November 27, 2002
When Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky made Solaris, based on Polish author Stanislaw Lem's novel, in 1972, it was billed as the Soviet Union's answer to Stanley Kubrick's 2001. The comparison certainly holds some merit, as both films fall squarely into the science fiction genre, though they use that genre in order to examine philosophical quandaries. These meditative and sometimes frustratingly abstruse films differ from the glitzy eye-candy that we have come to expect from stereotypical science-fiction films today. In many ways, the tag of science fiction for these two films is based mainly on the films' settings.
The titular character in this story is the planet Solaris. Soon after its discovery, it was found to have several unique qualities which made it a hotbed of scientific research. Chief among them was that it was almost completely covered by a semi-gelatinous ocean, and this ocean had properties that led some to theorize that it was, in fact, a living organism and may possess some sort of consciousness. A research station was erected on the planet for further study and to attempt to make contact with any potential life form, but through a series of events, there are now only three crewmembers on the station. Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate and recommend a course of action, but what occurs while on Solaris causes Kelvin to rethink his beliefs on fundamental ideas of consciousness, love, faith, and man's place in the universe.
If that sounds rather deep, it is, and Steven Soderbergh has taken on the massive challenge of retelling this story for a Western mass audience. The relative lack of notoriety of the original Solaris has much to do with the fact that it was a Soviet film, but just imagine the reaction if someone announced that they were going to remake 2001. One area of Solaris that will certainly be enhanced in this remake is visual effects. In particular, the movements of the "living ocean" should be able to provide astounding visuals through current CGI. Beyond that, however, Solaris doesn't leave much room to pander. Though there is a melodramatic romance/mystery plot thread that should provide an anchor for an audience, many difficult questions raised are not resolved with easy answers.
The presence of Soderbergh and Clooney, along with science-fiction elements, should make Solaris a fairly easy sell, at least to start. Beyond that, its box office fate will depend on how accessible the film is to general audiences. It's possible that even if (and perhaps especially if) the film is expertly pulled off (and with Soderbergh at the helm, that seems likely), most of the audience will leave the theater wondering what the hell they just saw. Success or failure, Solaris is bound to be one of the most ambitious and interesting cinema experiments of 2002. (Dan Krovich/BOP)
Comparison films for Solaris
|A.I. Artificial Intelligence
|Mission to Mars