Director Steven Soderbergh's eclectic
creative impulses, recently on display in the blockbuster caper film "Ocean's
Eleven" and the independent comedy "Full Frontal," had not yet
led him to the realm of science fiction. "I hadn't ever come near sci fi
before, mostly because the hardware aspects of the genre don't really interest
me," he explains. "I'm not interested in making a film about what
technology is going to be like a few decades from now."
Soderbergh considered turning to the
genre only after a friend at Twentieth Century Fox had pitched him the idea of
making a new film based on Stanislaw Lem's classic novel Solaris.
Shortly thereafter, Soderbergh learned that filmmaker James Cameron and his
associates at Lightstorm Entertainment, Rae Sanchini and Jon Landau, held the
rights to the seminal work. Lightstorm had spent five years securing deals with
both the author and the Russian governmental organization Mosfilm, which owns
the 1972 Russian film based on the novel, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
For James Cameron, turning Solaris
into a film was a dream project. Cameron had seen Andrei Tarkovsky's film,
finding much to admire in its imagery and ideas. Stanislaw Lem's novel
intrigued him even more. "It had a whole other dimension," notes
Cameron. "It's a very personal story. Much of it takes place in the mind
and in the memory, so you could find many different ways to interpret it. "
Cameron was thrilled when Soderbergh
expressed interest in directing SOLARIS. "It was like a godsend when we
heard that Steven wanted to make this film," Cameron says. "I knew he
could take this material and turn it into a film that people could talk about
for a long time after they've seen it, because there are some fascinating
ambiguities. Steven could give audiences lots of handles to grab onto, to become
"Steven's films are very, very
different and unique from one another in the way that Kubrick's films are
different from each other," Cameron adds. "He is extremely
chameleon-like in that way so I thought, â€˜Wouldn't you like to see Steven
tackle this kind of dense, complex material?'"
Soderbergh met with Cameron, Landau and
Sanchini over dinner to discuss SOLARIS. "I told them I had an idea of how
to do this," Soderbergh recalls, "but I wanted to write the screenplay
on spec; I didn't want to make a deal to do it. I explained my approach and
what I wanted to focus on and the ways in which I thought it would be different
from the book and from Tarkovsky's movie."
As Soderbergh was completing work on
"Traffic," he turned in a first draft of SOLARIS to Lightstorm.
Another draft followed, after which Soderbergh and Lightstorm were ready to
approach Twentieth Century Fox and make the movie.
"This was Steven's ballgame from
the get-go," says Cameron. "I felt I've learned more from Steven
than he's learned from me on this film. He went off and wrote the script,
essentially in a vacuum. We didn't tell him what we thought it should be. We
didn't sit down and talk about whether it should be an effects film, or not.
We just waited to see what he came back with. His initial script blew us away.
"We all had to be experts on what
Steven was trying to do. It was a question of learning the movie that Steven
wanted to make, and being his sounding board within a framework that was
meaningful to him."
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