must
confront his most profound fears and insecurities as he examines the
nature of love and identity. Composer Cliff Martinez, another frequent
Soderbergh collaborator, provides a wonderfully ethereal accompaniment,
highlighting the quasi-religious undertones of the plot.
weakness of ‘Solaris’ is that as it draws closer to its denouement, the
plot twists and turns in an attempt to surprise the audience and provide
symmetry to the character arcs. This is as tiresome as it is
unnecessary. A ‘Hollywood ending’ seems totally at odds with the
established tone of this otherwise thoughtful film.
The special features of ‘Solaris’ were not submitted for
review, but apparently include an audio commentary by Soderbergh and
producer James Cameron, two behind the scenes documentaries and a full
reproduction of the script.