Film Review: Solaris, The Hours, Adaptation

Missing the Point

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, March 2003)

For those who read the Steven Soderbergh overview last month and wondered whether he could do science fiction, the time has come to satisfy your curiosity. Not only can he not do science fiction, he really can’t do science fiction.
Solaris is set in the future. At least, we assume it is because people keep talking about space missions and distant planets. At least the guys who made Forbidden Planet and those other cheesy 50s films had a gyroscope whirring away that Leslie Neilson could look at earnestly. “How’s the gyroscope?” he would say as if their lives depended on it, which, in the context of the films, it did.
Nothing so prosaic here. There’s no gyroscopes, no nothing really, apart from a nice CGI thing to represent the planet in question, which Soderbergh no doubt handed off to some F/X company whilst concentrating on the important things. To whit, George Clooney’s agony at learning that his wife, who killed herself years before, has somehow returned to him. Clooney is shocked by this, but I can’t help but stare at the cheap decor, brought to us in super widescreen.
Solaris is a film seriously lacking in wonder. Never mind gyroscopes, the idea of someone returning from the dead is a concept that has sustained Christianity for thousands of years; couldn’t there be something a little more here other than Soderbergh’s patented quest for naturality? Sci-fi is usually seriously lacking in human emotion, but this is going too far the other way. And it only clocks in at a snug 90 minutes (the original was close to three hours), which makes it that rare film that really needs to be longer. One wonders how producer James Cameron would have handled the material, given that he could never make a film that was an hour and a half and skimp on the special effects.
The Hours feels similarly insubstantial, even though everybody seems to be praising it to the heavens. Whereas Solaris is a sci-fi film that fails, The Hours is a literary film that succeeds in that it, like most films that applies ‘literary’ to their remit, has a plot that doesn’t do much and has characters undergoing turmoil of a most unaffecting kind.
Nicole Kidman and her prosthetic nose play Virginia Woolf, who is feeling depressed about having to live in Richmond. She is writing a book called Mrs. Dalloway. Thirty years later, Julianne Moore and her prosthetic hairstyle are reading the self same book, which inspires her to commit suicide. She leaves behind her ghastly son, who like most Hollywood male children looks suspiciously like Steve McQueen with extra wide eyes. Fifty years after her, Meryl Streep is trying to cope with ex-boyfriend and poet Ed Harris who has a seriously pretentious martyr complex. He sarcastically calls her Mrs. Dalloway. No doubt this is a literary allusion, but then he is a poet and they’re liable to make such things.
The connections made, we’re forced to spend time with these people. Virginia runs away from her husband, declaring that she would rather die than live in Richmond any more (a black mark on Richmond there). Moore doesn’t kill herself and lives a full and happy life. Harris does kill himself and we’re quite glad of it, although we discover that he is the grown up son of Moore with the Steve McQueen likeness. It’s hard to know what the film is telling us here, other than Richmond is horrible. Woolf also kills herself at some point, but then I think she was fed up trying to analyse everything to extinction as well.
Adaptation rounds off our trio of seemingly aimless films, but at least it has some funny moments. Featuring the best performance(s) you’ll see by Nicholas Cage, it’s the story of him playing the writer of the film – and his twin brother – struggling to adapt a story written by a woman played by Meryl Streep again, that stars someone played by Chris Cooper. You don’t need to really see the film, just picture how this all plays out. By not seeing the film, you also miss a particularly messy ending, which seems to be taking the mickey out of script lecturer Robert McKee, played by Brian Cox. Like Cox’s incredibly variable accent, however, it could have been a lot better.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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