STARRING: Natalya Bondarchuk, Yuri Yarvet, Donatas Banionis, Anatoly Solonitsin, Vladislav Dvorjetzki, Nikolai Grinko, Sos Sarkissian

1972, 165 Minutes, Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky

Where to begin with a review of Solaris?

Um, if you were driven to distraction by the slow pace of 2001: A Space Odyssey, then you’ll be well advised to stay clear of this film. Solaris may not have an opening shot that is nearly ten minutes long (like The Sacrifice) but it comes pretty close to it. Or at least it feels that way. It is at times infuriatingly slow. So if your taste in movies tends towards the let’s blow everything up to the accompaniment of a loud soundtrack like in Independence Day, then don’t even bother with Solaris. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with the review.

If you’re however a more patient type, then Solaris is the sort of film that gets better as it progresses and once you’re into it can be very rewarding in the end.

My comparison to this film and 2001 isn’t redundant: the two films are very alike in many aspects. In fact, Solaris directed by Andrei (The Sacrifice) Tarkovsky has often been called the Russian version of 2001. Besides both being slow paced their production design and special effects are somewhat similar. Both films are also based on the works of sci-fi writers: Solaris is based on a 1961 (English translation, 1970) novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. Both films have a basic philosophy at their centre – albeit not exactly the same one.

But where Kubrick dazzles us with camera tricks and special effects wizardry (which were quite remarkable for its time), Solaris is a typical European film. Or make that rather Tarkovsky film. "Slow-moving, sumptuously textured canvas with a richly emotional climax," is how one critic once described his works. I couldn’t have put it any better, and Solaris is no different.

Its plot involves a psychologist who is sent to investigate strange going-ons and several deaths at a space station orbiting a distant planet. It would seem that the world’s ocean is a living and thinking entity, able to project the people in the space-station’s dreams into reality. Upon arrival he is confronted by his wife who has committed suicide ten years ago . . .

Sounds familiar? The basic concept has been done before in Forbidden Planet and more recently Event Horizon would steal some elements from it. But Event Horizon is the direct ideological opposite of Solaris. Whereas everything happens in Event Horizon, practically nothing happens in Solaris. But the truth is that I’d rather be watching Solaris any time of the day – when something did happen, it made me jump in my seat and sent shivers down my back. A feat Event Horizon was simply unable to accomplish . . .

Note: Remade as a shorter movie that somehow felt longer (also titled Solaris) in 2002 by American director Steven Soderbergh, which starred George Clooney's naked butt. 


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Dubbed the "slowest movie . . . ever!" by some, this 165 minutes long 1972 movie by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky will reward those not suffering from attention deficit syndrome. Or put it another way: if you loved 2001 then the chances are very good that you will also like this . . .


# 26
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time




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