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Cinema Showdown: Solaris

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Natascha McElhone and George Clooney star in the science fiction film, "Solaris."
By Lindsay Utz & Mark Betancourt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday December 5, 2002

Betancourt: What would happen if you took the most pretentious, self-absorbed director in Hollywood and let him direct an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation?"

Utz: You'd get a couple of sexy and disoriented Hollywood actors wandering around a tin space vessel in silver latex jumpsuits wondering why everything is so strange. Every so often, they'll glance out the window at the pink planet pulsing in space, and then they'll turn and stare into the camera, with a really long what-the-hell-is-going-on-here gaze. Cue audience to extract profound meaning and revelation.

Betancourt: Goddamn Soderberg. That guy needs a time-out. No, Steven, not every little act of mental acrobatics you perceive yourself to be capable of is worthy of an entire two-hour film. He's like, "C'mon, George Clooney, you're not being what's inside my mind! I am the genius here!"

Mark Betancourt
Utz: Yeah, I can totally see him on the set: Pushing his dark-rimmed glasses up on his nose, flailing his arms around poetically, scratching his chin, all the while subjecting the poor crew to his grand vision of a psychological science-fiction film. What's worse is that they are all like, "Yes, yes, Steven, brilliant." Oh, man. Come on. Once again, an audacious American director has remade a beautiful older film, Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 "Solaris," and embarrassed the original ideas that come from the novel by Stanislaw Lem. Unfortunately, none of the intriguing questions that Soderberg poses in his film are approached with any thought. Soderberg's like, "Whoa, George, hold it there, partner. Stare into the camera for like five minutes and then the audience will know what I'm getting at."

Betancourt: I would just like to state for the record that this film is not George Clooney's fault. He tried, bless his heart. In fact, I'm positive a lot of his confused, slightly hurt facial expressions were reactions to the totally unintelligible direction he had just received from Soderberg only moments before. "OK, Steven. I'll · I'll try to Îact severed.'"

Lindsay Utz

Utz: "Come on, George, hold it. Brilliant, OK, now look really sad. Yes, yes!!! That's it. OK, Natascha McElhone (the dead wife), now it's your turn. Keep staring, look despaired and, oh, yes, that's it! Brilliant!"

Betancourt: "What's your motivation? Well, your motivation is you've just arrived on this space station and something strange is going on · you know? Something really strange. And you're a psychologist, right? Right? So you've got that extra dimension. You've got that edginess. And you're kind of feeling things out for a while. And then ÷ and then whoa · you know? Here's your wife. But George, she's dead. I mean, do you see what I'm getting at here?"

Utz: OK, so I think we've gotten the point across. Soderberg ("Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Traffic") is obviously capable of making good movies. So what the hell happened with "Solaris"? There was no subtlety. It was all so very obvious that the main character was questioning his life decisions, dealing with the idea of second chances, facing his own mortality and so on. Life's heavy questions are not pondered with eloquence or insight, though. Instead, we are force-fed "the dilemma of man" through really long, melodramatic scenes that bore us way before they get the chance to intrigue us.

Betancourt: It's really awful. At least when Stanley Kubrick totally lost all semblance of plot in "2001," you got the impression he was going over your head. With this, well, you just feel like getting up and leaving. Or throwing popcorn.

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Utz: Yeah, halfway through I was making to-do lists in my head and wondering when George Clooney's much-debated bare ass would come on screen; an ass that almost earned the movie an R rating.

Betancourt: That ass is the only thing in the whole movie that isn't stainless steel or pinkish-purple. It's a saving grace. But it's not enough. Two hours of George Clooney staring at Natascha McElhone. Natasha McElhone staring at the camera. Long, long, meaningless conversations, one · word · at · a · time. Just in case you might miss something.

Utz: Yeah, I wanted more development with the ass. What exactly is his ass saying? What exactly is its motivation?

Betancourt: Anyway, how many different ways can we say this movie was boring? Ponder this: The movie begins and ends with the same image. You'd think it's someone's eyes or the vastness of space or something, but no; it's a windowpane with raindrops on it. It's art, man. It's like ÷ life is a windowpane. Life is · a wet windowpane · we are but raindrops on a windowpane. OK, now think about the fact that they put that shot of the windowpane in the trailer. In an advertisement for the film. A windowpane. To make you want to go see it. A little warning bell should be going off in your head here. Listen to the bell. Do not pay to see this movie. It looks a lot like art, but it's really just crap.

Utz: Eight dollar crap.


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