Solaris  (2002)


Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 29, 2003
Review posted: August 5, 2003

Spoilers: None


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann


"There are no answers, only choices." - Gibarian




Aboard a lonely space station orbiting a mysterious planet, terrified crew members (Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies, and Ulrich Tukur) are experiencing a host of strange phenomena, including eerie visitors who seem all too human. And when psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) arrives to investigate, he confronts a power beyond imagining that could hold the key to mankind's deepest dreams or darkest nightmares.




In the case of Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Traffic), home viewing serves as a much better place to view the film. I did not like Solaris after coming out of the theater, but watching the film in the comforts of my home with a 60” TV screen and a good sound system makes all the difference, apparently, for I like Solaris much better now. My initial comments are now irrelevant, because I realize after my second viewing that this film is a lot more than just a slow-moving science-fiction film. Despite a very slow pace, Solaris presents some interesting and vigorous ideas.


That is, Soderbergh’s direction is very disciplined and artistic, creating an unusual but clever structure. The film relies on flashbacks to propel its story in the present. Chris Kelvin’s dreams reveal bits and pieces of his relationship to Rheya (Natascha McElhone), a kind of mysterious woman he falls in love with. Solaris is kind of a puzzle in the way the story moves forward. The structure of the script, which Soderbergh adapted from the sci-fi classic novel by Stanislaw Lem, works well, although compensating for it is the film’s pace. There’s some really interesting dialogue between Clooney’s character and Rheya.


Actually, much of this dialogue is the result of some interesting ideas the film explores. For example, how do our emotions affect our judgment and actions? What is real and what is not? Solaris addresses these questions and proposes some interesting answers, although by the end of the film the viewer is required to form an interpretation. The last scene consists of a semi-twist and works very well in conjunction to the ideas the script presents.


Additionally, George Clooney’s performance is probably his most emotional one to date. His character requires him to feel sadness, confusion, realization, happiness, among other things. Clooney handles this requirement perfectly and turns in a powerful performance. Natascha McElhone provides the strength and beauty her character requires, and shares some good chemistry with Clooney. Viola Davis is very good here, as is Ulrich Tukur as Chris’ friend Gibarian. This leaves Jeremy Davies as the last crew member aboard the spaceship, and I’m kind of disappointed to report his performance is dull. He uses his hands a lot to articulate certain dialogue, but his demeanor is just a little too strange and annoying. Other elements contributing to the film are Soderbergh’s cinematography, Cliff Martinez’s beautiful score, and the set design.


Solaris is not action, but a love story set in space and surrounded by interesting ideas. I’m glad I like this film, because it’s worthy of praise. For some reason I was blinded by my experience in the theater, but now there will always be my home to open up my eyes to fine films like this.


The Video


20th Century Fox presents Solaris in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The widescreen transfer looks quite beautiful, and Soderbergh uses the format very well. The film’s color palette is sometimes artistically subdued, while at other times colors are generally very fine and well determined. Color detail is very good. The print image is free of specks or dirt, and compression artifacts do not appear. This transfer is crisp and balanced to very fine extent. Additionally, dark scenes look pretty accurate as I did not detect any major signs of grain. Dark tones and black levels are mostly consistent. Solaris looks crisp and very well balanced, making for a really fine presentation.


The Audio


20th Century Fox presents Solaris in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The soundtrack is located mostly in the front, although Cliff Martinez’s ethereal score is so beautiful and grand, not to mention heavily articulated that it graces almost all the speakers, creating a sincerely piercing and atmospheric auditory experience. There are also quite a lot of sound effects, such as the humming of the space station, and these effects come across nicely from the rear speakers. Surround usage is not consistent as a whole, and most of the soundtrack is located in the front, although Solaris still sounds very good and makes great use of Martinez’s score.


You can also choose to view the film in English, French, and Spanish Dolby Surround.


The Extras


Commentary by Steven Soderbergh & James Cameron – Here’s a commentary that is all these things: informative, interesting, educational, enjoyable, consistent, and many other things. Cameron starts off with some narration, and a bit later he and Soderbergh engage in many conversations ranging from the production to their intentions of the material. This track is definitely worth listening to, and having these two very good, successful directors sit down and talk for some 99 minutes is an absolute pleasure. This is a very good track; highly recommended.


2 Featurettes – These featurettes contain some identical information, such as discussing the intentions of the film and casting Natascha McElhone, although there are some differences. The first one is called “HBO Special: Inside Solaris,” running approximately 13 minutes, and involves interviews with the cast and crew in addition to on-set footage. The second featurette, “Solaris: Behind the Planet,” seems to be produced independently as it is edited differently. Running some 17 minutes, it goes into some details the previous featurette did not. Both the “HBO Special” and “Behind the Planet” offer some interesting and informative information, although the identical aspects of these two featurettes are obviously redundant, and therefore unnecessary.


Rounding out the extras is Steven Soderbergh’s original screenplay (includes cut scenes), which you can read by browsing through many text screens, and both the film’s Teaser and Theatrical Trailer, plus trailers for Master and Commander and Le Divorce.


You can select to view the film with optional English and Spanish subtitles. The DVD’s menus are not animated. The 99-minute feature is organized into twenty-five chapters.




Even though Solaris is a slow-moving science fiction film, the ideas presented by the script, Clooney’s stellar performance, and Soderbergh’s careful direction make this film very worthwhile. Video and audio presentations are pretty good, and the assortment of special features are satisfactory, especially the commentary. Solaris is a recommended purchase for fans of the film, while others should highly consider it as a rental.









OVERALL (not an average)









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