Reviewed by: Douglas M. Downs
Science fiction is an excellent organ for exploring questions of faith. As the name Solaris implies, we are looking at both the source of biological life, the sun, and the source of spiritual life, the Son. How does the film help us in understanding the source of our lives and their future sustenance? What is required for a person to experience peace with our past in order to have a future peace? What is different between the peace offered on Solaris and that offered in the Son of God?
Often the struggles we have in life imply a deeper decision that we are either avoiding or needing to make. How does each person’s response to the phenomenon on Solaris portray the place of their soul? What do you believe your experience would be if you found yourself in such a sphere?
Why is it that when we experience something unusual, even the opportunity to heal something, that we often first experience it as “something gone wrong?” How would life be different if we approached life with more trust and hope that “Someone” is guiding our path and allowing this experience? If we do not believe our path is guided then how do we find our way in the various struggles of past and future?
—Denny and Hal, CinemaInFocus.com
Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur | Directed by: Steven Soderbergh | Produced by: James Cameron, Rae Sanchini, Jon Landau | Written by: Steven Soderbergh | Distributor: 20th Century Fox, Focus/USA Films
Remember the first time you watched the now SciFi classic 2001-a Space Odyssey? I do. It is a film saturated with suspense and mystery as the story unveils the intentions of a computer named HAL. SciFi fans will tell you there is nothing like a good SciFi film: a perfect blend between a good story and nice eye-candy. Unfortunately, “Solaris” fails at both ends of the spectrum: it is a very boring story with special effects that just aren’t interesting.
I’ve watched good stories like Blake’s 7 that suffered from large-budget effects. I’ve even enjoyed movies that were largely all on big effect, but slim in the plot department. “Solaris” reminds me of another SciFi failure, “Battlefield Earth.” It is surprising that director Steven Soderbergh could make such a bland space opera. Mr. Soderbergh’s primary claim to fame has been his cinematic work behind the camera. The only notable thing he does in this film is spend an uncomfortable amount of time forcing the viewer to watch George Clooney’s backside. That event certainly gave new definition to “partial nudity.” It’s the same nudity included in the “PG-13” “A Knight’s Tale”. The difference between the two is that “A Knight’s Tale” used it as a plot point to demonstrate shame and Soderbergh uses it to demonstrate intimacy. I strongly disagree with the MPAA’s decision to reverse the “R” rating and expand the offensive boundaries of teenage movies.
“Solaris” even fails at exploring it’s own worldview on the subject of fate and second chances. Speaking of second chances, this is the second time that Stanislaw Lem’s novel has been brought to the big screen. The first time was in 1972 by Russian director Andre Tarkovsky. His rendition was praised as a Russian version of 2001-a Space Odyssey. Tarkovsky’s version ran for 165 minutes while Soderbergh’s is a quick 95 minutes.
Our story begins with Psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) struggling to overcome the loss of his wife. While he is wrestling with the remorse of her suicide, Chris is asked to solve a mystery taking place on a space station that is orbiting the planet Solaris. Most of its crew have lost their lives and he is asked to assess and analyze the situation. In one of the weakest parts of the story, Chris never truly behaves like a psychiatrist on a mission. He instead finds the space station as another place to become absorbed in his own grief. Chris is not on board long before he awakens to find his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) next to him. How can this be possible? The story continues from that point with an examination of death, creation, suicide and resurrection. The supporting characters are thin and sketchy.
My strong recommendation is to skip this one. I am not alone in this opinion. Many other well known critics did not like “Solaris”. It does have its share of objectionable sexual material and language. It is also a depressing excuse of a Sci-Fi flic. I wouldn’t even waste my time later on renting it.