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"Solaris" Movie Review
Tedium Sets in Early and Never Leaves

Natascha McElhone and George Clooney in "Solaris."
©2002 20th Century Fox

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20th Century Fox

James Cameron produces, Steven Soderbergh directs, and George Clooney stars in this 2002 remake of the 1972 Russian movie, "Solaris," based on Stanislaw Lem's novel. Considering the talent behind the camera and Clooney's appeal in front of the camera, the movie should have had a lot going for it. Instead, what they created was a movie with little joy, no oomph, and paced so agonizingly slow that I fought a constant battle against nodding off.

I've read descriptions of this film that call it the "romantic movie of the year," which leads me to wondering just what movie those critics saw. Sure, the love story is the film. There's very little else to the movie but the relationship between Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) and his dead wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone). The central problem is the relationship never clicks with the audience. You don't know enough about either character to care about either of them or their relationship. Their story of meeting, courting, marrying and then ultimately separating, is told through flashbacks, but not once did the flashback episodes emotionally move me or give me true insight into what made them tick.

"Solaris" is described as a love story set within a science fiction framework. The story takes place in the future and centers around psychologist, Dr. Chris Kelvin. Kelvin is asked to investigate the strange behavior of a group of scientists aboard Prometheus, a space station circling the planet Solaris.

Kelvin is unaware of the nature of the problem aboard the space station but agrees to help after Gibarian, his close friend and the commander of the mission, personally requests his assistance. Kelvin arrives (after Soderbergh's needlessly long docking sequence) and is shocked to find his friend is dead and the surviving crewmembers are exhibiting disturbing signs of paranoia and other psychological disorders.

Soon after his arrival Kelvin is himself introduced to the mysteries of Solaris. Awakening from his first night's sleep aboard Prometheus, he finds himself in bed with an apparent physical manifestation of his dead wife. Kelvin then must battle his own feelings of regret and remorse and discover why Rheya (or what appears to be Rheya) has come back.

You can't blame "Solaris'" faults on its cast. George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, and Viola Davis are not what's wrong with this movie. Clooney delivers a fine performance (one of his best) and McElhone plays the emotionally unstable Eva with conviction. Davies goes a little over the top with his role as Snow, but his scenes are amongst the film's most entertaining. At least while Davies is on screen there is enough activity to keep you awake. Davis doesn't have much to do as Helen Gordon yet she manages to convey a strong, independent, woman-in-command without much dialogue to work with.

The movie does have moments of beauty and at times, it is hypnotic. However, between those moments lie huge blank, boring segments. And it's not just the lack of dialogue during those segments, it's the fact the segments are drawn out to the nth degree for no apparent purpose other than to fill space.

During films I'm not particularly enjoying, I usually take the opportunity to check out the audience. I counted eight people who left the theatre (and it was a free, preview showing) and dozens others who were fidgeting or otherwise distracted. It's also a telling sign of how I feel about a movie if I glance at my watch more than once. "Solaris" set a new watch-checking record for me. I'm not normally an impatient moviegoer - I love a well-told story that slowly builds to an interesting, thought-provoking, or moving conclusion, but "Solaris" simply never delivered.

Overall Grade: D

"Solaris" is rated PG-13 for sexuality/nudity, brief language and thematic elements.

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