Year: 2002
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Producer: James Cameron
Writer: Steven Soderbergh/Stanislaw Lem
Cast: George Clooney, Natasha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, John Cho

Isn't that the one about George Clooney's arse? Seriously though, that sums up audience reaction to Soderbergh's remake of the 1972 navel gazer and Stanislaw Lem novel.

Virtually impossible to market to a mass audience, having James Cameron attached to a space movie would have bought the teenage boys in droves if only there'd been a single gunshot, fight, spaceship battle or alien. All the marketing executives could see was Clooney's butt (which was nearly impossible to see in the scene in question because of the lighting), and the result was a bungled marketing effort that resulted in the movie completely bombing.

And it did so undeservedly. Yes, the idea of a spaceship orbiting an alien planet would have some science fiction elements, but the futuristic, deep space setting was just the backdrop. It could have been a haunted castle, desert motel or any other iconic movie locations.

It's slow, thoughtful and delicate. There's almost no action (except for drama), no violence and no neat Hollywood explanation. But as a movie, it's a beautiful creation – every detail from the lighting and set design to the dialogue as lilting as a caress. And the main theme – played during the arrival of the ship at Solaris and during the end credits, is absolutely gorgeous.

Some time in the future, psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (Clooney) is approached to recover the crew of a failed mission to a planet called Solaris, whom have sent a cryptic message and disappeared from contact. When he arrives, only two of the crew are alive, talking incoherently about strange visitors who shouldn't be alive or aren't present.

On the very first night, Kelvin's wife Rheya (McElhone) appears in his room, despite dying by suicide years before during marital problems we see courtesy of lyrical flashbacks.

Seduced but horrified, with an inkling of what's gone on at the ship before his arrival to send the surviving crew somewhere between insane and terrified, he locks his wife in an escape pod and releases it, possibly thinking it's a delusion or hallucination.

The next night she appears again, as real and flesh as the night before and in his past, but despite memories of their life together, says she can't feel them.

As the crew's physicist, Gordon, tries to convince Chris his wife is some sort of energy manifest from his memories of her, he sinks straight into denial, insisting to himself that she's real and wanting to stay with her no matter where she's come from. Rheya, or whatever she is, understands herself that she's some sort of conjured trick from the planet they're orbiting, and so drugs him to undergo the procedure to disintegrate her without Chris stopping her.

The catch, as they soon discover, is that the particle beam they've been producing to destroy their mysterious visitors has been increasing the mass of the planet, and while they've been trying to work out what's going on it's been growing and approaching them at an alarming rate.

You're never sure which scenes are dream, memory, flashback or imagination, and along with the understated script and undulating rhythm of the plot, that quality makes it dreamy in itself. You'd also think it's irritating – another alternative film with no point and no resolution – but this is an example of where different interpretations will make you postulate about plausible reasons, not complete confusion.

And besides, the reasons are hardly the point, what's happening is. As the 'ghost' of a former crew member tells Kelvin, 'If you think there's a solution, you'll die here. There are no answers,' and, in response to Kelvin's question 'What does Solaris want', answers 'why does it have to want anything?'

Even the thing that is posing as Rheya talks of knowing she's come from whatever Solaris is, but that she can't communicate with it, and so doesn't understand her purpose for being.

When we watch the final scenes and think Kelvin has returned home with Gordon but returned to a dislodged and haunted life, we assume that's it, but then discover he closed the hatch behind Gordon, unable to leave his wife (or whatever it was).

As he stands in his kitchen at home and she reappears to him, he asks her if he's alive or dead, and she says that questions like it don't matter any more, just that they're together. It's the most un-Hollywood happy ending in history, and a strong analogy for heaven. Rheya was Solaris, or Solaris contained Rheya (or Chris' memory of her), and when it overcame the orbiting ship he becomes Solaris as well and they came together again inside.

Touches like never showing the men who talk to Kelvin about going on the mission and the flashbacks of their home, which show almost no detail except a lush, warm hue of red make the production design is as minimalist as the dialogue, and the experience is better for it.

A triumph of filmmaking in almost every sense and sad that it didn't do better – it wasn't really Fox's fault, there was just a very limited audience for it.

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