Over the past couple of days I have been watching the two films based on Stanislaw Lem's scifi novel Solaris.
Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Rusian film is given three stars by Halliwell and is undoubtedly beautifully shot, but it is overlong at 165 minutes. Steven Soderbergh's American film shot 30 years later is not a remake, but another go at what is a difficult novel. The book was originally written in Polish and later translated into French. The only English version (of which Lem disapproves) is a translation from the French. Soderbergh's version is shorter at 98 minutes and only gets one star with Halliwell. [For those unfamiliar with Halliwell, one star represents a very good film. He gave four stars very seldom - recent films would be Gosford Park, American Beauty, LA Confidential and Fargo - and three stars fewer than 800 times in the history of film; examples would be the African Queen, Death in Venice, Gigi, It Happened One Night, the first two Lord of the Rings films (the third gets 4), Night of the Hunter, both versions (Olivier and McKellen) of Richard III, Silence of the Lambs, and the Usual Suspects.]
The plot of the film consists of the experiences of a psychologist Chris (or Kris) who is sent to find out what has gone wrong on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Only two members of the crew remain; one being weird and the other withdrawn and formally scientific. Chris begins to understand when he sees his first 'visitor'. It appears that the planet is producing replicants of characters drawn from the crewmen's memories. In Chris's case it is his dead wife who committed suicide seven years previously. The replicants are so real that it is frightening and different crew members have dealt with the experience in different ways. At first Chris despatches his in a space pod to die of asphyxiation, but a second example soon appears and he reawakens the love he had for his wife.
In a sense this is a love story, which explores through flashbacks what went wrong in the marriage and whether given a second chance they could expand their relationship without making the same mistakes. Soderbergh's version is much more explicit about what their problems were and Tarkovsky is much more enigmatic. Only hints are given about who were the 'monsters' for the other crewmen.
In the end the decision has to be made; would you rather live with a replica of your dead wife (albeit one that is entirely drawn from your memories of her) or go on living without her.
If you are into scifi or love stories I can definitely recommend both films.