*1/2 (out of 5)
November 27, 2002
George Clooney as CHRIS KELVIN
Natascha McElhone as RHEYA KELVIN
Jeremy Davis as SNOW
Ulrich Tukur as GIBARIAN
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
BY KEVIN CARR
Some critics will tell you that “Solaris” is a masterpiece – and that if you don’t like it, you’re just not smart enough to rejct the studio formula and actually understand Soderbergh’s latest genius.
Don’t believe them. The truth is that “Solaris” is just boring. It’s dull. God, is it dull! Dull! Dull! Dull! Dull! Dull!
It’s only 90-odd minutes long, but it feels like three hours. At least when the stinker “Meet Joe Black” dragged on and on, its running time was appropriate for the pain.
And did I mention it’s dull?
The scary thing is that you can summarize the plot in two paragraphs. You don’t believe me? Well, here goes…
George Clooney plays Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who is asked by NASA to travel to the Solaris space station to try to get the crew to return to Earth. Kelvin heads up there and arrives to a vertible ghost ship. Most of the crew is dead, leaving two members to explain what has happened. Of course, they don’t explain and let Kelvin figure it out by himself.
Mysteriously, that night Kelvin is visited by his dead wife, and he finally learns that anyone living on the Solaris station receives visitations by people from their past – often dead people from their past. This leads Kelvin et al to a half-hearted investigation as to why this happens and some weak suggestions that maybe they should return to Earth some day.
There comes a point in every director’s career when they try to emulate Stanley Kubrick. Now it’s Steven Soderbergh’s turn. But where Soderbergh fails is by not crafting the story and characters the way Kubrick did. Kubrick understood the presentation of awe, often times subverting the characters to an almost insignificant level.
Soderbergh tries to do this, but then focuses on the vacuous characters yet subverting them at the same time. We never find out anything personal about any of them. Even Chris Kelvin, who is the main focus of the film, is left unexplored – probably because he’s excruiciatingly boring. His supposed longing for his dead wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) is all a sham as well.
Dissect the character of Rheya and you are left with a clinically depressed, suicidal nutcase who is completely void of any intimacy or compassion. But somehow, his grief seems to resurrect her on the space station. For what? Apparently good sex with a hot woman. Other than that, I don’t see the attraction.
And forgive me if I’m blowing the plot for anyone, but what the heck is Solaris anyway? Sure, you see Solaris – a big glowing pastel ball of lightstorms. But you are never told what it is… or how we found it… or why we’re interested in it… or anything remotely pertainent to it. As the story drags on, you hold out hope that there might be some sort of explanation, but there isn’t. Apparently everyone in the film knows what Solaris is. They just never see the need to share it with us.
I knew this movie would be a problem when I saw the television commercials. Unless you pay close attention to them, you’d never know it had a science ficiton element. It was as if the filmmakers were embarrassed to admit that it had.
“Solaris” follows the disastrous route that modern science fiction writing has taken over the last 30 years, which has resulted in circulation of science fiction magazines to be at their lowest levels in publishing history. In fact, the strongest science fiction element of the film is how “Solaris” devours an hour and a half of your life, but you end up feeling like you’ve aged a hundred years.
The advertising focuses on the dead wife almost exclusively, but you don’t even see her until well into the film, leading the audience to think, “What the heck is up with the dead wife?” When you’re finally introduced to her, you discover that she’s not all that exciting – or even nice. The only saving grace is that Natascha McElhone is a little more pleasant to look at on screen than a brooding, depressed George Clooney.
All too many times in the film, they head down a road to something interesting, astounding, or even creepy. But each time, the scene is abandoned by Soderbergh as the characters accept the most astonishing things with an “oh well” attitude.
Even in the end, there’s a big reveal, which is tossed away as if we all knew it along the way (and perhaps many of us did). It’s like the pod people got ahold of the script and made an imperfect copy. There are plot devices that look and feel like surprises, but they just aren’t very surprising. There are moments that feel as if they should be suspenseful, but they’re just boring.
And did I mention that it was dull?