Preview by: Jack Foley
HAVING gambled successfully on a remake of Oceans
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
worlds 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: "Its 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.
Its not art house, either, which may come as some relief
to Soderbergh fans who were recently disappointed by the directors
attempts to return to his indie roots with Full
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 Tarkovskys 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 Clooneys 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 directors 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 duos previous collaborations
(which date back to Out Of Sight), fans should have every reason
for feeling excited.
As Clooney adds: "Its not an art film,
but it is a film for everyone in that its a well-made, well-told
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
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.