Steven Soderbergh took a big risk when he decided to remake Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky's art house classic Solaris (both films based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem). Some critics felt he'd have been better off directing his considerable energy toward less hallowed material (like, say, Ocean's 11). Still others (notably J. Hoberman of The Village Voice) proclaimed it one of the best films of 2002. Just as science fiction was a new genre for Soderbergh to explore, it was also new for the director's longtime composer of choice, Cliff Martinez. As Soderbergh explains in the liner notes, "We were both pushing ourselves, trying things we'd never tried before." And just as the movie is more of a psychodrama than a conventional work of science fiction -- somewhat like director James Cameron's The Abyss -- Martinez doesn't gum up the works with grand gestures or quirky sound effects. He keeps things quiet, tense, dreamy -- or nightmarish, depending on your point of view. Solaris asks viewers to question what's real and what's merely a projection of the feverish imaginations of the various denizens (including George Clooney's widowed psychologist, Chris Kelvin) of the lonely space station orbiting the beautiful yet eerie, seemingly empathic planet of Solaris. All the while, these ambient instrumentals -- featuring treated strings and woodwinds, but no percussive elements like drums or piano -- bleed into one another with little distinction, just minor changes in volume and tempo. It doesn't make for the liveliest listen, but Martinez successfully establishes a distinctive mood, somewhat like the quieter passages in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the similarly underrated Andromeda Strain.
AllMusic Review by Kathleen C. Fennessy