Monday, 10 February 2014

The Tediously Slow Pacing of Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" and Why the George Clooney Version is Better

There are some areas where I am in a small minority of people. I've discussed this sort of thing before. As you may already know I can't stand the works of Jean-Luc Goddard and saw Alphaville as nothing but an incoherent mess and a bit lazy considering the lack of any attempt to make his future world... futuristic. This is another area where I find myself in that position.

For those of you who don't know Solaris, it was originally a book by Stanislaw Lem, a famous 20th-century Polish science fiction author. It tells the story of Kris Kelvin, a psychologist trying to cope with the recent loss of his wife who takes a job investigating the strange behaviors of the crew of a space station orbiting the distant planet "Solaris". Upon arriving, he finds that the planet itself seems to be alive and encounters a replication of his wife, leading to emotional and psychological conflict both between himself and the other crew members. I have not personally read the book, but will be discussing two of the three film adaptations that have been made of it.

When the subject of the movie Solaris comes up, the discussion usually refers to either the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky version, or the 2002 Steven Soderbergh version with George Clooney (most people don't know there was also a TV movie released in 1968). Most people will argue that the 1972 version is better, many of whom say the Clooney version "misses the point". There are a few people, myself included, who don't think the Clooney version is that bad a movie. However, I am also in an even smaller minority of people, to the point where I have yet to meet someone who shares my opinion. I am under the opinion that the Clooney version might well be better than the Tarkovsky version.

I had the misfortune of seeing the Tarkovsky version during the Christmas break, or at least part of it. This brings me to the biggest problem with the film: the pacing. Both versions are fairly slow-paced, but while the Clooney version keeps it under control, the Tarkovsky version is painfully long and far slower than it needs to be. It didn't take more than twenty minutes for Clooney to get onto the space station, but in the Tarkovsky version you have to wait literally an entire hour just to get into space. Up until that point you just have a bunch of scenes that seem to go on much longer than necessary like that one scene about 30 minutes in that is just a bunch of tracking shots in which the camera moves along various roads and nothing happens. 

In Tarkovsky's version, a large portion of the beginning is the main character watching this: a group of bearded men talking about Solaris and its effects on astronauts "Solarists". You remember that old rule of cinema, show, don't tell? Well, in the Clooney version you were actually starting to see some of it by this point.

To be totally honest it actually took me two attempts just to get to the space scenes. The first time I shut the film off right around the point we got to the unnecessary extended shots of roads and instead put on the Clooney version. The second time I shut off right around the time the first projection of Kelvin's wife started to appear.

So to recap, around the 45 minute mark in the Tarkovsky version, we were seeing a bunch of people talking about Solaris, several other scenes that went on too long, and a bunch of unneeded POV shots of an automobile driving along various roads. If you want to get to the actual plot of the movie, you have to wait about an hour before our hero gets into space. 

To provide a contrast, in the Clooney version, Chris Kelvin arrives early on. We do spend a bit of time getting some exposition but just enough to get a general idea of what's going on. By the 45 minute mark in that version, the replication of Kelvin's wife has actually shown up at least twice and the plot is starting to get somewhere, while his counterpart in the 1972 version hadn't even gotten off Earth yet.

So the pacing is my main concern with the movie. I've explained that the pacing of the Clooney version is far superior to the Tarkovsky version, so maybe the rest of the movie is okay, right?

Well, to be honest, I'd have to disagree. I didn't really see anything in the 1972 version that caught my interest. Even the visuals I felt were handled more effectively in the 2002 version. I thought the sets looked far more convincing in the Clooney version, and they seemed a bit fake in the Tarkovsky film.

Some people may think I'm crazy to think this, and indeed many are shocked to hear me make such a radical claim. I honestly feel Soderbergh did a better job with this story than Tarkovsky. Somehow I find his version was far more more memorable and compelling, while Tarkovsky's was just needlessly long and tedious.

No comments:

Post a Comment