Someone would have done it eventually. Gus Van Sant adapted Psycho. The Coen Brothers tried their hand at The Ladykillers. Naturally, someone, somehow, would try Solaris. A classic space-going arthouse piece from Andrei Tarkovsky is not exactly easy to adapt. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney take one for the team, in much the same shape as Vince Vaughn did back when he brought Norman Bateman to life for Van Sant. Not every remake has to be dreadful. As long as the story is intact and the message is still reciprocated by audiences, then Solaris could coast through its Hollywood lifespan. That is what it needs to do, and it succeeds where so many other remakes have failed. Those simple moments are done well. Simple is simple.
But it is not until watching through the Clooney-led Solaris that we realise the beauty of the message is inherent to not just how the film plays out, but the visuals. The details that Tarkovsky left audiences with, the way they were pieced together, it gave people time to think and discover. No room for that in Solaris, which is not a dumbed-down version of the original, for it is so far removed from it. Soderbergh’s visuals have nice movements to them, and their simplicity is surprisingly endearing. Simple shots that see the protagonist in front of a cluttered wall of CDs or in the shadows of a building. There is the self-aware angle, and how trust is formed within the self that Soderbergh deals with so thoroughly here, and he is dependent on Clooney for that message. He is the catalyst of it.
Clooney is the man holding this adaptation of Solaris together so well. His performance is strong. Ruminating on grief, uncomfortable truths and the realisation of guilt, Clooney does well to project it all in his role as Chris Kelvin. Those around him appear to taunt him. Flickers of the mind are sudden and instant, and it is the pacing of Solaris that sits so uncomfortably. Cutting out the time for reconciliation of thought, Solaris moves through many different topics at blinding speed. Soderbergh is out of control, Clooney is grasping at straws, it all comes together surprisingly well, if a little weak or unprepared at times. There are still great conversations aboard this space station, but they are brief and quick. They are there to deliver the lines with a punctuality not found in Tarkovsky’s effort. But that lack of punctuality, the sudden movement or dream-like periods, is the benefit Solaris has that Soderbergh does not utilise.
It misses the poetry of camera movements, the touching, grandiose style that ricochets from scene to scene in Tarkovsky’s original, but Soderbergh makes Solaris a personal work, rather than an adaptation. The scope of these big moments is there, and the modern special effects neither add nor detract from the experience. All they do is provide something different, something faster. It has a different series of reference points to the original Solaris, but that does not make it better. For all its beauty in handling these moments, it cannot make up for the loss of pacing. Those moments that fixate on beautiful surroundings are lost not because they’re absent, but because Soderbergh’s pacing is rushed. It may be a personal experience, but it is a fleeting one.