Solaris  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The critics seem to have noticed a lovely wardrobe here, but the people have a different view of Emperor Soderbergh's new clothes. Verdict: naked. The following charts represent exit interview scores given by moviegoers to the pollsters at Cinema Score.


(PG-13)  Male  Female
Under 21
21 to 34
35 and Up

Battlefield Earth

(PG-13)  Male  Female
Under 21 B- 
21 to 34 D- 
35 and Up

No film, to my knowledge, has ever come close to straight F's. That pretty much says it all. It is a bomb of nuclear proportions, the likes of which we have never before seen. That's the cake. The words below are just frosting.


The great Soviet-era filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky had an interesting career, the progress of which could be measured by the speed at which his characters moved. In his great work of youthful genius, Andrei Rublev, people walked at normal speed, on the ground, swinging their arms naturally, in a path which moved directly toward the target. Sometimes they ran, or even frolicked, when running was appropriate. With each successive film, his characters moved farther and farther from natural human behavior until, by the time he made Nostalghia, all the characters moved as if they were in a processional in some kind of Catholic liturgical rite, moving each foot only an inch or two in front of the other, weighted down by some kind of spiritual grief, taking indirect paths toward their target, or intentionally walking through water when solid ground was available, never swinging their arms but sometimes even carrying a candle ceremoniously.

In Andrei Rublev, people stand around in normal configurations, as if they were people. In Nostalghia, people pose in a stagy tableaux, as if acting in a 19th century theatrical performance. In Andrei Rublev, when one character asks a question, another responds naturally and rapidly. In Nostalghia, when somebody asks a question, the other person stares out of the window for a couple of minutes, then mutters a non-sequitur about his dead mother. The first time I watched Nostalghia, I thought my DVD player was broken because nothing moved. Then I realized that I could still read the sub-titles if I played the film at 8x speed, and at that speed the people move at exactly the right speed to duplicate actual human movement. Since Tarkovsky doesn't really use any background sound track except for dripping water noises, losing the sound really makes no difference, thus making the film an excellent 15-20 minute watch at 8x speed. Unfortunately for most people, they have to watch it at normal speed.

Based on Andrei Rublev, made when he was only 37, Tarkovsky could have been the greatest filmmaker of them all, but he gradually let the weight of ideas tip the balance against the weight of simple humanity in his filmmaking, and the man who should have been the Shakespeare of the cinema instead became a turtle-necked pretender to artistic gravitas.


George Clooney shows his butt twice

Natascha McElhone is naked in a sex scene with Clooney, but the only thing visible is a very brief look at her butt.

In 1972, only three years after he made the dazzling Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky made an intellectual s/f story called Solaris, which was about people in a remote space station who, for some reason never really explained, create other living beings out of their imaginations. In the case of the main character, he brings his dead wife back from her suicide. This context provides the springboard for pretentious long-winded discussions about the nature of reality, God, nihilism, and various other philosophical issues. At that point in Tarkovsky's career, his films did not yet require 8x speed on the DVD player. He was in the 2x stage. The film is 165 minutes long, is in Russian, has virtually no music or background noise, and the characters move and speak at half speed. Therefore, it makes a fairly good 83 minute movie if you play it at 2x speed. There is no problem reading the sub-titles at that speed, because the characters take so long to respond to one another. In fact, when you play the film at 2x, the only thing wrong with it is that it looks cheesy, because there was no real attempt to create a feeling of being in space.

Steven Soderbergh was nice enough to fix all that. He remade the script closely, using a little more than half the running time, added some scary monster chiller horror music, and spent tens of millions of dollars to make it look like they were in space on a real spaceship.

And the characters almost seem to be moving at normal speed.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • Steven Soderbergh's "Making of Solaris Special"

  • HBO making-of special

  • Stills of screenplay

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

Based upon my experimentation with the Tarkovsky version, Soderbergh could have made the pace exactly right if he had kept the first script but condensed it to 83 minutes. Thus, it still seems quite slow at 98 minutes. By "quite slow", I mean that if Ingmar Bergman watched it, he would be shouting, "get on with it" at the screen, assuming he could stay awake long enough to get that involved.

This was still a great improvement over Tarkovsky's version, however, since it now looks good, and will only bore you for 98 minutes instead of 165.


The Critics Vote ...

  • General USA consensus: three stars. Ebert: 3.5/4, Berardinelli: 3/4, Entertainment Weekly: a C and a B.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it a respectable 6.5/10, but Yahoo voters appraise it at 2.4/5, and Metacritic users assigned mostly zeros out of ten, averaging 2.4/10
  • Box Office Mojo. A disaster. It was budgeted at $47 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $30 million. It did nine million in its first five days, in 2400 theaters, then died completely, finishing with only $14 million. It stands about $70 million in the red for those who invested in it.
  • Exit interviews: Cinema Score. Solaris had the worst exit interview scores in cinema history. In fact, it will never be topped, assured of at least a permanent tie for the all-time worst spot, since it scored straight F's from every demographic group.
Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in accuracy: to Christopher Null of

Order of merit in humor: Mr. Cranky. "It's the cinematic equivalent of getting a lecture from your parents about the nature of life."

Order of merit in information: Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post, for his incisive comparison of the novel, the Tarkovsky interpretation, and the Soderbergh version.

Best one-liners: A tie. Chuck Schwartz, the Cranky Critic: "In space, no one can hear you yawn." Dr. Frank Swietek, of One Guy's Opinion: "in space, no one can hear you snore".

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, about equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C-. Soderbergh creates a brilliant visual appearance, which almost manages to disguise the fact that it is ponderous, soporific, self-indulgent, pompous, tedious, and pretentious pseudo-intellectual crapola which is leaden with the gravitas of false artistic importance.

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