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Solaris - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

HAVING gambled successfully on a remake of Ocean’s Eleven, director Steven Soderbergh has teamed up with actor George Clooney for a third time to remake Solaris, which was formerly turned into a movie in 1972 by Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky.

Adapted from the Polish science fiction novel of the same name, by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris focuses on a psychologist sent to investigate the unexplained behaviour of key scientists on a distant space station that is orbiting the planet, Solaris.

Once aboard, however, the psychologist falls victim to the unique world’s mysteries, while developing an erotic obsession with someone he thought he had left behind. Or, as Clooney told Entertainment Weekly, as part of their Fall movie preview: "It’s about a man coming to terms with the death of his wife. In space."

So what can fans expect? Early word from the likes of Soderbergh, Clooney and distributors, Twentieth Century Fox, suggests that this is not a creepy, special effects-driven frightfest in the Alien/Event Horizon mould, but rather a thoughtful character-study set within the confines of the sci-fi genre.

It’s not art house, either, which may come as some relief to Soderbergh fans who were recently disappointed by the director’s attempts to return to his indie roots with Full Frontal.

According to Soderbergh, the film is not like anything he has ever done before. It is of medium budget (by blockbuster standards) and will be very different from Tarkovsky’s inflated original (which clocked in at two hours and 45 minutes and, according to Clooney, felt like nine hours!), in that you see the reasons for the breakdown in Clooney’s relationship on Earth.

Soderbergh went back to the book and also wrote his own screenplay, filling the new version with many of his own pre-occupations. It was also shot over the summer, in just two months.

A Fox insider, in attempting to describe the film, claims that Soderbergh refers to it as a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Last Tango in Paris, although no one has commented on whether viewers can expect to see a naked Clooney cavorting on-screen with co-star, Natasha McElhone, for some seriously kinky zero-gravity sex.

What it does represent, however, is a second chance for both characters, both of whom are eager to avoid a repeat of the breakdown which occurred on Earth.

The key question, according to Soderbergh, is whether this is inevitable, or whether he can act on free will and change the course of his relationship.

The movie was originally considered as a project by James Cameron (who remains as producer) and was also intended as a star vehicle for someone in the Daniel Day-Lewis mould. Clooney did not even make the director’s original shortlist.

But when the star wrote the director a letter, joking that they were partners (both run the Warner Bros-based production company, Section Eight, which released Insomnia earlier this year) and saying that he would like to have a crack at it, Soderbergh felt it was worth a go.

Based on the success of the duo’s previous collaborations (which date back to Out Of Sight), fans should have every reason for feeling excited.

As Clooney adds: "It’s not an ‘art’ film, but it is a film for everyone in that it’s a well-made, well-told story."

US reaction

THE Clooney/Soderbergh hot streak shows no sign of cooling off just yet, it seems. Having scored highly with critics with both Out Of Sight and Ocean's Eleven, the actor and director have re-teamed to praiseworthy effect for Solaris, an ambitious remake of the 1972 film by Russian helmer, Andrei Tarkovsky.

Described as a thinking man's science fiction thriller, Solaris was perceived as being a little too arty to attract massive audiences, but it has clearly struck a chord with critics in America, who were generally full of praise when it opened over the weekend of November 29 to December 1, 2002.

Leading the way is Planet Sick-Boy, which awarded it 9 out of 10 and stated that it is 'beautiful and beautifully made… it's a slow, sterile, thought-provoking film that will leave many unanswered questions rattling around in your head'.

Rolling Stone, meanwhile, referred to it as 'a mind-bender in the best sense of the word: The spell it casts follows you all the way home', and awarded it four out of five, while Reel Views gave it three out of four and wrote that it was 'a gorgeously rendered motion picture'.

The Onion's A.V Club referred to it as a 'tender, quietly emotional experience, with strong philosophical underpinnings', while the Hollywood Reporter felt that 'George Clooney delivers one of his best performances'.

The Boston Globe felt that it 'recalls the heady metaphysics of '2001' and awarded it three out of four, and The Chicago Sun-Times felt that it was 'quiet and introspective', awarding it a near-perfect three and a half out of four.

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, described it as 'a lovely, eerie film that casts an odd, rapt spell', and awarded it three out of four.

Of a slightly more mixed nature was Village Voice, which wrote that 'Solaris may never reach the wide audience that it richly deserves … but it is certain to keep cultists, fanboys, and pundits in blissful argumentation for weeks', while Entertainment Weekly awarded it a C and wrote that 'Steven Soderbergh's sleekly austere sci-fi mind bender, is a movie that exists primarily to shine a spotlight on its own integrity'.

It concluded that while 'McElhone is certainly someone to pine for', 'Clooney may be too swank an actor to suffer this moodily'. 'He is, rather, the perfect poster idol for a film that serves up romantic tragedy as stylishly cryptic solemnity chic'.

Film Journal International felt that 'although impeccably made, the film is a slow and demanding work that firmly resists almost all of the pleasures of the sci-fi genre'.

On a more negative note, TV Guide felt that it 'isn't nearly as thought-provoking as Steven Spielberg's recent AI: Artificial Intelligence or Minority Report, and nowhere as entertaining', while Filmcritic.com felt that 'this much random psycho-babble hasn't flattened a movie this badly since Kirk found 'God' at the center of the galaxy in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier'.

Yet, in the main, reviews were positive, with Variety, perhaps, summing it up best as 'intellectually ambitious and defiantly uncommercial'. It is, perhaps, this lack of a commercial focus which has made it suffer at the US Box Office. In its first three days, Solaris made a mere $6.8m (£4.3m) - hopefully, strong word of mouth will enable it to climb higher in the coming weeks.

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