LAST YEAR WAS the most depressing Thanksgiving of my life: I ate no turkey, saw no family, commiserated with no friends, and ended up watching Solaris (on DVD July 29) downtown with 10 other losers. Not the ideal day to ponder, "Hey, if my dead, gorgeous wife inexplicably materialized on a space station, would I jettison her into the cosmos or wait for her to commit suicide again?"
Steven Soderbergh's truncated 2002 take on author Stanislaw Lem's 1961 sci-fi romancepreviously filmed by Tarkovsky in 1972was predestined for mainstream indifference, ass shots of George Clooney notwithstanding. Admirers and detractors alike should appreciate Solaris' hypnotizing transfer on this single-disc package, even if they can't agree to the artfulness of Clooney playing an emotionally unstable psychiatrist sent to investigate a forlorn space station that may be haunted by the planet it's orbiting.
To hear Soderbergh tell it in the informative, if curiously identical, "HBO 'Making Of' Special" and "Solaris: Behind the Planet" featurettes, Clooney took the risk of his career by assuming a role so wrought with emotional fragility. Although predictably self-congratulatory, the featurettes offer glimpses of the supporting cast's screen tests and audition tapes, none so oddly entertaining as Ulrich Tukur training a camera on his dog and reading his monologue offscreen.
The obvious gem in this DVD is its single shared commentary track, in which producer James Cameron patiently, objectively deconstructs Soderbergh's shot selection, unconventional editing techniques, and decision to "go minimalist." And Soderbergh has an intelligent answer to each quibble. Somehow, the two heavyweights' unpretentious back-and-forth on the creative process for this misunderstood flop has the weight of Welles and Hitchcock going mano a mano. ANDREW BONAZELLI
NO LESS LEARNED in his commentary, director Phillip Noyce shares the chat track for The Quiet American with Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and others. Also out July 29, a double-disc set of the blind-and-lame Daredevil (Affleck stays away), the excellent 1992 documentary Brother's Keeper, and the pioneering 1993 AIDS doc Silverlake Life: The View From Here. The same date greets 1996's The Whole Wide World (by ex-Seattle director Dan Ireland, with Renée Zellweger in an early starring role), and the underrated XX/XY (reviewed next week). EDS