Thursday, May 01, 2008

SOLARIS (1972)

Written by El Mono Santo

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos.
We want to extend the earth to the borders of the cosmos.
We don't know what to do with other worlds.
We don't need other worlds.
We need a mirror...
Man needs man.


After watching Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (not to be confused with the Clooney clone) my love of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey waned. Though 2001 preceded it by four years, Solaris makes Kubrick's masterpiece resemble a Hollywood film. The two share many similarities. And yet the similarities seem entirely accidental. Both directors used very different methods of film-making for very different reasons. Perhaps it would be better to call Kubrick's film a "space ballad" and Tarkovsky's a "soul probe." Kubrick's arm reaches forward, out, away from present being to the dream of what we might become. Tarkovksy reaches deep inside to ask what we are.

As the opening quote indicates, Solaris plays with a paradox of human motivation. We turn our heads to the cosmos seeking to uncover it's wonders. "The truth is out there" as The X-Files put it. And yet if there was extra-­terrestrial life - an OTHER kind of life than what we - could we recognize it? Or would we be invariably led, like a Modern Narcissus, to see nothing more than our own reflection? Our concepts of "life" and "being" and "mind" are anthropomorphic. They are contained and given meaning by a frame that is human. But if there was a different frame? In Solaris, that frame is a foreign planetoid or its ocean. Tarkovsky might ask me whether even there I am reducing it to something resembling "the human." At any rate, when human beings came to this deep-space ocean, it reacted.

The main character, Kris, is a scientist sent to the space station to examine its remaining crew and evaluate their psychological standing. Ironically, it will be the scientist, like those he wished to examine, who will be the one psychologically evaluated. Above the churning, morphing ocean of Solaris, contact between humankind and the other is made. And the point of contact is conscience. As the fog of sleep overpowers Kris and the crew, they awake to find that memories etched into their mind by a fingerprint of remorse, guilt, or the tension between ethical/moral dilemma and duty have taken on flesh. We are led to believe, for example, that one crewman, Gibarian, is perpetually haunted by a version of his own perversion - presumably an innocent daughter he blamed himself for molesting. Unable to face a too-­real reflection of his inner demon, Gibarian commits suicide. Caught within his own web of conscience, Kris chooses to embrace it instead of reject it. Will this lead Kris to deeper union with "the other" or further strand him in the island of his own humanity?

In a style similar to Hitchcock's Rope, Tarkovsky limits his cutting and splicing of many scenes. This is done in opposition to his Soviet film-making comrades who wanted to force perspective through their editing. Instead, Tarkovsky leaves us hanging inside the space of the character in near realtime and forces the camera to follow. Truth is thus unveiled through question, not propaganda. Combined with a very minimalistic soundtrack, this stretches out the moments of the film and causes the audience to enter into the self-awareness and meditative ambiance of its characters. And like 2001, there were many instances of incredible cinematic mise-en-scene.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Take the Disney classic Swiss Family Robinson, throw in the family classic Home Alone, add a little of the under-appreciated Stranger Than Fiction and a sprinkle of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you have Nim’s Island. Though this project warrants the reference to the four films mentioned, it doesn’t quite manage to deliver the same level of entertainment.

Though it comes close, it seems a bit too unsure of itself, and there is a general lack of commitment by the writing teams of Joseph Kwong & Paula Mazur and directors Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin to one aspect of this multi-layered endeavor. Had they simply been willing to truly invest in each storyline, and provide a well-rounded 120-minute motion picture, the result could have easily been a family classic. Though the film contains numerous enjoyable aspects, it is too heavy-handed in its delivery, and the performances are a huge disappointment.

Where it does succeed is in its ability to channel some of the classic episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. Had the writers focused more on Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her adventures on the tropical island where she lives with her microbiologist father, and the Home Alone scenario of fending off invaders with the help of her animal friends, the movie would had been simply more enjoyable. Though the addition of Nim’s contact with her favorite author (Jodie Foster) who she believes is an Indiana Jones-esque hero, brings about some pleasant fantasy scenes that are well crafted, it tends to draw away from what the audience wants to see.

Jodie Foster has not made a comedy since Maverick, and not a good one since Freaky Friday, and there must be a reason for that. As an agoraphobic author who decides to travel around the world to save a circumstantially abandoned Nim, Foster is in way over her head. The comedic chops of Helen Hunt, Tina Fey, or Joan Cusack would have been far better suited for this project. Breslin also seems a bit out of her element in this role, as she seems too emotionally inconsistent to endear her to most audiences.

Based on the novel by Wendy Orr, Walden Media has created another beautiful film to look at, with great special effects, but even those elements are not enough to hold the audiences attention for the 94-minute jaunt that does not really go anywhere you don’t see coming.

Recommendation: If you have children, take them to this on a Saturday afternoon for some safe, predictable, and somewhat satisfying entertainment. Or just pick up a copy of Swiss Family Robinson and head home for a far more enjoyable entertainment experience.