i finally got around to seeing steven soderbergh’s remake of solaris this weekend. i must admit to enough reservations to fill a hotel, but after recommendations from trusted cinematic advisors, i decided to take the plunge.

the original solaris, directed by andrei tarkovsky, is considered a true (cult) classic, not just within the science fiction genre, but in general. it’s profound, beautiful, frustrating, very long, and ultimately completely mysterious. in other words, it’s a great russian film.

so how does soderbergh’s version compare? or does it?
[spoiler alert]

both cinematic versions of solaris are based on the book of the same name by stanislaw lem. each chronicles the journey of kris kelvin to the mysterious planet Solaris, where things appear to be going wrong on an observational space station in orbit. in each case, Kelvin encounters a physical manifestation of his dead wife, apparently generated by the planet. the others on the station have their own personal demons, each tailored to their psyche and their past.
i believe the difference between the two films lies in the approach the filmmaker takes to the philosophical and emotional conundrums posed by Lem in the novel. soderbergh treats it more as a love story, a story of regret and loss (at least for Kelvin) and of how some people reconcile past and present. in my opinion, tarkovsky took a more philosophical approach, focusing less on the emotional presence of Kris, and more on broader issues of memory, identity, and psychological stability in the face of the unimaginable.

or not. i could be totally wrong. neither film is entirely transparent in its purpose, which is a major part of the appeal (at least for me).

one major distinction between the two films is a matter of polish and cinematography. tarkovsky’s version was made in 1972 with minimal special effects and fairly low-budget production values. soderbergh’s version has the sheen of modernity, and while it’s a nice sheen that adds to the believability of the set pieces, it does nothing to advance the story. tarkovsky managed to create the same depth without the polish. his cinematography was more impressionistic, and the tone of the film changed dramatically due to shifts in film stock and color over its course. soderbergh’s film had none of this, and as a result felt a bit more cohesive as an experience.

i liked both films, although i can’t say which i liked better. it’s odd to say that two films based on the same book shouldn’t be compared, and yet that’s precisely what i’m going to say. the die-hard sci-fi and film fan should see both and draw their own conclusions. :-)

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