&#91MOVIE REVIEW&#93‘Solaris,’ so lifeless ― mourning love in space

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&#91MOVIE REVIEW&#93‘Solaris,’ so lifeless ― mourning love in space

Don’t be fooled by the prominent use of James Cameron’s name on the posters and advertisements for “Solaris” ― this movie may be set in space, but it is no science-fiction, shoot-’em-up action tale.
This is a thoughtful, leisurely Steven Soderbergh drama about pain and loss.
“Solaris” may be the polar opposite of the empty-headed, superexpensive space operas that fill the cineplexes these days, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it is any good.
Based on Stanislaw Lem’s 1923 book “Solaris,” this version is in fact heavily indebted to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 classic adaptation.
Solaris is the name of a watery, energy-filled planet far from Earth where something has just gone mysteriously wrong with a space station in orbit. Several crew members are dead, others just are not responding.
One sends a message to Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), his friend back on earth, asking for help. Chris has no particular qualifications to save a space station, other than being a psychologist, but a military squad had no luck sorting things out, so Chris is sent.
Yes, it’s Dr. Phil in space.
The remaining members of the space station’s crew aren’t terribly helpful, but it doesn’t take Chris long to find out for himself what’s going on ― he wakes up one morning in bed beside his recently deceased wife, now seemingly quite alive.
It turns out that the planet below is alive with energy, and is able not only to read one’s deepest thoughts, but to create living, functioning human beings from those thoughts.
Chris, needless to say, doesn’t take kindly to the return of the love of his life. He tries to fight his feelings, but love is love, even when it’s dead and hanging in a descending orbit around an alien planet.
Even a modern special-effects budget, the presence of George Clooney and a faster pace are not enough to make Soderbergh’s “Solaris” engaging or interesting.
In fact, the faster pace is one of the biggest problems with the movie. “Solaris” doesn’t pander with enough action or eye candy to keep action-hounds attentive. But it moves too quickly to develop that meditative, thoughtfulness that is the trademark of the late Mr. Tarkovsky’s films.
Thinking requires empty space, time to reflect, wonder and ponder. Mr. Tarkovsky’s version gave viewers nearly three hours to take it in and contemplate. Mr. Soderbergh, however, tells the story in a relatively crisp 99 minutes.
But to do so requires a much more didactic style, jarringly telling the audience exactly what is going on, instead of letting people figure it out for themselves. The result is that this shorter film at times feels tedious and much longer than the original.

by Mark Russell
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