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A Space Oddity

SOLARIS: Starring George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis.

SOLARIS: Starring George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis.

Director: Steven Soderbergh

To paraphrase an old hand of these star-voyaging epics, "It's sci-fi, Jim, but not as we know it."

Forget light sabres, ray guns and boldy going where none have gone before. Solaris is Steven Soderbergh's space oddity - high concept science fiction that defied any pigeon hole the marketing boys tried to push it into.

Faced with the challenge of portraying cerebral sci-fi, Clooney raises his game with a commanding performance, ditching those twinkling eyes and lazy grins for a display of emotional intensity.

When the team of scientists on space station Prometheus, in orbit around the planet Solaris, break off all contact with Earth, Dr Chris Kelvin (Clooney) is the man sent to find out why (and when the authorities send in a psychologist to investigate rather than a squad of gun-toting space marines, you know you're not watching a re-make of Aliens).

On his arrival, Kelvin discovers corpses, blood stains and some survivors. Oh, and his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone). Who died on Earth several years ago.

Crucially, don't expect answers to any of these events to appear any time soon. As writer as well as director, Soderbergh ensures the deep-space mystery unfolds slowly, with plenty of action happening in flashbacks and dream sequences.

To be fair, Solaris crosses too many genres to be dismissed as ‘just sci-fi'. Admittedly, there are some beautifully imagined shots of spacecraft and planets (Soderbergh used himself as cinematographer as well), but the film is also a romantic ghost story. You'll either get drawn in completely, or find it as cold and unwelcoming as the vacuum of space itself. But the depth of performance from Clooney and McElhone make it worth seeing.

And in case cerebral sci-fi seems too off-putting, the main publicity furore for this film in the US centred around the fact that Clooney's bare buttocks are shown on screen

ANALYZE THAT Starring: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Anthony LaPaglia. Director: Harold Ramis.

The on-screen pairing of Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal found just enough material in the original Analyze This to get by. But, under the law of decreasing returns, this sequel is fighting an uphill battle.

The whole ‘mobster with issues sees a therapist' idea had already seemed weak compared to its superior treatment in The Sopranos. Now it gets thrown out the window completely as De Niro's mobster pulls a fake insanity bid by singing showtunes from West Side Story, and is put in the care of Crystal's Dr Sobel, who has to determine if he's crazy or not.

There's some humourous moments, but not enough to support a film with an hour-and-a-half running time, as the two leads fail to strike up the comedy flashes they sparked off each other the first time around.

Mark Miseldine


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