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"Solaris"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Written by Steven Soderbergh.  Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem. 
Starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  12/1/02 

Folks-- 

Now, as I mentioned in the video review from earlier this year, I sat through the old Russian version of “Solaris” and was thoroughly unimpressed.  A long, plodding, boring sci-fi drama translated from some Russian guy just did nothing for me, but naturally, many film scholars consider it a classic.

Whatever.  My man Andy “Cocktail” Kellam hooked me up with a freebie to check out the new George Clooney version of “Solaris”, so for free I will do just about anything.  The plot of the film sticks to the roots of the first film (and, I am assuming, the book) by sending Chris Kelvin (Clooney) to figure out what happened to a crew of scientists at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris.  It seems that Solaris’ atmosphere is producing life-like copies of memories all over the station, and for Kelvin, that means that his dead wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone, “Ronin”) has a new life on the space station but she can’t be kept alive away from the Solaris surface.  This means that Chris must make a choice—stay at the station with the memory of his lost loved one or jettison the station and leave to contain the cloning that has taken place on the mission.

Here is the greatest irony of watching the 2002 version of “Solaris”—although it is literally HALF the length of the original film (about 88 minutes; the original is 165), the new version is just as boring and it feels too long.  In his attempt to streamline the text, writer/director Steven Soderbergh leaves us with Clooney on the ship for almost the entire film reminiscing about his Rheya and people around me were nodding off the whole night!  I never really connected with the Kelvin in this film, somewhat due to the fact that we don’t get to know him at all through real time, just through the flashbacks that he has about what a great marriage he had (or, so it seems).  McElhone just doesn’t work in this role.  I don’t know if she doesn’t have the right personality, or she has annoyingly-high cheekbones, or she just couldn’t act well enough for me to feel her anguish over the worsening situation on the space station.  The support by Jeremy Davies is so one-bit that his character’s vice—the tendency to say “Yeah, listen,...” before each of his lines—lost all of its steam after the first delivery.  Viola Davis, as the station’s commander, is not bad, but she isn’t given too much to do.

The great stuff in the film is the moody score by longtime Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez—it fits the action so perfectly that I kept hoping there would be more of it.  The sets look good because they are so simple, and the film’s camerawork is more static than most Soderbergh films (he usually does his own camerawork handheld, but not on “Solaris”) and it works well with the shots of Rheya looking off into the void.  Overall, the production itself is really nice, but you might only get into those aesthetics if you are someone that regularly goes to the movies or has an interest in production.

Otherwise, “Solaris” is remarkably unnotable.  Maybe you are better off reading the book.

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09