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Steven Soderbergh's Solaris (2002)

Reviewed by David Longhorn

What is it with Hollywood and this cult of ‘re-imagining’ perfectly good films? Have American screenwriters run out of new stories to tell? Somehow I doubt it, but the entertainment industry seems to be running out of the courage to try anything very new. So along comes this pointless version of a great film that simply reveals how sterile the normal Hollywood approach to space movies can be.

The basic ingredients of Tarkovsky’s original are here, and - not surprisingly - the effects are better. The scenes set on earth look futuristic without being improbably neat and shiny. Solaris itself is wonderful, a star rather than a planet, complete with weird flares and prominences that suggest a dreaming mind.

It’s a pity that George Clooney’s performance as Kelvin suggests no kind of mind at all. The gifted Natascha McElhone has to carry this film dramatically while her leading man gives a performance that is so bad it’s almost subversive. At times I found myself wondering if the wooden crassness of Mr Clooney’s approach (stand, stare balefully, say the line like you’re reading it off a board) was intended as subtle satire on the psychiatric profession. Probably not.

Faced with such an insensitive old bore, it’s hard to view Kelvin’s wife’s suicide as a tragedy. Soderberg’s ill-judged attempts to provide a back story so that we can empathise with the lovers only make you realise how unconvincing they are as a couple. Compared to the striking images of Tarkovsky, which amount almost to a film within a film, the domestic bickering shown here seems hackneyed and perfunctory.

By all means rent the DVD to see the pretty pictures and hear the interesting soundtrack, which is perhaps the film’s most original ingredient. But don’t expect this poor imitation of a classic to satisfy - it has, as it’s heart, not wonder and mystery, but a gaping absence of creative imagination.

 

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Writer/Director
Steven Soderbergh

Released
November 27, 2002

Cast
George Clooney
Natascha McElhone
Viola Davis
Jeremy Davies
Ulrich Tukur
John Cho

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD