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Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is summonsed to the space station observing the enigmatic Solaris, after a series of strange events which the ship’s commander, Gibarian (Ulrich Tuckur) cannot explain to his old friend. When Kelvin arrives, blood stains alert him to unknown dangers, and then he discovers Gibarian is dead. But he gets an even bigger shock when his wife Rheya (Natasha Melhone) appears in his cabin. She had committed suicide some years earlier. Now she herself is not sure what’s going on, but Kelvin hopes this is another chance for their relationship. The ship’s remaining crew (Jeremy Davies & Viola Davis) are no help to solving the mystery of visitors such as Rheya. Is it Solaris itself, playing mind games with the earthlings?

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although both George Clooney and Natasha McElhone deliver outstanding performances and it looks like an American film – with indie sensibilities- you have to approach this film with its author firmly in mind. Stansilaw Lem was born in the Ukraine, and his sociological terms of reference, not to mention his psychological touchstones, are different to most western writers. The East European intellect loves to play with audacious, existential and otherwise complex ideas for the sheer hell of it; it’s mind-gym. Lem’s Solaris is a big ‘what if’ – not about space or an ‘intelligent’ planet like Solaris which can latch on to your best formed thoughts and make them real. 

That’s just the vehicle; his question is about human nature, deep inside, not deep in space. It doesn’t give away any crucial plot points to say that the final line of dialogue holds the key to the writer’s deeply felt motivation for this story. “Everything we have done is forgiven. Everything.” This is the powerful emotional and psychological foundation on which the premise is built. Rheya and Chris were lovers, married, and then dislocated from each other, spinning out of control as one bad mistake led to another. We see this in short, almost sketchy flashbacks, Soderbergh working with immaculate sensitivity for the material and his characters. The realisation of how misunderstanding each other led to the catastrophe is absolutely riveting cinema; simple, true, effective, economical and powerful. 

This is a love story with a melancholy romanticism through its broken heart. And the close ups make sure we’re always in there with them, in their tight quarters. Amazingly, a team like Soderbergh and producer James Cameron have managed to adapt a work from another culture, using American idioms and filming techniques, without destroying the original ideas and feelings. And as if to make sure this baby didn’t get dropped between its carers, Soderbergh wrote, directed, photographed and edited it all himself. It really is a Steven Soderbergh film.

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:
Solid and intelligent features make this a satisfying package with two in-depth features comprising interviews and background information plus a superb commentary by Soderbergh and Cameron as the disc’s highlight.

The HBO feature offers revealing interviews with cast and crew that delve beyond the superficial. ‘What appealed to me is that it isn’t about technology,’ says Steven Soderbergh. ‘It’s a love story.’ He explains that the film is about everything that interests him personally. The actors and producers talk about Soderbergh and the collaboration. He talks about the casting of George Clooney in this rather unexpected role, and Clooney tells how he wrote to Soderbergh asking for a chance to play the role. McElhone gives an insight into working with Clooney; he is the funniest actor she has ever worked with. ‘Between takes, he is constantly doing impersonations and routines,’ she says. Producer Jim Cameron gets to the emotional heart when he says ‘The second chance is heavily freighted by the burdens of the first chance – a lot of the possibilities for failure are still there.’ 

Commentary by two high profile filmmakers like Soderbergh and Cameron is a treat, as we glimpse their processes, their respect for one another’s work and visions for the project. The topics they canvass are extremely broad as they discuss not only the specific but big picture issues. This is well worth listening to and offers more than you would expect from an audio commentary.

Published September 11, 2003

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CAST: George Clooney, Natasha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

SCRIPT: Steven Soderbergh (from novel by Stanislaw Lem)

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron; Two Featurettes – HBO Special (12.5 minutes); Solaris – Behind the Planet (22 mins); script (250 static pages)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 10, 2003

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