I have this vision of what happened when Steven Soderbergh, on the heels of Traffic, went to studio executives with all the power a successful director can muster, and told them he wanted to direct a remake of one of the least commercial major films of all time and that he was going to cast George Clooney in the lead role. My vision includes a lot of sweating and crying and studio execs eventually losing their jobs.
So I certainly respect the attempt to remake Solaris, but this doesn’t really work very well. The power of the original is how Andrei Tarkovsky expresses the sorrow without depths of the lead character in his elliptical, contemplative way. Being in space, trying to figure out what the heck is going on with this planet, is something I think best expressed over time. What Soderbergh did here was try to split the difference between the power of the original and a linear narrative that could make it popular. Of course, Soderbergh failed on the latter part, which was inevitable because I do not believe there is any way to make Solaris a movie that sells. But in doing so, he also sold the possibilities of a more interesting artistic remake short. There’s too much talking, too much plot moving forward, and really, it’s too brief. Another hour of Clooney staring at the planet would have actually made the movie better.
Looking back, it’s clearly the beginning of Soderbergh’s aimless period, where there was no clear reason for any of the pictures he put out at a rapid rate. Switching from genre to genre, telling stories that didn’t mean all that much, he spent a decade making basically OK but not particularly important or interesting movies until he retired. Which I guess is fine, but it’s too bad he couldn’t keep the creative juices of his early period flowing.