Well that young bald man Steve Soderbergh is still on a roll. He just keeps hittin em, bam bam bam and even when they’re not a home run like THE LIMEY or OUT OF SIGHT they’re still real good. Hell, even FULL FRONTAL, he just squirted that one out like a soft ice cream, and it was pretty good ice cream too. This one is a little more of a sunday. It’s not my favorite soderbergh movie but that’s like saying “that’s not necessarily the greatest blowjob I ever got.” This guy has never made a bad movie. Go ahead, try to find one. You can’t. You would have to make a fake movie and put his name on it. But he didn’t make that one, you did. You can’t fool me. Fool me once, shame, shame, you can’t fool me.
First of all let me make it clear that I am ignorant on the topic of Solaris. I have not seen the legendarily long and boring and brilliant Russian version by Mr. Tartavsky. Also I have not read the book which is according to the credits what Mr. Soderbergh’s version is based on. But I did see this movie. So that’s my background on that one.
What it is is a sci-fi picture with no action scenes, no lasers or robots, no zips or booms or bleeping computers or aliens or presidents fighting aliens or scientists capturing aliens to train them to do tricks. George Clooney gets called up to a space station to, you know, help out. The trouble is, weird shit keeps happening. As soon as he steps on the ship he finds bloodstains all over the place. He meets Jeremy Davies, the guy from SPANKING THE MONKEY who looks exactly like the kid from E.T. IS A EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. Mr. Davies does a great job playing a freaked out stoner nutball who swings his hands around and keeps saying, “Yeah…” as he casually explains that most of the doctors are dead or have disappeared.
But then other people keep showing up on the ship, people who shouldn’t be there, like Clooney’s dead wife. Now what the hell are these people? Are they ghos†s? Aliens? Ghost aliens? Fortunately, the movie doesn’t tell you. There isn’t even a long speech giving a theory about what they MAY be. It’s just up to you. The questions they ask are not as much why is my dead wife here on the ship with me as, do you think it would be okay if I just keep her around? So you gotta think of the moral implications of that, etc. And not to give anything away but they never implant themselves inside the humans or hijack the ship or lay eggs or set a course for earth or rip off their faces to reveal that they are really lizards or bugs or grey guys with big black eyes.
It is very quiet, only a couple characters, lots of long, thoughtful conversations in plain old rooms on a spaceship. Even the flashbacks on earth are about relationships and they are shot just like a Soderbergh movie. (which is what this is, in my opinion.) There is a scene where George Clooney is in a restaraunt with his lady friend and it looks just like that scene in OUT OF SIGHT where he meets Jennifer Lopez in the hotel bar, only he’s wearing a weird collarless shirt. Because it’s the future.
I like this movie’s version of the future. When he walks on a city street, it’s just a city street. When he’s in a restaraunt, there are no robots or holograms serving the food. Everything’s pretty much normal except you can go to space easier and the news is on a floating screen and is even more crammed with useless logos and charts than it is now. And the clothes are weird, but in a subtle way. They’re clothes we’d wear now but with some small alteration that makes them look weird. But George Clooney looks good in them. Maybe if they don’t release enough period pieces this year it will get an oscar nomination for the costumes.
Clooney is an interesting case because he’s a huge movie star, and yet most people don’t hate him. Even after FIGHT CLUB there are many people who hate Brad Pitt. He’s a pretty boy. He’s married to some gal from FRIENDS or EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND or one of those type of shows. People use him as a symbol of empty headed hollywood plastic people. They hate him. Even if they loved him in SEVEN and FIGHT CLUB and TWELVE MONKEYS and let’s say KALIFORNIA or something, still, he comes out with a new movie and they go, “Ah, shit, Brad Pitt!?”
But George Clooney, I don’t think many people feel that way about him. Maybe they did before, but then Soderbergh taught him to stop bobbing his head up and down. The women think he’s sexy and will be happy that his ass is shown in two scenes in this movie. And the men can like him too because he’s manly, but not Schwarzenegger. He’s charming and he seems pretty smart. But not in a fancypants kind of way. He’s the closest we have to Cary Grant in modern USA cinema. And he’s made pretty good choices ever since he stared into the abyss of that Robin and Batman movie. There was OUT OF SIGHT and O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU and OCEAN’S 11 and now he’s directing a Charlie Kaufman picture. Not a bad run. Nothing weird enough to scare off the Access Hollywood fuckers but, at the same time, genuinely good movies that people with brains can watch and not die or puke.
This one’s different though because, in the words of some song that they play on the mtv music channel, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.” It really is a quiet movie, I mean real quiet, like it’s designed to make you hear all of the squirming and seat shifting throughout the theater. And some of the people when I saw it, in my opinion, did not like the movie. It was so slow they were shifting in their seats before it started.
I think I’ve seen all of Soderbergh’s pictures, and of all of them this reminded me most of the best one, THE LIMEY. It really has nothing in common with it except a pulsing, whispery, hypnotic type feel, and a regretful look at the past. The Limey mourned the loss of his daughter and tried to fill that emptiness by finding out who was responsible and killing the motherfucker. Clooney is a little more cultured so what he does is fly into space and let a weird glowing planet nearby create a mysterious replication of his memories of his dead wife.
And even more than THE LIMEY, I don’t think mainstream Blockbuster Video type audiences are going to want to see this crap. I really liked it though. I think Clooney was even a little better than usual. I think it is very refreshing to see a slickly made outer space movie (with very good space effects) where the most memorable scenes are people sitting around talking, or walking around not talking, or eating noodles naked on a bed. A movie about, you know, contemplating and shit. But if you’re not into that type of movie then this one will probaly seem to you like FINAL FANTASY seemed to me.
Some day I will have to watch the 4 hour Russian version that everybody swears by. But this one doesn’t exactly get me excited for it since it seemed long at 95 minutes. It’s not a movie you want to see when you’re tired. Or maybe you do. For me it became sort of an interactive type deal. I fell asleep during a part where, I guess, he got rid of the Solaris-wife. So then when the second Solaris-wife found out that he got rid of the first Solaris-wife, I thought they had deliberately not shown us that so that it would be a surprise. So I got to see a different, trickier kind of story than the the people who laughed at me after the movie did. Suckers.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.