With Solaris the diverse and talented director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Out of Sight) has commendably tackled the philosophical potential of the science fiction genre. George Clooney plays a psychiatrist who must question his understanding of reality after being sent to a space station to discover what has happened to the crew, only to find that his dead wife has inexplicably materialised from his memories of her.
Solaris is based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem that has already been adapted by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. Tarkovsky’s film is sometimes referred to as “the Russian 2001“, and much of the haunting music, production design and superb cinematography of Soderbergh’s film evokes Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. However while the Tarkovsky film and 2001: A Space Odyssey are profound films that capture an eerie sense of loneliness, mystery and beauty, Soderbergh’s Solaris suffers in comparison.
Although visually stunning, Solaris is simply a bit dull. Clooney gives an uncharacteristically wooden performance that fails to evoke sympathy, and the plot meanders along failing to generate much interest. While the Tarkovsky film is an almost three hour long philosophical musing, it still manages to sustain an engaging dream like quality throughout. Although Soderbergh’s film is atmospheric, it simply comes across as an under developed romance which unsuccessfully aspires to being something grander.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 172, 2003