solaris v. solaris

The first of four artists visiting the class I'm TA-ing for next week suggested we watch Solaris, the 1972 film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. When I found out we were watching it I remembered I'd seen Steven Soderbergh's much more recent Solaris with George Clooney, and subtly threw out the option of watching my DVD of the 2002 version.

My brief campaign was unsuccessful and we watched the older version in class, but I was intrigued so I watched the 2002 version the night before (well, about an hour of it...I finished it the next night, after I'd watched the older version). As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, I've got a thing for copies. I don't necessarily always think they're better, but I have a little bit of a pet peeve when, conversely, the older, "original" version of something is automatically elevated above any copies that come after it.

And who are we kidding, newer is usually better, right? I'm sure there are scores of folks who would disagree with me, but I think the 2002 version of the film is far superior. For starters, if I hadn't seen the newer version the night before, I wouldn't have known half of what was going on in the older version (I had to look on IMDB to find out who Nikolai Grinko's character was supposed to be), despite the fact that it's over an hour longer and just about everything in the story is explained by one of the characters. The newer film, for example, begins with the main character, Chris Kelvin, in a group therapy setting and then on the phone booking an appointment. So you have a pretty good idea that he's a psychologist or doctor of some sort, without having been explicitly told so. In the older film, however, after about 45 minutes of unnecessary and confusing Earth-based plot development that was pretty much skipped over completely in the newer version, he surprises Dr. Snaut (Snow in the newer version), who apparently had no idea he was coming all the way from Earth to Solaris or that he'd even landed or whatever, or who he is, even, and introduces himself as a psychologist. Now that's innovation.

And the whole outer space thing is pretty much just a set for the story, which is fine because even though the newer version is more slick and believable in that way, it's really still a love story at its core. But when Kelvin's dead wife appears in the older version, the Russian actor barely emotes! George Clooney, on the other hand, is believably shocked, jumps out of bed, tears up a bit, asks questions, etc., all the things one would probably do if one's dead spouse materialized right beside them in bed one night. And when she materializes the second time, after Kelvin sends the first copy out to space, and becomes suicidal, we have absolutely no idea why, no flashbacks to her real-life, Earth-based suicide, no clues as to the kind of life she and Kelvin shared or why he would remember her in such a way. Nada. Just a waifish girl who's young enough to be the Russian guy's daughter, convulsing in a see-through men's shirt after she drinks liquid oxygen.

And Dr. Sartorius is replaced by Gordon in the newer film, played by a female actress, Viola Davis. I love when male characters become female characters thirty years later, like Starbuck on Battlestar Gallactica.

I will give the older film credit for being pretty rich, visually. The planet in the newer film, while lovely, is pretty much the same shot after shot, while in the older film, there's all sorts of crazy, meditative visual stuff going on. Hence the duration of 2 hours and 45 minutes. If I wanted to meditate, I would have gone to yoga class. And there are some random, quirky details in the older film that kind of grew on me, like all the debris, including a sheet torn from a book or magazine with illustrations of dogs on it, randomly. And Kelvin's monogrammed PJs. You don't want to go to space without those!


Rain said...

I'm with you, totally! I LOVED the remake when I saw it, and decided to give the original a shot. Since I loved the remake so much, and since the original is so revered, I figured there was no way I wouldn't at least like it.


I fell asleep about 30 minutes into it, woke up, sealed it back in its Netflix envelope, and ejected it into space. (Well, the mailbox. But sometimes with Netflix it might as well be space.)

I've had more than one conversation about "Solaris" with people who like the original, but won't even deign to watch the remake. Like, how DARE they remake such a masterpiece!


Becky G. said...

So it's floating out there with the first copy of Rheya/Hari. Nice.

Yeah, the thing that gets me, more than the first, overrated, mind-numbingly boring version, is the fact that people who always automatically like the original versions of things, won't even give their copies a chance. How can you have a legitimate opinion that way? I mean, you can prefer the original, that's fine (although, if you do, you're lame, but whatever...), but how can you claim it's such a masterpiece if you haven't even seen the other version? Losers...

And this particular remake is soooo excellent! I think I might even name my first born Rheya...

Anonymous said...

Rheya Grigsby - sounds like an artist's name!