Solyaris / Солярис [SU 1968]

Info: I embedded the full two-part television movie below.

International title: Solaris

THE PLOT

Onboard the Prometheus, the scientist Kris Kelvin reaches a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. However, as he arrives, the space station seems deserted. After some time, he finds one of three colleagues he is set to work with, Dr. Snout. Having trouble to recognize Kris, Dr. Snout is strangely cryptic and warns him of strange appearances on the station. Kelvin also learns that the commander, Prof. Gibaryan, was found dead, having injected himself a lethal poison. Kelvin suspects a cover-up and decides to further investigate the case. However, at his cabin, Kelvin sees his wife Hari, who died ten years ago. At first, Kelvin suspects that she is a hallucination, but later he finds out that she and other people who have been appearing at the space station, are phantoms, sent from a sentient lifeform on Solaris. The three scientists decide to stay on the station and study the occurrences and possibly contacting the alien intelligence.

WHAT I LIKE

Visually, the movie may not be impressive, but the black and white cinematography has its moments and feels genuinely atmospheric. There are several scenes that use light and shadow much like film noir, e.g. when Hari appears in Kelvin’s room. The plot follows the original novel relatively closely and focuses on how the scientists try to communicate with the sentient plasma ocean – although there is also some romantic drama between Kelvin and Hari. And while the many philosophic discussions can become quite tedious, there are some interesting thoughts and concepts explored, e.g. in the impressive dialogue between Dr. Snout and Kelvin at the end of the first part about what it means to connect with our dark past. However, the most gripping scenes involve Kelvin and Hari, especially because the two characters share chemistry, and the dramatic moments feel believable (e.g., when Hari finds out, that she can’t be human).

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

It’s a two-part made for television movie, thus, the production values are not quite high (e.g., there is no actual footage from the space shuttle and the space station largely consists of one industrial hallway). Obviously, in comparison to the two cinematic versions, this adaptation is less visually intriguing. Unfortunately, the minimalistic and sparse setting further highlights the slow pacing and the dialogue-driven narrative. Seldom are plot elements shown, most information is simply told by one of the characters. And although generally decent, the performances of Dr. Snout and Sartorius can be middling, with the latter even delivering some cringeworthy moments (e.g., the first encounter). Technically, the camera work is not particularly well done, with awkward zooms in dialogue scenes, especially in later discussions, and sometimes poor framing – even though the dialogue scenes are mostly static.

THE VERDICT

Solyaris is the first adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s novel of the same name. It’s a two-part made for television movie about a scientist who encounters his dead wife on a space station orbiting a sentient planet. The movie heavily focuses on philosophic discussions about morality and stays more closely to the original novel than the other cinematic adaptations by Tarkowski and Soderbergh. Technically, the movie is dated and the generally low production values and the minimalistic setting will turn off some viewers. In addition, the slow pacing of the frequent dialogue scenes and the sometimes middling performances don’t necessarily make the movie entertaining. However, the plot is intriguing and faithful to the source material, some dialogues are clever, and the black and white cinematography also make this science fiction drama atmospheric.

Overall 6/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – Reportedly, Stanisław Lem, the author of the original novel, hated both cinematic adaptations of Solaris. He famously noted that both Tarkowski’s and Soderbergh’s version rather resembled “Love in Outer Space”, than his original concept. It is not clear, whether Lem actually saw the 1968 made for television version.

– This version follows the plot of the novel quite closely, focusing on how the scientists study Solaris and make contact with the alien lifeform. Both Tarkowski’s and Soderbergh’s version are more loose adaptations, completely omitting Lem’s astrobiology theories and adding backstory to the protagonist.

– Antonina Pilyus, who portrayed the character Hari, only starred in four movies, before retiring from acting in 1976.

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