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DVD Review: Stephen Soderbergh’s Solaris on Fox Home Entertainment

Now, if someone could figure out a way to grind the disc into tablet form, insomniacs without DVD players can rejoice as well.



Stephen Soderbergh takes Full Frontal into the stratosphere with Solaris, a prolonged grief counseling session with a minimalist sci-fi backdrop. Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is sent to the Solaris space station after the ship’s commander reports strange happenings on board. After shooting the shit with the rambling Snow (an insufferable Jeremy Davies), Chris takes a nap only to discover his dead wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone), spooning him when he wakes up. And death shall have no dominion. Except on Solaris, that is. Kooky captain Helen Gordon (Viola Davis) watches the proceedings from the sidelines, vomiting the film’s subtext. No doubt as a result of fatigue and stress, Chris allows Rheya to nip at his heels. If the ship itself is the personification of Chris’s troubled psyche then the celestial body outside is some metaphysical realm between actuality and transcendence. Solaris traces Chris’s repeated attempts to abort Rheya’s memory and, ultimately, cope with the implications of her nagging presence. Rheya makes for a curiously self-aware fabrication. Though she seems to fascinatingly exist outside Chris’s imagination, her ability to flashback and recall how she once aborted a child serves only to further the plot along and add layers to Chris’s grief session. Soderbergh successfully sustains the level of etherealness throughout but to what effect? Solaris is burdened by an overly facile Psych 101 discourse that’s every bit as heavy and pretentious as his purposefully inscrutable Full Frontal. Imagine if you will Soderbergh stoned out of his mind trying to make a connecting flight at Miami International Airport with a Dylan Thomas book in one hand and a static electric generator in the other. The suits at Fox are understandably shitting a few bricks over this one. Clooney’s ass will guarantee hefty opening numbers before audiences give Solaris the good ol’ Eyes Wide Shut treatment.


Fox Home Entertainment presents Soderbergh’s Solaris on this DVD edition of the film in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Edge halos are noticeable throughout (especially in lighter sequences) but, considering the film’s soft and dreamy aesthetic, the glaring haloing effects almost feel deliberate. Regardless, the transfer as a whole is impeccable: blacks are very inky and skin colors are incredibly warm. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track won’t impress fans of more conventional sci-fi films but it gets the job done. Soderbergh deliberately underplayed the use of sound effects through the film, so as not to overwhelm the film’s dialogue. Because of this, the Cliff Martinez score sounds that much more dynamic.


Soderbergh and producer James Cameron tag team for a powerhouse commentary track, easily the highlight of the disc’s supplemental features. Both men address the origins of the project and readily address the problems the public had with the film. Soderbergh admits that anyone incapable of locking into the film’s rhythm within the first 10 minutes may as well give up. Cameron’s devotion to the very minimalist project certainly comes as a surprise, considering just how big his ego is and how poorly the film did at the box office. More notable are the anecdotes: Jeremy Davies was hired after Soderbergh saw the actor’s audition tape for a Charles Manson project and director Mike Nichols suggested that Soderbergh use the film’s featured Dylan Thomas poem. Skip the 13-minute HBO making-of special and go directly to the “Solaris: Behind the Planet” featurette, which features more interesting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the film’s cast and crew. Also included is the film’s teaser trailer, its original theatrical trailer and trailers for Master and Commander and Le Divorce.


Now, if someone could figure out a way to grind the disc into tablet form, insomniacs without DVD players can rejoice as well.

Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tukur, Morgan Rusler Director: Stephen Soderbergh Screenwriter: Stephen Soderbergh Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Running Time: 99 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2002 Release Date: July 29, 2003 Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

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