Sunday, May 1, 2011


RELAX, FILM SNOBS! Just hear me out. Oh...before we go any further, i want you all to know that i DON'T think the 2002 version is better than Tarkovsky's (although cliff martinez's soundtrack for soderbergh's solaris is definitely better). Hopefully by now my previous entries on Miami Vice and Fear X have made you change your minds on those movies, and you're ready to move on to this one. Like many people, when the steven soderbergh remake of the classic 70's sci-fi film was released almost 10 years ago, i blindly hated it. I did go to see it, but i went in wanting to hate the movie from the get-go. It never stood a chance. For the most part, remakes are not only bad, but totally uncalled for. Some may say that this remake wasn't necessary, but at the same time, i feel like this is something soderbergh felt he really needed to do. He wanted to share a great movie with a new generation. A mostly younger generation of Americans who wouldn't have the patience to sit through the Tarkovsky version (as sad as that may be). Yes, he made his version half the length of the original, focused more on the love story aspect of solaris, removed & added some things, but had he tried to recreate every shot and have his actors redeliver every single line from the 1972 script, people would've hated that too (remember gus van sant's 'psycho'??). He must have known he was getting in to a lose/lose situation. A big part of people's hatred for remakes comes from that belief that someone is trying to capitalize or make a quick buck off of a foreign or classic movie, because Americans are too lazy to read subtitles and need actors they can recognize. Some of that IS actually true, but in steven soderbergh's case with solaris...gimme a break. By the time he got around to making this, he had already won a palme d'or and an academy award. Had he wanted to capitalize or make a quick buck off of something, surely he was smart enough to know that remaking a Russian arthouse film for the A.D.D. American movie audience wasn't going to get the job done.
Steven Soderbergh is quite the film buff (i learned this from listening to his commentary tracks on various dvd's). 'Solaris' is a film that he clearly loves. Now, and I'm speaking to my fellow movie nerds out there, have you ever had those movies that you love so much that you want to share with other people, and when you finally do, they hate it? I've had that happen to me plenty of times. You know, you loan a friend a movie or recommend something off of netflix, hoping they'll love it as much as you, and upon returning your dvd or reporting back what they thought about the movie, they hated it. Its a pretty shitty feeling. I imagine that's how Steven Soderbergh felt about solaris. I think he knew it needed to be updated (ok, maybe it didn't NEED to be updaed). I'm pretty sure he could sense that one of the reasons Tarkovsky's classic film wouldn't gain much of a new or young audience was due to the constant change and advancement of technology within science fiction films that movie audiences are so use to these days (and there's been a HUGE change between 1972 and 2002). That shouldn't be the sole reason to remake a movie (its not like the special effects and science fiction elements of the 1972 solaris are bad or dated), but at the same time, I don't really think it can be argued that the updated technology (courtesy of James Cameron, who produced the movie) in Soderbergh's remake looks amazing.

a shot of the planet solaris from the 1972 film. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the special effect, but...
at the same time, with recent technology, we get shots and scenes like this which look beautiful. In my opinion, you get even more of a feeling that the planet of solaris is one giant being/lifeform in the 2002 version over the 1972 version (sorry just my opinion). Solaris in the 2002 remake...

A shot of inside the space station in the 1972 version...
The space station on solaris in the 2002 remake (soderbergh kept the basic layout and design, but gave it a more modern look and less colorful/2001 a space odyssy-ish)...

In the last decade, people have finally started to (SLOWLY) come around and accept the fact that not only is the 2002 solaris remake "not bad", but its actually great. Really, what can you honestly say (for those of you who have ACTUALLY seen it) about the solaris remake that's bad. Surely not the acting. Especially from George Clooney. Not for nothing, this is one of those few recent George Clooney films that wasn't designed around his smug awesomeness showing him getting out of tight situations all while looking as cool as possible (see the ocean's movies, out of sight or o brother where art thou for further examples of this. not that some of those movies aren't bad, but still...). Recently Clooney has slowly been breaking that stereotype and appearing in films like; 'The American' and 'Syriana', where he actually dies in the end (oops, sorry). Clooney gives a damn good performance in 'Solaris' in the title role as psychiatrist; Chris Kelvin. A man dealing with the loss of his wife, who at the same time has to go in to space to investigate the mysterious goings-on of a space crew that wont return to earth. As corny as this sounds, in some scenes you can see the angst all over Clooney's face at many crucial scenes in the film. And the chemistry between Clooney and Natsasha Mcelhone (the female lead) is great. Along with being a "science fiction" film, Solaris is also a love story. Yes, its an unconventional love story, but still... You need chemistry in a love story, and there's plenty of it in solaris. Soderbergh shows this chemistry by doing something slightly different with his version. We see a lot more flashbacks and learn how the two lovers met, fell in love and what eventually drove them apart. Also, the supporting cast, specifically Viola Davis, does an amazing job as well. There are some key scenes that highlight Davis's performance; her characters introduction in the film and the scene when she's trying to convince Kelvin that his wife isn't real. Ulrich Tukur gives an eerie and sad performance as Clooney's friend 'Gibarian', one of the most notable characters from the original. Jeremy Davies however, does get a little annoying after a while because it feels like he's trying way too hard to be the weird guy. Some of his mannerisms and the way he delivers certain lines seem kinda forced. But with that performance aside, which still isn't even that bad, the acting in solaris is great. And lets not forget about the jazzy editing, which is highlighted in the "first sleep" sequence. Soderbergh made this during the period when he was experimenting the most with editing, and everything he did seemed to come out so great (like in the limey and out of sight).

Kelvin & Hari in 1972
Kelvin & Rheya in 2002 (not sure why soderbergh changed the name of the female lead, but whatever) 

"Gibarian" from the 1972 version, warning the title character about the dangers of solaris and the strange effect it has on people who stay on the planet for too long.
"Gibarian" in the 2002 Solaris 

Now, the ONE thing i can say that soderbergh's solaris has over Tarkovsky's is the soundtrack (as i said earlier). This isn't even up for debate. Cliff Martinez, who's done the music for quite a few soderbergh films (traffic, king of the hill, sex lies & videotape), made one of the greatest soundtracks of all time in my opinion. The music enhances the film so much its ridiculous. Its probably the films strongest attribute. There's just something perfectly beautiful, atmospheric, haunting and rhythmic about it. I cant say enough good things about the music. So...great music, great performances, great special effects (for a movie like solaris, that does matter) and soderbergh did manage to keep the basic plot and overall "spirit" of solaris. With that being said, i ask you all to give it another chance. I did, and now its become one of my favorite rediscoveries. Its a beautiful film to watch.
The next "misunderstood masterpiece" I'll be exploring will be either; ghost dog or trouble every day (all are films i mentioned in my previous misunderstood masterpiece: 'fear x'). I'll do both eventually, but I'm not sure which one I'll do first.


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