Film Review: Solaris (1972) & Solaris (2002)

*written in 2014 when I did these as a double feature.

I spend every November coming down from my month long horror marathon that is October. How do I come down? By having a month long science fiction marathon.

With that, I wanted to rewatch the original Russian Solaris from 1972. I figured that I’d also watch the 2002 American version, as I had never seen it and am a pretty big fan of the original.

So let me get right into each film.

Solaris (1972):

Release Date: May 13th, 1972 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Eduard Artemyev
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn

Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers, Mosfilm, Unit Four, 166 Minutes

Review:

“You love that which you can lose, yourself, a woman, a country.” – Kris Kelvin

Solaris follows a man who goes to investigate strange happenings at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. People have claimed to have been seeing weird things. The main character, Kris Kelvin (played by one-time actor V. Statsinskiy) arrives at the station and pretty quickly starts experiencing strange phenomena. Mainly, his wife, who committed suicide years earlier, appears on the ship with no recollection of what happened to her. More weirdness ensues and I can’t say anything else without spoiling too much of the plot.

This version of the film generally follows the novel it was based on but takes some of liberties and comes off as more of a Russian art house film in a science fiction setting than a straight adaptation. The result of that is that this is one of the greatest Russian films of all-time. In fact, it is the best Russian sci-fi film I have ever seen.

It isn’t as epic and grandiose as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which obviously influenced this picture in style, but for its limited budget and coming from a communist country at the height of its power, it is more than interesting and pretty damned impressive.

The acting isn’t what I would call fantastic but it isn’t a distraction. For the time and for employing a one-time actor, there really aren’t any complaints about performance.

This is a beautiful film. It does run a bit slow at times but the story keeps you locked in and the relationship between Kelvin and his resurrected wife gets pretty intense and feels truly authentic.

Solaris (2002):

Release Date: November 29th, 2002
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Can you tell me what’s happening here?” – Chris Kelvin

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director I am not a big fan of, this version of Solaris is quite different.

This film doesn’t attempt to remake the Russian classic. Instead, it tries to make a more faithful adaptation of the book. I can only compare this to being like the remake of The Shining, which was made at the insistence of Stephen King, who thought Kubrick’s version strayed too far away from his source material. Point being, just because this is a better adaptation of the source material, it doesn’t make it a better film.

I like George Clooney and here he plays Chris Kelvin. The name’s spelling was changed by Soderbergh because apparently Americans can’t understand the cooler looking Russian spelling of the name. Anyway, Clooney, who is pretty much always a pimp, is an emasculated version of himself in this movie, as he mopes around over his dead wife and never really shows off that famous Clooney chutzpah.

The sets in this film were done in a pretty cookie cutter early 2000s sci-fi style. Everything was sterile and nothing was inspiring. This film was far from the visual masterpiece of its Russian predecessor. In fact, there was nothing about this film that seemed unique or displayed any sort of real creativity in the design process.

This was a piss poor attempt by Soderbergh, I was basically bored shitless and I fought really hard not to hit “STOP” on the BluRay remote.

So the real question is: does this deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

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