Culture.pl selects the best adaptations of Stanisław Lem’s novels.
1. Ari Folman - The Congress (2013)
With Michał Englert behind the camera, Opus Film as a co-producer, Orange Studio responsible for the animation, and the Polish Film Institute's co-financing, Folman’s choices reveal his attachment to the country of his parent’s origin – Poland. Actress Robin Wright plays an actress who becomes obsolete because she agreed to have her full-body imaging digitised to then be used as a 'digital actress'. The film opens the Cannes Film Festival’s 45th Director’s Fortnight.
2. Quay Brothers - Maska (2010)
The influential stop-motion animators adaptation of Lem’s story The Mask with music composed by Krzysztof Penderecki. Their skill in combining music and images to achieve intensely powerful effects is visible through the story of Beautiful Duenna who was created in order to carry out certain mission. In a technologically developed but at the same time feudal world, she is forced to choose between accomplishing the task she was created for and love.
3. Steven Soderbergh - Solaris (2002)
One of a couple of Solaris adaptations (following Boris Nirenburg’s 1968 made-for-TV and Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 cinematic adapations) of what is probably Lem’s best-known novel, of the same title. Soderbergh’s Solaris, produced by James Cameron, emphasizes the relationship between Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) and Rheya (Natascha McElhone). Although he was surprised by the absence of the living ocean Solaris, Lem commented, 'The film has a unique, overwhelming climate. Filled with light, colours, stunning shots, music, impressive acting, an economical use of special effects, a clear narration'.
4. Marek Piestrak - Inquest of Pilot Pirx (1978)
A joint Polish/Estonian/Ukrainian production based on Lem’s story The Inquest, from the collection More Tales of Pirx the Pilot. A mixed robot and human crew embark on a mission to launch satellites into the rings of Saturn. There is a near disaster and the human crew are almost killed. Upon returning to Earth there is an inquest to determine if Pirx was responsible for the 'accident'. When it is found that one of the robots caused the malfunction in an attempt to kill the human crew members, Lem’s idea is clear: the human can hesitate, make wrong decisions, have doubts, but a robot cannot.
5. Andrei Tarkovsky - Solaris (1972)
Known as the Soviet response to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the British-American science fiction film was screened in the USSR in limited runs for 15 years without a break, giving it cult status. Based on Lem’s novel but artistically independent - although Lem worked with Tarkovsky and Friedrich Gorenstein in developing the screenplay. Lem maintained that he 'never really liked Tarkovsky’s version' of his novel. The film premiered at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury and a nomination for the Palme d'Or.
6. Andrzej Wajda - Roly Poly (1968)
A Wajda adaptation of the short story Roly Poly with a script written by Lem. A race-car driver is deprived of the greater part of his inner organs in successive surgical operations. Moreover, haunted by bad luck, he can never earn enough money to cover his debts to the donors of the missing parts. The film’s success led it to TV screens throughout Europe.
7. Marek Nowicki & Jerzy Stawicki- The Friend (1965)
In this 20-minute black-and-white film that was made for television, a mechanical brain that wants to take over the world controls every step by the film’s protagonist. The filmmaker duo also produced another Lem adaptation – Professor Zazul (1962).
8. Kurt Maetzig - First Spaceship on Venus (1960)
An East German-Polish production based on the novel The Astronauts, First Spaceship on Venus (aka The Silent Star) is considered 'the most impressive non-Hollywood science fiction film of the 1960s'. Carrying the message that science should be developed in the name of peace, not aggression, after discovering a mysterious message from Venus, scientist decide Earth’s only option is to travel to Venus. There they discover that the inhabitants of the faraway planet intended to invade Earth but were themselves destroyed. With only part of the crew returning to Earth, they warn humanity of the dangers of atomic weapons.
Sources: based on an original article by AD for Culture.pl, additional sources: Slashfilm, Edinburgh FF, The film stage, Rottentomato, Wajda.pl, Lem.pl, The Warsaw Voice. Editor: MJ 16.05.2013