Solaris (***)

Posted on November 27th, 2002 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

This is a deliberate and challenging movie. If you were sending this movie a Christmas card, the mailing address would be 2001 Mulholland Drive, and I mean that in the ‘homage’ sense, not the ‘blatant ripoff’ sense. The movie, although set in space, is character-driven and uses the futuristic setting merely as a backdrop for larger issues regarding humanity, the meaning of life, the definition of death, and the nature of god (almost).

George Clooney continues to stay out of the Hollywood icon rut, and is selecting projects that allow him to flex his not inconsiderable acting muscle. The movie has a high GCBF (Gratuitous Clooney Butt Factor), but that may hold some appeal for a certain market demographic. The rest of the (surprisingly small) cast does excellent work, as well.

If all you know about this movie is that it stars George Clooney and is set in space, I urge you to go see it before you learn any more, but with one caveat: there are no laser battles, distressed princesses, wise-cracking sidekicks, tractor beams, transporters or holodecks in this movie. If you are looking for mindless, escapist, holiday fare, this ain’t it. Not that there’s anything wrong with escapist fare, mind you, but the marketing of this movie has left its nature pretty unclear, and if you wander in expecting Star Trek Meets Star Wars, you may be disappointed (you also might be pleasantly surprised).

But, this movie is deliberately paced, and you’re almost a third of the way through it before the plot even becomes clear. The movie borders on being an art film, and if it didn’t have Clooney as the star and Soderbergh as the director, it’d probably be playing on one screen of your local art house rather than two screens at each of your local multiplexes. I’m very glad that it has a wide release, however, and I hope it does well at the box office, because that is the only way Hollywood will make more films like this (not films with the same plot, but films that push the envelope like this one). I’m also hopeful that this movie will reach people who might not have seen it otherwise, and that they enjoy it, rather than feel misled by the hype.

I’m deliberately not mentioning any more details of the plot, because this movie really should be experienced with few preconceptions, IMHO. I struggled between giving this movie 3 or 3.5 stars, and I settled on 3 only after much deliberation. I may come back later and adjust it upwards, but I need to think about the movie some more. And that, in my opinion, says it all.

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