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Solaris (**)
written and directed by Steven Soderbergh
adapted from the novel by Stanislaw Lem
Principal Cast
George Clooney -- Kelvin
Natascha McElhone -- Rheya
Jeremy Davies -- Snow
Viola Davis -- Gordon
Ulrich Tukur -- Gibarian
John Cho -- Suited Professional #1
Morgan Rusler -- Suited Professional #2
Donna Kimball -- Mrs. Gibarian
Michael Ensign -- Friend #1
Elpidia Carrillo -- Friend #2
Kent Faulcon -- Patient #1
Lauren Cohn -- Patient #2
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Solaris Solaris is intelligent and technically excellent, but empty and ultimately boring. It is full of visual and musical quotes from 2001 A Space Odyssey, but to what point? 2001 was a new visual experience. Everything in Solaris we have seen before.

Stanislaw Lem made a mild stir in the literary world when his 1961 novel Solaris was translated first from Polish into French and then from French into English. Critics from prestigious journals, who would turn up their collective noses at Robert A. Heinlein or Isaac Asimov, praised it for its wonderful new ideas -- ideas that were new when they first appeared in the Gernsback Amazing Stories thirty years earlier.

Lem then went on to make a minor splash in SF fandom, by writing letters to the top SF fanzines explaining why his SF was so much better than the garbage Heinlein and Asimov were turning out. In 1971, the Russian director Andrei Tarkovski made an embarrassingly ham-handed film from the book, a film certain people have listed as one of the ten greatest SF films of all time. But these are people who think Alphaville is one of the ten greatest SF films of all time. Their standard of greatness is how far a film distances itself from the technical polish of Hollywood.

The new version of Solaris is a much better film than the Russian version, but still empty, because the profound questions it raises are the same questions we raised when we were Sophomores in college: How do we know what is real and what isn't? If you could really believe that your fantasies were really real, would fantasy reality be any different from real reality? If you died and were replaced by an identical copy of yourself, would it make any difference? These are all questions that were raised in magazine SF in the thirties and in television SF in the sixties. And so we know from the outset that Solaris, following longstanding tradition, is not about to make a fool of itself by actually trying to answer any of these questions. It is just going to raise them and then leave us hanging.

And so we enjoy the intelligence with which the characters and setting are introduced without clumsy voice-over narration. We wonder how the main character, a psychiatrist, is able to clear time in his busy schedule to go gallivanting through space -- and then realize what a tremendous relief it must be for him to get away from all those pestering patients. We admire the acting, the characterization, the special effects -- and then we find ourselves waiting for the next visual quote from 2001. It is a sign of the times that they put clothes on the Star Child -- unlike the novel.

And then we become annoyed that none of the characters is at all interested in actually making contact with the aliens. They are only interested in themselves. I suppose this incurious attitude is one of the points that Lem and Soderbergh are trying to make. But my own experience leads me to believe that mankind possesses more curiosity than they give us credit for.

For all its polish and pretensions of profundity, the plot of Solaris is almost identical to the plot of Star Trek - The Motion Picture.

Copyright © 2002 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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