If all you've seen is the teaser-trailer for Solaris, with it's foreboding score, James Cameron's name lit up as producer, and the tagline "Some things man isn't ready for", then this latest offering from director Steven Soderbergh is likely to disappoint. Because there is no jaw snapping aliens, no big guns, and no blockbuster movie score. For Solaris is something completely different.
Based on the 1972 movie of the same name, George Clooney stars as Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who is sent aboard a space-station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris, to investigate strange happenings to the crew. It's when he arrives that it becomes apparent all is not well, as there are only two remaining crew members alive, one of which seems to have more than one screw loose. There is an eerie atmosphere from the off, reinforced by my favourite line of the whole movie, uttered by one of the surviving crew, Snow (Jeremy Davies): "I could tell you what's happening, but...I don't know if that'd really tell you what's happening."
Cue uneasy long silences, followed by Clooney awakening the next morning with his previously dead wife (Natascha McElhone) alive and kicking beside him, and there spins out a story of "What's real?", "Who are the visitors/aliens?" and an underlying theme of the deceptiveness of memory, as Clooney tries to work out exactly who his "new" wife is.
Solaris is a slow burner of a movie, almost a sedate one - and performances are suitably understated. Clooney is superb in what is probably his most mature role, whilst Jeremy Davies puts in a sterling, unique performance. The movie is almost devoid of music, but when the score does kick in its wonderfully atmospheric, and matches the mood well. This is most apparent in the scenes where we see the space-station set against the backdrop of the multi-coloured Solaris, which are atmospheric CGI moments.
Scenes are presented very much as "snapshots", jumping swiftly between past and present: we see moments of Clooney's past life with his wife, contrasted with cold sterility of his existence on the space station. Soderbergh executes these transitions wonderfully with great use of colour - the past scenes bathed in warmth of brown tones, the present in the cold blues and metals of the sterile space station.
Some might accuse Solaris of being a boring, meandering film which goes nowhere, and like I've said, if you're looking for an action-fest then look elsewhere. If however, you have a measure of patience, and want to sit in a quiet room and watch a sedate - and intriguing - movie with philosophical overtones, then Solaris might be just the ticket. Recommended.