Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by Steven Soderbergh

Solaris poster  
Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychiatrist with problems of his own. He gets an odd message one day, and he is summoned to a space station where everyone is going nuts, but which no-one wants to leave.

The first thing that will strike you is how slowly everything moves. This is to convey an atmosphere of thoughtful contemplation, but just because it's slow doesn't make it any deeper. The film lasts 94 minutes, but the plodding pace makes it seem much longer. A lot of the story is told in flashback, but the technique for indicating this is quite subtle. Blink and you'll miss it, so the movie has the potential to be very confusing if you don't watch it carefully.

The space station in question is orbiting a weird celestial body known as Solaris. That's where the science ends, because Solaris doesn't look like any planetary body I've ever seen. When Kelvin boards the station he is confronted with bloodstains, dead bodies, and a small but very disturbed crew. Jeremy Davies plays a very spaced out Snow, and Viola Davis is a psychotic Gordon. They are reluctant to explain their problems to Kelvin until he has experienced them for himself.

The planet Solaris has somehow been driving these people crazy, but it's not exactly malevolent. Each crew member gets a visitor, someone of special significance to them. For Kelvin it's his dead wife Rheya, a beautiful but overly intense manic depressive played by Natascha McElhone.

There is some token discussion of god and predetermination before the film proceeds towards its tense but somehow not very gripping climax. It's not that the plot is entirely predictable, as there are a couple of twists that not everyone will see coming. But the tone is unrelentingly sombre, and it soon becomes too depressing to enjoy.

If only some of the characters would lighten up briefly, this would be in danger of being a good film. As it is, George Clooney is the best thing about this movie, and not because of his acting. There's barely any space for dialogue amongst the many meaningful pauses, so none of the actors had a great deal to get their teeth into.

The lighting is often dim and the effects are mostly low-key, to the extent that the opening scenes could easily have been set in the present day. It's not one for adrenaline junkies. Solaris is going for the intelligent and philosophical angle on science fiction, but it falls far short. The slow scenes are full of pay-attention-or-you-will-miss-it moments, but that's no substitute for having something meaningful to say. Solaris repeatedly promises to be on the verge of something profound, and consistently fails to deliver. If you like cerebral and moody science fiction this movie nods in that direction, but it really isn't worth the effort.

Film Details

Year: 2002

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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1 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson