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SOLARIS (article first published : 2003-04-10)

It's sci-fi, a drama with heart-throb George Clooney that unfolds in a troubled space station orbiting the mysterious planet of the title, a world cloaked in clouds of pink and purple and crackling lines of electricity.

But don't go expecting high adventure, monsters, ray guns or special effects because this is very much cerebral sci-fi, Steven (Traffic; Erin Brockovich) Soderbergh's remake of a, by all accounts, very pretentious 1972 film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

The remake has Clooney as Dr Chris Kelvin, a psychologist of the future, who is battling to cope with the grief of having lost his wife (Natascha McElhone) some years earlier.

His depression is exacerbated when he accepts a call to investigate a disaster aboard the Prometheus space station, where its two remaining crew members - played by a subtly unhinged Jeremy Davies and an increasingly perturbed Viola Davis - are deeply disturbed.

Once there, Kelvin discovers that somehow dream characters seem to become a reality, leading to the reappearance of his wife and a succession of tragic events.

Making minimal use of music and featuring long sequences without dialogue, the film is a meditative, carefully constructed saga.

I found it just too earnest and slow-moving for my liking, but if you're prepared to face the haul, you will discover a well-acted and contemplative work that touches on matters philosophical and thought-provoking. Others expecting more oomph will probably go the way of the handful of patrons seen constantly muttering, scratching their heads and walking out even before the halfway mark.

For the record, this is the film that proved so hard to sell in the United States that the publicity machine was forced to raise interest by highlighting the fact that Clooney bears his buttocks for a few scenes. My rating: 6/10. Billy Suter.




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