Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur
George Clooney stars as Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who is summoned by an old friend (Tukur) to a lonely space station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris. Stranded on the station are crewmembers physicist Gordon (Davis) and the inarticulate Snow (Davies), the only survivors in the midst of strange phenomena and ghosts from the crew’s past. In Kelvin’s case, he has the reappearance of a dead wife (McElhone) to deal with.
The film is based on Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction novel of the same name, which previously received a screen adaptation from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. His version ran for almost three hours, though despite its length of one and a half hours, Steven Soderburgh’s effort manages to feel almost as long.
Solaris is a sci-fi yarn whose focus takes the genre to its traditional roots. Rather than an epic about phasers, scary monsters, fancy ships and techno-babble, this is a ponderous look at human characteristics and emotions set in a strange setting which allows the subjects to be fully exploited. By being visited in corporeal form by a wife who committed suicide years before, strong emotions of guilt and love are churned up in Kelvin.
However, despite the fact that the film wallows in strong emotion, it always manages to remain aloof and prevents any real investment in the characters. Clooney, cast a long way, even too far from type does very well at appearing emotionally dead with there never being a glimmer of chemistry between him and McElhone. The supporting characters add a little more charisma when they’re allowed to appear.
Apparently deep and meaningful, Solaris is thought-provoking but primarily in the sense that it leaves so much work to the audience, who are left to find meaning in a hollow, if terribly stylish, film. Definitely one for the patient.
Solaris airs on Sunday, April 23 at 22:00 on Channel 4.