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Science fiction double feature

That was another busy movie weekend. Two SF flicks, which had more in common than you might think (above and beyond both being surefire money losers): Equilibrium and Solaris.

I was determined to catch Equilibrium, since I missed Below and am still annoyed about it. Equilibrium is only on about 300 screens, too. I’m really glad I did. It’s a sometimes awkward graft of a unique action aesthetic onto a fairly standard totalitarian dystopia, which somehow works very well. The backbone of the movie is the near future dictatorship we’ve seen before: it’s Farenheit 451 via Albert Speer’s Berlin. The director, Kurt Wimmer, gets it right. It’s almost as pretty as anything by Wim Wenders.

Here and there, though, John Preston (our redeemed hero, played by Christian Bale) breaks into utterly lovely gun-based action sequences which are both innovative in their integration of handguns and martial arts and well-filmed. The first, five minutes in, is illuminated solely by muzzle flashes. The last, which I won’t spoil, is a veritable hammerblow of intensity. Nice stuff.

I think that it all flows together so well because the sparseness of the film’s visuals meshes with the sparse economy of the action sequences. Little is wasted.

Emily Watson gets yet another role as the quietly inspiring female lead, and Sean Bean growls his way through a brief part. Taye Diggs is not so great, but what are you gonna do?

Meanwhile, Solaris. Wow, it’s hard to know where to start. Soderbergh has utterly returned to form. I think the most masterful thing about his directing is his understanding of pacing. Solaris could easily have seemed long and overdone; it alternates between being talky and more or less dialogue-free. Soderbergh skips through the story, touching down lightly here and there, and brings off a philosophy-heavy movie with graceful ease.

The acting is also fine. George Clooney is a bit too much George Clooney, which is probably inevitable at this point. Still, he conveys the pain of his character competently. Natascha McElhone is perfect. She’s got a really tough job, effectively having to portray two characters, and brings it off without a hitch.

At first, given the distinctly 70s look of the Persephone (the space station upon which the movie takes place), I thought Soderbergh was going for a 2001 homage. I think not, though; I think that he just wanted that 70s SF look in order to properly get across the sense of isolation that’s so central to the movie. I realized on later reflection how much of Soderbergh’s work has been about loss. Solaris is no exception, despite the redemptive quality of the ending.

It doesn’t get much better than this for intelligent, contemplative science fiction film.


  1. Max Max

    Reagrding Solaris… what exactly happened to the security team that was sent initially? Was this point adequately (or at all) explained? (I think it’s obvious I don’t think it was.)

  2. Good point. No, I don’t think it was explained. I think I assumed that they had unfortunate encounters with their visitors — as echoed by Snow’s experience.

  3. His best for a sense of loss would be the relentless drive of Terrence Stamp in “The Limey.”

  4. I was in fact thinking precisely of the Limey, you betcha. (It’s in my DVD player right now, come to think of it.)

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