Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2002. Twentieth Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment. Screenplay by Steven Soderbergh, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem. Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh. Produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau, Rae Sanchini. Music by Cliff Martinez. Production Design by Philip Messina. Costume Design by Milena Canonero. Film Editing by Steven Soderbergh. Washington Film Critics Awards 2002.
George Clooney plays a psychiatrist who is summoned to a space station near a mysterious planet called Solaris, as it seems that a group of crew members on the station have gone buggy and in some cases met with messy ends. Upon his arrival there, however, he meets only a tiny skeleton crew (Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies) who are reluctant to talk about what has really happened to them, before he gets a real surprise: the sudden reappearance of his dead wife (Natascha McElhone). The titular planet is regenerating the former loved ones of the people on board, recreating them in complete flesh-and-blood forms that feel much more real than your average ghost; Clooney knows that this woman close to him isn’t the woman he lost years before, and yet he can’t seem to imagine going back to Earth without her. This fascinating, gorgeously designed romantic drama brings up fascinating questions about the cosmos and most appropriately doesn’t answer too many of them. Anyone in the mood for some thought-provoking science-fiction will be delighted by the strong emphasis on character, while tech-enthusiasts might not be as satisfied. Director Steven Soderbergh has produced a lyrical, beautifully photographed tone poem that performs the rare accomplishment of giving a strong futuristic feel without showing off a lot of junky technology, something heretofore only accomplished in foreign science-fiction films like Godard’s Alphaville, Chris Marker’s La Jetee and of course Andrei Tarkovsky’s original 1972 version of this story. Clooney is excellent and intense in the lead, while the stunningly beautiful McElhone is haunting as the many faces of his great love. This is the kind of film that Mission To Mars was probably aspiring to be but never quite made it.