I can think of two reasons that as to why the Steven Soderbergh/James Cameron/George Clooney movie version of SOLARIS ($28) received a lukewarm reception (rather unfairly, I might add) upon its theatrical release. The first of which is that this SOLARIS is either being compared to, or though of as a remake of the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky film, when it is, in fact, a new interpretation of the same Stanislaw Lem novel that inspired the Russian language film. As for the second reason, SOLARIS is what I would categorize as a thinking manís science fiction film- filled with metaphysical ideas and devoid of any action. Considering that teens and young adults comprise the largest movie going demographic, is it any wonder that this movie, which required its audience to think, wasnít a huge blockbuster. Personally, I found this SOLARIS to be a breath of fresh air compared to so much brain dead Hollywood entertainment, and feel that this intriguing motion picture will definitely find a much-deserved audience, thanks to DVD.
Set at some indeterminate point in the future, SOLARIS tells the story of psychologist Chris Kelvin (Clooney), who finds himself tapped for a mission to a space research station orbiting the planet Solaris. Something odd has been happening to the crew of the space station, which seems to be affecting their mental stability, including one crewmember, who has personally requested his longtime friend Kelvin come help him. Because the crew refuses to return to Earth, the company sponsoring the deep space project to Solaris begrudgingly sends Kelvin on a reconnaissance mission to determine what has happened to their people.
Upon his arrival, Kelvin discovers evidence of violence, several dead crewmembers, as well as a couple of survivors, whose mental condition is best described as precarious. Interviewing the two survivors seems to get Kelvin nowhere, as they are reluctant to discuss with the psychologist, something that he has not yet experienced. Kelvin finally gains a glimmer of understanding to their mental state, when his own dead wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) suddenly appears- very much alive and in the bed next to him. To discuss the plot of SOLARIS in any more detail would take away from experiencing the film firsthand. However, with SOLARIS, George Clooney gives one of his best, most deeply felt screen performances, while director Steven Soderbergh gets to explore the concepts of separation and loss, juxtaposed against a decidedly sterile science fiction backdrop. The cast of SOLARIS also features Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies and Ulrich Tukur.
20th Century Home Entertainment has made SOLARIS available on DVD in an excellent 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a truly sparkling transfer of a stylishly photographed movie. SOLARIS is a rather dark looking motion picture, yet the image on the DVD is always brimming with detail. The movie features an interesting production design, which is brought out in the contrasting quality of the films lighting design. Colors are rather well saturated, but are reproduced with wholly appealing flesh tones. There is a stunning quality to some of the filmís effects work, especially the planet Solaris, which is rendered in vibrant, always shifting, hues. Blacks are pure, whites appear crisp and contrast is genuinely excellent. Additionally, shadow detail is marvelous and the image produces a great illusion of depth. Digital compression artifacts are always completely camouflaged.
SOLARIS features a really terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Given the lack of action in SOLARIS, it should come as no surprise that the mix isnít particularly flashy or showy. However, the sound designers have done a tremendous job of creating atmosphere through the use small sounds, or on occasion, through no sound at all. There is a genuine sense of sonic space that is conveyed through the mix, in both the earthbound sequences, as well as those that take place on board the space station. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the soundtrack is the musical score by Cliff Martinez, which helps to create so much of the filmís mood and its otherworldly quality. On top of that, the score is rendered with excellent fidelity and musical clarity. Dialogue reproduction is pretty much perfect, with the actorsí voices coming across in a very natural sounding manner. The bass channel doesnít have too much to do, but it is effective when it needs to be. English, French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplements. First up is a running audio commentary with Steven Soderbergh and producer James Cameron. This is actually a very interesting and detailed commentary track, which allows both participants discuss what they were hoping to achieve through the new screen adaptation of the classic novel. Next we come to the promotional programs. The HBO "Making Of" Special: Inside Solaris runs thirteen minutes and is your fairly standard PR piece featuring interviews, clips and a brief look behind the scenes. Solaris: Behind the Planet runs eighteen minutes and would seem to share many of the same attributes as the HBO program, although this one offers a more detailed look at the production of the film itself. Two theatrical trailers for SOLARIS, as well as bonus trailers and the filmís screenplay close out the supplements.
SOLARIS isnít your typical empty-headed Hollywood sci-fi opus; instead, this is a deep and thought provoking film, with a genuine emotional center. While it may not be to everyoneís taste, the movie is intellectually rewarding and I am certain that SOLARIS will find its audience on video. As for the DVD, the presentation it truly first rate and those who have invested in a sizable home theater setup will get the most out of wonderful looking and sounding disc. Definitely recommended to Steven Soderbergh fans, as well as those that enjoy intellectually stimulating science fiction.
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