Solaris (2002)

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Released 12-Jan-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Steven Soderbergh (Director), James Cameron (Producer)
Featurette-HBO Special: Inside Solaris
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Solaris: Behind The Planet
Screenplay
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 94:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (40:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Steven Soderbergh
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring George Clooney
Natascha McElhone
Jeremy Davies
Viola Davis
Ulrich Tukur
Case ?
RPI ? Music Cliff Martinez


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Hebrew
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Turkish
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Flash of Sony Clie for no explicable reason.
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    During the audio commentary on this disc, the phrase "A film like you have never seen before" is used. As with many things, this is not entirely true. You may well have seen something similar if you are a fan of 40's and 50's science fiction, for example in the series Twilight Zone. Solaris was originally a book by Stanislaw Lem written more than forty years ago, and then a Russian film that has become a cult film. Unfortunately, I have not read the original book nor seen the film so a direct comparison will not be included here.

    I have read a couple of Stanislaw Lem's books. The one that I remember best is Tales of Pirx the Pilot, a story of a slightly bumbling space pilot that does not trust technology and through this solves some tricky problems. Lem has been very vocal in his criticism of recent American science fiction saying that they are little more than adventure stories and not 'true' science fiction. (I have to agree in many cases).

    Solaris is a strange film in many ways and has generated a range of reactions from the good to the bad. I think that there are several layers to this film, both intentional and unintentional. The film is also fairly unique in the modern genre in that the technology is there because it makes the story possible but it is not the focus of the story. It simply creates the backdrop against which the story takes place. There is not the traditional chapter two where the author takes you on a tour of the space ship and describes the technology that makes it possible. Our character simply checks the daily paper for the next departure to the planet of his choice and buys a ticket.

    The story does pose many questions and answers almost none of them, so if you like tight little packages with all the loose ends tied up then this film is not for you. From what I can glean from several sources and a bit of guesswork, it would appear that the book also poses questions and attempts to present the old 'man meets alien' story in a completely new and different way. Lem set out to break all previous moulds by scripting an encounter with a true alien intelligence, one that we will have no common frame of reference for.

    What this has led to in this film is that we are presented with the interpretation of this story as it affected the writer. I may be shot for this, but I think that the writer's interpretation is somewhat shallow and has only touched the surface of what is possible. The story as presented is really a simple love story and the main character, after some problems, accepts what is happening at face value and goes on from there, ignoring the far deeper meanings and challenges that are right there in front of him.

    Not all the characters react in this fashion and the tension between them is one of the best parts of the film. I may be doing the writer/director a serious injustice here because I am basing my opinions on his comments during the commentary, but I got the impression that this was how he saw the story. However, there is actually far more present just below the story. Whether this is intentional on the part of Steven Soderbergh or whether it has seeped through from the original story unnoticed I cannot say.

    The plot is a deceptively simple one. A research space station around a very strange planet runs into serious trouble with the crew on board. A friend of one of the crew who is a psychologist is asked to go out to the space station and retrieve the crew. When he arrives, he finds that many of the crew are dead from a variety of causes including suicide. No one will explain what is happening until he has experienced it for himself. Once he does experience it, the story splits into two; one part is set in the present and moves forward as normal, the other is set in the past through flashbacks.

    Even if we take the film as it is there are going to be some that have further problems with the story. What they might not realise is that what might be grating on them is that they do not agree with the choices made by the characters in the film. This does not make for a bad film, simply one inhabited by people that are different to you. The choices presented by the film can be quite confronting and, if you allow it, this film will take a very long time to sort out in your mind, coming to your own conclusions about how you would react in the same situation.

    Storyline aside, the acting, direction and photography on this film is brilliant. George Clooney gives a very strong and very believable performance. He is supported by a cast that does a brilliant job at expressing what is happening. I have to single out Jeremy Davies for special mention - the guy is really out there and his performance is riveting. He manages to actually articulate physically the thought processes that his character is going through.

    The down side is that this film only really appears to scrape the surface of the issues raised in the book. They have taken a single part of the story and a single person's reaction and made it the main focus. They also leave out entire chunks, such as what happened to the earlier retrieval parties.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     This is a very nice near reference quality transfer, presented at close to its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio at 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is pin sharp throughout. Depth of field is often shallow but this almost undoubtedly intentional. The shadow detail is excellent and there is no low level noise.

    There are two very distinct colour palettes used in this film. On Earth, either real time or flashback, the palette is very warm and rich. On the space station the colour palette is extremely blue and cold. This adds to the impression of sharpness as the eye interprets the blue end of the spectrum as sharp. The colours are brilliantly rendered and free of any artefacts.

    There are no MPEG artefacts present. The only down side is a very small amount of edge enhancement that has been applied, leading to the occasional halo, such as around Clooney's head at 9:58. There is some very minor grain but no other film artefacts.

    English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles have been included on this disc and are easy to read and pretty accurate.

    This is an RSDL disc with the layer change at 40:06. It is a quiet scene with little movement so is not too distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are two sound tracks on this disc, the first is the main Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track and the second is the commentary track which is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.

    Dialogue quality is excellent and there is no problem with the audio sync.

    The music is sparse but very effective - it has been used very skilfully in this film to assist the story.

    Remember that this is not a modern shoot 'em up science fiction film and as such the surrounds are not active the entire time, nor do they draw undue attention to themselves. What they do achieve is to subtly immerse you in the scene with subtle audio cues. They are quite effective in drawing you in.

    The subwoofer has a reasonable workout, but again there are no crash and boom effects. It is overused slightly with the new indicator of tension that seems to have crept into recent films: the continuous low rumble. While this is effective, it can be overused.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The video loop for the menu is a series of scenes showing the planet Solaris and the space station in orbit. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 and the aspect ratio is 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

Commentary: Steven Soderbergh (writer/director) and James Cameron (producer)

    This is a fascinating insight into what message Soderbergh was trying to portray in this film. The discussions between Soderbergh and Cameron are interesting. It is from this commentary that the majority of my impressions above about what was intended are drawn. Well worth a listen but it is worthwhile watching the film at least twice before doing so as I found myself spotting things that I had not seen in the first viewing and trying to pick up the dialogue from the film. There are subtitles for the commentary as well as the main feature.

HBO Special (12:53)

    This is a typical HBO effort with footage from the film and interviews with all the people involved including the actors talking about their characters. There is also some making-of type coverage and the actors' reactions to working with this director. Presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Solaris: Behind The Planet (17:40)

    More of the same as above with quite a bit of repeat material but this time a little more depth, particularly in regards to the production of the film. Again presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Screen Play

    Using the chapter forward button you can step forward and read page by page the entire screenplay. White text against a blue background is easy to read. Presented at 2.35:1 with no audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    This gives us a technical R1 win for the inclusion of the trailers, although for all practical intents and purposes, there is no compelling reason to favour one version over the other (save for the fact that the R4 version is currently in its rental-only window).

Summary

I found myself going through a journey, started when I first watched the film and then progressing as I digested the vairous options and alternatives. My initial reaction was that this was a good film and that the characters had made the right choice. But as I continoued to think about what had happened and what some of the material might mean I changed this oponion and found myself disliking the film. It was then that I realised that it was not the film that was the problem for me but the choices made by the characters, in particular the one that seems to be the main message that Steven Soderbergh intented. Further on I have watched the film again and listened to the commentary and found that I am split, my mind says one thing and my heart another. It has been a while since any sceince fiction movie has triggured that much thought and ponderings so in that reguard this film is an unparralled success.

The video is reference quality.

The audio is very good.

The extras are also good.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Friday, November 07, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR800
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Chris A
AllZone4DVD - DanielP

Comments (Add)
Russian Original - REPLY POSTED
Soundtrack 5.1 - Tom (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
Very disapointed with the film myself - Simon O'Connor (I wouldn't suggest reading my bio)
Player Problems - spacemonkey
REMAKE -
Freezing Glitch -
Don't be disappointed, starwars is bubble gum, this is a fine meal. - gRANT (Read my bio, mmm... uncompressed surround audio)
I had player problems on Toshiba and Sony - gRANT (Read my bio, mmm... uncompressed surround audio)
Not a love story - *SPOILER* -