I can remember seeing Steven Soderbergh’s sad, romantic, and often times thought provoking science fiction film Solaris on opening weekend at the Arclight in Hollywood back in 2002, and as I recall, I seemed to be one of the only people in that theater who enjoyed what they’d seen. I’m not sure what people were expecting with this one; Soderbergh had gone on record stating that his film would be closer in spirit to Stanislaw Lem’s original 1961 novel than Andrei Tarkovsky had been with his interpretation back in 1972. I think that the name-brand combo of Soderbergh and exec-producer James Cameron gave people the wrong idea as to what would be delivered on a creative front, and even if in recent interviews Soderbergh as shot the film down a bit, I still think it’s entrancing and thought provoking, if a bit emotionally upsetting. George Clooney was excellent here, as was the radiant Natascha McElhone (LOVE her in general) as his deceased wife whom he’s having visions of while situated on a space station that’s orbiting the potentially life-changing planet of Solaris.
Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies were both very strong in distinctive supporting roles, and the cinematography and editing by long-time Soderbergh collaborators Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard respectively is crisp and clean and in keeping with the filmmaker’s cerebral approach to storytelling, no matter the genre. It’s a pity that this film got more press for Clooney’s naked rear-end making an appearance rather than the merits of the film as a whole. Not that there’s anything wrong with Clooney’s naked ass, especially 15 years ago. But this movie has a lot to offer; I’d be curious to know if Soderbergh would ever go back and re-edit the film to his preferred liking, or if he’d need to shoot new footage in order to make the film he apparently wished he had in the first place. The trailers were also terrible and not indicative of the movie, and critics, for some reason, were soft on it; maybe some petty backlash for Soderbergh’s dominance from a few years previous with Traffic and Erin Brockovich?
Review by Nick Clement