Solaris (2002)

(In theaters, November 2002) Full Disclosure: As an editorial board member of a French-Canadian magazine called “Solaris”, I was a bit concerned about this latest adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s classic novel. Given the ability of Hollywood movies to contaminate the memepool for years, it clearly wouldn’t do to see the name of our proud magazine associated with a big dumb sci-fi disaster. The first sign we had nothing to worry about came when the posters and the full trailers were revealed: You had to squint real hard to see any type of sci-fi action in them. As it happens, the movie itself isn’t very good, but it’s not very good in a curiously satisfying way. Director Steven Soderbergh is back in full-blown artsy mode, and the result is not audience-friendly: the ambiguous narrative jumps back and forth in time, presented in a sparse visual style. Long, slow but not without commanding a certain befuddled respect, Solaris feels a lot like an art-film gate-crasher at a sci-fi party. I suspect that most viewers’ reaction will be to dismiss the film as a dull and pretentious bore. That wouldn’t be wrong; this story could have been told with considerably more energy and concision without losing its romantic edge. But it would be a mistake to completely dismiss the film: There are a few good ideas left in the script, despite the considerable simplification of the novel’s plotline. George Clooney turns in yet another good performance, and so does the statuesque Natascha McElhone. Even the atmosphere works, if you’re favorable to that type of mood. In the meantime, my magazine shall henceforth be associated to a dull film only brainiacs will understand. I can live with that!

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