Tag Archives: Stanisław Lem

Review: Solaris (2002)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2002
Score: 6/10

Who wants to play 'Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?'?

Who wants to play ‘Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?’?

A hard film to review, this. Do I attempt to judge it on its own merits, or compare it to the Tarkovsky version I watched the day before? The difficulty of the former is that many of its merits are entirely derivative (though it’s touted as a new adaptation of the Lem novel rather than a remake of the Tarkovsky film), so how much praise do they really deserve? I’ll aim for somewhere in the middle.

While it’s well made by Steven Soderbergh and well acted all around, in many ways this feels pointless since it brings very little to the table that’s new. On the other hand, it trims the running time by more than an hour, which is a plus given that a key problem with the original is its length and pace. It still manages to hit on most of the original’s key plot points and meditate (if not to the same degree) on most of its philosophical questions. It’s similarly cold and lacking in action, and the relationship between the protagonist and his dead wife (cue Robyn Hitchcock) is a bit more heavy-handed.

If I’m recommending one or the other to someone who’s seen neither, I think I’d point them to the Tarkovsky version on the basis of its place in film history and the fact that it’s slightly more interesting and considerably more innovative. However, if the recommendee’s time is limited or they prefer less ambiguity, perhaps I’d point them to Soderbergh.

As a result of this film I’ve come to a realisation about Jeremy Davies: he’s great (in this as well as the TV series Justified and the films Spanking the Monkey, Rescue Dawn, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, etc.) but he pretty much plays the same character in the same way every time I see him so he must lack range.

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Review: Solaris (1972)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1972
Score: 6.5/10

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

At 167 minutes and with a pace that makes it feel like twice that, Andrei Tarkovsky’s version of Stanisław Lem’s novel is a real slog to get through. It’s philosophical and psychological drama in the guise of a science fiction film, with a heavy dose of tragic love story (or, more accurately, an exploration of the human desire to recover lost love) thrown in too. There’s something haunting and hypnotic about it, in spite of or perhaps because of its confusing and mysterious nature. Given the sci-fi trappings, the lack of action – especially when amplified by the slow pace – is challenging to say the least. So, ultimately, is it moving and does it amount to a successful exploration of the deep questions and themes it attempts to tackle? I say no to the former, as the protagonist’s plight and the love story elements had little emotional impact on me, but mostly yes to the latter. In that regard I judge it a partial success. It’s boosted by a killer ending, one of those shocking final moments that force you to reevaluate much of what you’ve just seen. Random thought: the underlying love-conquers-science message must go down well with climate change deniers.