Solaris (2002)

Solaris (2002): A weak adaptation/remake

From the first scenes, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris was a weak film compared with Andrei Tarkovsky’s. The 2002 film begins with the hero Chris (George Clooney) preparing for his space mission. Chris’ environment on earth mimics living in a spaceship. His apartment is cramped and heavy on metallics — metallic counters, cabinets, we see no soft furnishings. Flashbacks show Chris meeting his wife Rheya. It’s a glib, slick encounter showing two attractive people getting together because they’re both good looking and a little clever. I’m not a fan of these superficial matches. This relationship is central to the story so I want their marriage to be built on more than looks. 

Chris is charged with going to the spaceship orbiting Solaris, a liquid planet with bizarre qualities including the ability to influence the astronaut’s perceptions and thoughts. Crew members have died and someone needs to find out what’s going wrong. Both of the remaining crew members are cryptic and nervous about their experience. Chris isn’t going to get a clear answer from either the hyper Snow or the fearful Gordon, who hint at the weirdness that Chris soon experiences when Rheya, whom we learn through flashbacks killed herself, begins to visit him. The first visit freaks Chris out and he tricks Rheya into getting locked inside a vehicle that he releases out into space to get rid of her. Yet that fails because Rheya returns revealing how bizarre Solaris is. Moreover, Rheya and the other crew members’ visitors aren’t human. They aren’t really who they seem to be, but rather they’re non-human creatures conjured up through each person’s consciousness. 

The complexities of Solaris worked with Tarkovsky, but not with Soderbergh who offers less weirdness (e.g. no library scene where everything floats around), no frame set in the countryside of earth, which offers great contrast and thus substance and insight. None of the performances had much warmth or humanity. None pulled me in. This Solaris was a filmmaking exercise rather than a journey to a new psychological world, 

Even if I hadn’t seen Tarkovsky’s earlier film, I don’t think the this version would leave much of a mark on me. It’s certainly not one of Soderbergh’s better films. 

Omega Man (1971)

Starring Charlton Heston, Omega Man takes place in a post-apocalypse Los Angeles. It’s 1977 and a bizarre pandemic has left the city deserted except for Dr. Robert Neville (Heston) who right before the mysterious virus took hold, he vaccinated himself with the vaccine he developed. It’s weird and cool to see L.A. so dusty and barren. Neville keeps himself sane by talking to imagined car dealers and clerks and to his bust of Cæsar.

Loneliness isn’t Neville’s biggest problem. Like a 1970s Cinderella, he must be home in his fortified flat by sundown when the zombies led by a former newscaster named Mathias come for him. These zombies were stricken with the virus and have become albino’s who can’t take the light. They want him dead and they want to destroy the art and culture he’s preserved.

Mathias’ crew nearly gets Neville, but he’s rescued by Lisa and Dutch, whom are living out in the countryside with a handful of children who’ve also escaped the virus — for the time being. Neville welcomes the community and accepts the mission of curing Lisa’s brother who’s one step away from zombiehood. He figures he can make a serum from his blood to cure the boy. Lisa accompanies Neville and her brother back to the city. Romance ensues in scenes when the zombies aren’t attacking.

Some of the action scenes weren’t all that plausible, like the way Mathias’ right hand man falls from a balcony. There’s some deus ex machina contrivances in spots, but I let myself get caught up in the novelty and Neville’s wit.

Omega Man can be over the top and the heroics and action are over the top, but it feels good to see a good guy keep his head and fight against evil. The end isn’t what I expected as recent movies would end differently. It seems studios think they must satisfy their audiences with a certain ending. Pfiffle. I’m open to what makes sense and applaud the daring. 

Patema Inverted

Patema Inverted has a strange premise that kept playing with my mind. In this Japanese sci-fi-fi anime, there are two worlds one civilization inhabits the surface of the earth and gravity effects them like it does us. It’s a society that demands conformity and does not allow people to question the status quo. We see this in the robotic school children who ride conveyor belts into their schools and all have the same blank expression on their faces. The only rule breaker is Age (pronounced ah-gay) whose father was an inventor who tried to build a kind of flying machine and when testing it met with dire consequences.

Patema lives underground in the other civilization where gravity works in the other direction. In this artful dystopia, people stand on the ceiling (in terms of our orientation) and things fall up. The two civilizations are off limits to each other. In fact the elders of each just prohibit any inquiry into societies other than their own. One day, Patema sets off exploring as her older friend Lagos has. By accident, she finds herself in Age’s world and the only way she can stay put is to either hold on to Age by the waist, which lifts him off the ground, but prevents her from flying through the sky indefinitely or by standing on a ceiling.

In this totalitarian society, the dictator realizes someone from the other world has entered and most of the film is his evil chase to get Patema and then destroy her people.

The film’s background art was stunning. The concept was interesting, but often melodramatic. The evil leader was just too hokey for me.

Jellyfish Eyes

film-jellyfish-eyes

A mix of animation and live action, Jellyfish Eyes amazed me. It’s the story of Masashi, a Japanese boy whose father died in the tsunami. He moves with his mother to a new town where he befriends an otherworldly creature and soon learns that all the other children have similar strange friends that they control with remote controls and have fight each other whenever their teacher turns her back.

Mashasi’s uncle works at a mysterious lab, which turns out to be run by a nefarious group of evil scientists trying to harness negative energy through children since children’s energy is purest. His uncle opposes the mad scientists, but they ignore his warnings and pleas.

As the movie progresses,a girl befriends Masashi saving him from bullies. The girl’s mother in reaction to the tsunami and following nuclear disaster, has joined a religious cult. Thus the girl, like Masashi must parent herself. The film is unique in that shows children coping with trauma and loss. It has a powerful message of self-sacrifice and pulling together rationally in times of crisis. At the end I was stunned. As the film’s directed towards children it ends happily, but that was uncertain till the last minutes. I thought it was brave and smart to give children a chance to see such a wise, exciting and delightful film.

It offers adults the message of how technocrats and scientists gamble with our safety when they get caught up with an idea or “solution.” It’s such a different film and one old and young (as young as say 10) could enjoy and ponder.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

1The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

My friend Kevin recommended I watch The Day the Earth Stood Still for my classic movie challenge. Though I typically don’t think much of sci fi movies, I gave this one a try and it won me over. Directed by Robert Wise, The Day the Earth Stood Still begins with a cheap-looking spaceship landing on earth in Washington DC. Despite the archaic look of the film, I got pulled in completely. Wise mesmerized me with this very cheap, plain spaceship with its clichéd passengers.

A crowd gathers around the ship and soon Klaatu, the archetypical spaceman emerges. Klaatu’s soon shot and his robot Gort defends his master using laser vision against the army. Klaatu’s taken to the army hospital and observed. Klaatu is played as a very serious, really supercilious figure who’s been given the task of letting the inferior earthlings know that now that they’ve gotten nuclear weapons their squabbling could hurt other planets and these other, higher beings won’t tolerate any activity that can upset their peace. His request to speak with all the world leaders is deflected. Things just don’t work that way on earth.

Klaatu escapes in a stolen business suit and finds a boarding house that will take him in. He befriends Bobby, a boy who’s impressed with Klaatu’s knowledge of science and around novelty. Bobby’s father’s passed away and his mother isn’t so sure about Klaatu, but she’s busy dating her perspective husband so Bobby’s got lots of free time to wander the city and go back to the spaceship with Klaatu. It is all rather hokey, but Klaatu is so smart and so above us. We know he’s right about our wars and “petty squabbles.”

Klaatu gives up on the world leaders and tries to get a renown scientist to organize a big powwow with all the top scientists in the world.

Unfortunately, Bobby’s father-to-be gets jealous of Klaatu and tells the army about him. Soon Klaatu must flee for his life and try to war the world that if we don’t stop our nuclear arms development, the rest of the universe will bake us to a cinder.

There are plenty of amusing quotes, such as:

Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us.
Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

George Barley: Why doesn’t the government do something, that’s what I’d like to know.
Mr. Krull: What can they do, they’re only people just like us.
George Barley: People my foot, they’re democrats.

All in all, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a fun movie and its dated aspects just add to the fun.

Fun Fact:

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still won a Golden Globe award in the category of “Best Film to Promote Global Understanding.” Who knew that was a category?
  • When Patricia Neal was making the film, she didn’t think much of it and was surprised to learn that it’s regarded as one of the best sci fi movies to date.

Moon

A friend recommended and lent me the DVD for Moon starring Sam Rockwell. I’m not a big sci-fi fan, but I did get pulled into this film, which is part drama/part mind game.  Moon is the story of a man who’s nearing the end of his three year contract working on a moon station for a Korean energy corporation, called Sarang. (I’m not sure how this works out but Sarang means love in Korean. There’s no love lost between the corporation and the worker.)
Sam Bell, Rockwell’s character, has a robot companion, who watches and helps him. The robot’s not quite a HAL, nor an R2D2. Kevin Spacey provides the robot’s eerie voice quite effectively.

[youtube+http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twuScTcDP_Q]

As you’d expect, things get very troubled and complex as the story develops. Whom to trust becomes a major concern as does survival. I can’t say more as it would spoil the film.

I did get drawn in, but was left with some questions. We never find out why this man would ever take this job. It’s rather odd that we don’t learn that.