The original 1972 Solaris, a Russian film based on the 1961 novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, is considered a science fiction classic(although director Andrei Tarkovsky considered it his least favorite of his films). It is a lethargically slow film. What made the original Solaris a gem was not the acting, the visuals, or the special effects but rather the questions it raised. What will alien life look like? Will it be the two-armed, two-legged variety we see in Star Trek or Star Wars? Or will it be something stranger?
“Until it starts happening to you… there’s really no point in discussing it.” A mystery surrounds the mission on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Strange violent deaths, suicide, missing crew members, a scientist who won’t leave her quarters… it is as if the entire crew has somehow gone mad. And Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychiatrist played by George Clooney, must unravel the mystery.
The film quickly becomes less about science fiction and more about psychology. We see Chris Kelvin delve into the nature of loss and regret as he encounters a woman who appears to be his dead wife, played by Natasha McElhone. If given a second chance, are we doomed to make the same mistakes/choices?
Written and directed by Steven Soderberg (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) and produced by James Cameron Solaris is a high-brow experiment. Will the audience go to see a science fiction film which is not an action-adventure yarn? The budget of a reported $47 million was not recouped as Solaris returned only $15 million domestically and $15 outside the US. A box office flop, Solaris is still worth seeking out, but be prepared to think. This is not a popcorn sci-fi flick.