By Shawn McKenzie 11/28/2002
Steven Soderbergh has officially been moved to my ever-growing hit-or-miss list of directors. After being on a great roll of movies since Out Of Sight (I wasn’t really fond of the few movies I saw of his before that 1998 classic…oh, and I haven’t yet seen Full Frontal), his latest movie, Solaris, really disappointed me. It’s not because it was bad, but because it was extremely boring.
Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist who concentrates on his work in order to try to forget the death of his wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone), several years ago. A close friend, Gibarian (Urlich Tukur), has sent him an important message asking him to come and investigate the weird things going on aboard his space station, the Prometheus. The space station is orbiting the planet Solaris, a planet that the station's crew has been investigating for its economic potential as a possible commercial property or potential energy source. The problem is that the planet has been also probing the crew and has created a situation that they don't want to leave, but at the same time is driving them crazy. By the time Chris comes aboard the Prometheus, only two of its crewmembers, Gordon (Viola Davis) and Snow (Jeremy Davies) are alive, and both are acting very peculiar. Hoping to find the underlying cause of what's happened, Chris questions both of them, but doesn't get any straight answers. Then the weird things start happening to him. In the middle of the night, Rheya suddenly appears. She doesn’t know that she's supposed to be dead. This seriously confuses and creeps out Chris. He eventually figures out that the planet has somehow read his mind and created a perfect copy of her. At first, he doesn’t want anything to do with Rheya, but he ultimately does hook back up with her, forgetting the problems they had in the past and the tragic way she died. Gordon desperately tries to convince Chris that this Rheya is not his wife and that they need to get rid of her and head back to Earth. Chris must decide what is real and what is not real, and try to figure out if his memories are real.
Solaris is a remake of a 1972 Russian movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, which was itself based off a 1961 Stanislaw Lem novel. I have heard all of the creative descriptions of how dull this movie is over the last week. Two of them were a take-off of the Alien tagline: “In space no one can hear you yawn” and “In space no one can year you snore.” My favorite was when one critic, in the spirit of the holidays, called it “the cinematic equivalent of tryptophan.” The thing that blew me away was when I realized that this was a shorter version than the 1972 film (which was 2 hours and 45 minutes long; this version is only 96 minutes long), so the original version must be playing in heavy rotation with Freddie Got Fingered in Hell. I will admit that I haven’t seen the original version, but come on…a longer version of a boring movie, in Russian with English subtitles no less?
I do want to point out that this is not a bad movie, just a tedious one. The acting in this is fine, and the original concept is an interesting one, but it feels like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” stretched out over an hour and a half. Not one person I talked to after the screening liked this one. This movie was tailor-made for stuffy critics, i.e. critics who place artistic value over entertainment value. Since most critics see movies for free, I don’t think there are enough of them to reimburse 20th Century Fox the $47 million they spent making this film. Normal people like to be entertained, and Solaris didn’t entertain the crowd I saw it with. I consider myself a critic who rides the fence between art and entertainment (probably proven by my love of Adam Sandler movies.)
If you are looking for a cure for insomnia, go see Solaris. Ladies, this movie is not worth paying 8+ dollars for those now infamous two Clooney butt shots. Wait for this to come on DVD, so you can go right to those chapters. You won’t have to then be put to sleep by the frequent long blank stares of the characters and the droning score underneath, because you can take it out and put in an Adam Sandler movie…or whatever.
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