Ye gods, it has been a terrifically long time, hasn’t it?  I feel like I’ve finally awoken from hibernation as I make the long journey to Jupiter’s moons, I tell you!  Now that I coincidentally on purpose mentioned Jupiter’s moons, I think the time has come to talk about a sequel to an acclaimed and acknowledged cinematic masterpiece that was constructed by one of the most acclaimed and acknowledged directors of all time.  Of course, I’m here today to talk about Airplane II: The Sequel.

Okay, okay, okay…just kidding.  (Even though I am missing the opportunity to talk about William Shatner being a film’s savior once again.  Dammit.)  The sequel for today’s pondering and mulling is 1984’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the follow-up to 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  How can this meager sequel, bereft of the presence of one Stanley Kubrick, even come close to being worth talking about whatsoever?  Seems like a foolish flight of fancy for director Peter Hyams, doesn’t it?  What right does 2010 even have being made in the first place, especially given not only the myriad accolades that predecessor 2001 had received by 1984 but also the reverence 2001 continues to receive at this very nanosecond?

Well kids, guess what?  I’m about to upset a cinematic apple cart in a little bit.  So, I’m asking you to bear with me as I use my teeny and futile platform to do so.  Because guess what?  I like 2010 more than 2001.  Yep.  I’m that guy. 

Oh, and you’ve had almost 40 years to see this movie and the actual year of 2010 was over a decade ago.  That’s right, Dave, I’m going to spoil it.

After nine years, you’d think that kid would be even bigger.

The Sequel:  2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Original Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:

Keir DulleaDavid Bowman
Douglas RainVoice of HAL 9000
Arthur C. ClarkeAuthor (Script consultant)

To Start With:

 “Diagnosis is only the first step. The process is incomplete unless it leads to a cure. Do you agree?”

Let me clarify something right from the start.  I think Stanley Kubrick was one of the most talented directors to ever walk the earth.  His ability framing a shot, setting up a scene, and getting the most he could through his photography was unparalleled.  His eye was remarkable.  His films are so visually rich that one can see something new every single time you watch them.  (By the way, my inevitable …But is coming later.  Watch for it!)

Kubrick’s film of 2001: A Space Odyssey was an achievement in photography and special effects.  It looks terrific today, which is even more remarkable considering how Kubrick and the team used practical models and in-camera effects.  2001 is enshrined as a groundbreaking pioneer and the film is indisputably gorgeous throughout.  It is a veritable feast for the eyes. 

The effects were acknowledged back in 1968 as well.  2001 was a terrific hit upon release both with audiences and with critics.  Kubrick won his only Academy Award for direction of the special effects for it.  No one can ever hear Also Sprach Zarathustra without thinking of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  To this day, 2001 is held aloft, a remarkable gem in the crown of the Stanley Kubrick filmography and an incredible peak of what can be accomplished in the art of cinema.

Who in the hell would want to make a sequel to such a landmark, a cornerstone, a paramount of the film universe?  Well apparently, a chap by the name of Peter Hyams did.

I can’t believe we need all this just to get HBO in 198…uh, I mean, 2010!

Director/writer Peter Hyams was offered the project after Kubrick declined coming back to helm the sequel.  Hyams was no stranger to effects laden films as he had previously helmed Capricorn One and Outland.  Plus, Hyams understood the challenges with a sequel.  This would be an uphill battle for his film.  After all, a sequel to 2001 would be like making Citizen Kane II or Even More Gone with The Wind.  Hyams contacted Kubrick about the film and since he wasn’t interested in 2010 anyway, Kubrick gave Hyams the nod.  Then apparently Kubrick went back to being solitary and aloof, laughing at all the whackjobs who were seeing waaaaay more then they should in The Shining.

After the sorta-blessing of Kubrick, Hyams also sought the involvement of Space Odyssey series author Arthur C. Clarke.  Hyams wrote the script while corresponding with Clarke throughout.  Star Wars series veteran and Industrial Light and Magic co-founder Richard Edlund headed up the special effects.  A wide net was cast to cast a terrific cast.  Everything was coming together.  Could 2010 be pulled off?  Was this going to work?  How could Hyams make his film different?

We’ve got a problem on one of Jupiter’s moons? Yeah, I know a guy who could help.

Anything Done Better than the Original?

I don’t know if HAL is homicidal, suicidal, neurotic, psychotic, or just plain broken.

Indeed, Hyams did something different for 2010.  Remember how I lauded Kubrick in some earlier paragraphs?  Remember how I praised him upwards and downwards regarding 2001?  Remember how I said there was going to be a …But coming up?  Okay, here goes: 2001 is a great film…but at times it is excruciatingly boring.

Hey, put away your torches and stop throwing your tomatoes at me, you film-loving freaks!  I toldja that I’d be upsetting an apple cart or something, right?  2001 is very beautiful, gorgeous even, but it is also dreadfully dull.  Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the movie, if Cliff were drunk that is: humanity evolved by using bones as tools to kill each other, people fall asleep or eat when travelling in space, two emotionless astronauts deal with a computer that has apparently gone haywire, and one of those astronauts ages back and forth 100 years in ten minutes before becoming a star baby.  Oh, and there’s waltzes.  And all this takes approximately 483 minutes to convey.

Now you can tell me there’s more going on and be all philosophical and esoteric while doing so, but the bottom line: at the end of the day there just ain’t a lot of plot.  What is there leaves more questions than answers and I can respect that.  I really can.  I think spoon-feeding an audience can be a detriment.  But for me, not enough happens in 2001 to warrant the deluge of overanalytical ponderings that the film engenders.  However, for comparison’s sake, 2010 has a plot, a story, a beginning and a middle and an end.  There’s drama, yes, actual drama happening!  Plus, it clips right along and even while 2010 could probably still use a bit more tightening, it still surpasses the glacial pace of 2001 with ease.

Space sure is amazing! Where’s the cole slaw?

Where 2010 certainly outstrips 2001 is in terms of its cast.  Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, and Bob Balaban are all reliable and all bring their characters to life.  Nothing against William Sylvester or Gary Lockwood in 2001, but they were rather ho-hum in that film.  Granted, I’m sure the script and Kubrick didn’t allow for much wiggle room, but thankfully Hyams allowed for actual characters in 2010.

And this is clearly Roy Scheider’s show, which is fine by me.  It’s like they sent Chief Brody to space to investigate missing astronauts and the monolith is the shark and Bob Balaban looks like Richard Dreyfuss if you squint and it’s just great!  But again, Scheider is very welcome as are his moments with Mirren.  

My only gripe here is that Lithgow and Mirren aren’t in the film sooner.  Perhaps since I watched 2001 immediately before 2010, I was so starved for actors interacting with other actors during a plot, I got impatient.  So, I’ll give 2010 a bit of a pass, but still, the cast is stellar and I only wanted more from them.

Soviet cosmonaut crew or the hottest 1980s New Wave band? Or both? You decide!

Anything as Good as the Original?

HAL was told to lie – by people who find it easy to lie. HAL doesn’t know how.

2001 was a mystery that went unexplained.  2010 attempted to clarify some of it, but not enough to take the mystery away completely.  Granted, 2010 could have taken the easy route, like the sudden psychiatrist at the end of Psycho, blathering on about Norman Bates, killing off whatever atmosphere had been created up to that point.  But 2010 doesn’t do that.  In fact, it is an effective continuation that offers a few nuggets of explanation, but not enough to smother 2001.

It is a fine line to be sure, but it helped that Hyams respected 2001 and didn’t want to be a johnny-come-lately know-it-all with the story.  Yes, there is drama in 2010, but most of that comes from the crew interaction amid the political backdrop and not solely with the investigation of the enigmatic monolith.

In the Soviet Union, even the cockpits are red!

Special mention must be made to Richard Edlund and his effects team.  Kubrick famously had everything from 2001 destroyed or left to rot, so Edlund had to reconstruct the USS Discovery from the ground up.  The budget didn’t allow for recreating that incredible 360-degree room, but at least the Discovery ship, the control room, and the pod bay were meticulously rebuilt by using production photos from 2001.  The Soviet ship looks good as well.  The effects were nominated for an Academy Award, so I think Edlund and his group did a pretty good job indeed.

It does beg the question though: why was there a pod in the Discovery?  Of course, it is the pod bay, but there shouldn’t be a pod in there.  Remember, there were only three pods in 2001.  The first one was sent off into space when HAL killed Frank.  The second one had the back door blasted off it when Dave had to get back into the airlock.  The third one was used by Dave to explore the monolith after he had disconnected HAL.  That leaves…no pods.  None.  Not a sausage.  Bugger all.  And yet when Scheider, Lithgow, and Balaban are talking with the resurrected HAL in the pod bay, what’s sitting right there?  A freakin’ pod!  Sure, it looks cool, but why was it there?  Was it because of the monolith?  Did Dave somehow fly it back to the Discovery after not being a huge Star Baby?  Did the effects team just follow the photos a bit too closely, not remembering that there were no pods left in the bay?  Is this the supreme mystery of 2010: The Year We Make Contact?!

I suppose we can explore in the pod. Waitaminute! What pod?!

Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?

I’m completely operational, and all my circuits are functioning perfectly.

The future is portrayed in 2001 is so incredibly slick.  Everything is polished, yet practical.  Outside of some haircuts and wardrobe choices, the film doesn’t appear to have been made in 1968.  There’s also a matter of fact-ness about the whole future that made it seem a definite inevitability.  When the actual year of 2001 came and went, we felt cheated.  No eating ham sandwiches while travelling on the moon.  No flying on Pan Am to space stations twirling in the stars.  No Pan Am, for that matter.

2010 just reeks of being made in 1984.  From Roy Scheider’s sunglasses and then fashionable short shorts, to living quarters that don’t appear very future-ish, to the highest tech that 1984 had to offer, it was 2010 if Reagan were somehow still president and Family Ties never left the airwaves.  (By the way, remember, even the proto-Tablets that the astronauts had in 2001 projected crisp high definition.)

Probably the most telling way that 2010 became dated were the references to the Soviet Union and the Cold War.  Nothing against Helen Mirren and the Russian actors in the Soviet cosmonaut crew because they do indeed add some color beyond red.  I just find it incredibly hard to believe that the relatively optimistic future shown in 2001 would allow for such high-level Anglo-Soviet conflicts nine years later.   

Why the standard def, Dave?

The music by David Shire is serviceable, but not that remarkable.  Granted, he had to go up against Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss and probably a few other illustrious composers named Strauss that Kubrick threw in back in 1968.  However, Shire did try to do something different and for the most part, it turned out okay, just not as memorable as dramatic classical pieces and incredibly well-known waltzes.

In fact, the most memorable thing about the score for 2010 is that Tony Banks, a founding member of prog rock band Genesis, was tapped to provide the music only to have his work completely scrapped.  I like to think that a huge Genesis fan at the studio was still miffed that Banks had crowded guitarist Steve Hackett out of the band and enjoyed a slight measure of revenge by sacking Banks from 2010.


Anything Far Worse than the Original?

Are you sure you are making the right decision? I think we should stop. Four minutes to ignition. I enjoy working with human beings and have stimulating relationships with you.

Why, oh why, was there so much narration?!  It just becomes distracting.  It isn’t like the effects are garbage, so having someone talking over almost every single establishing shot in space is maddening.  To make it worse, whatever is said in it could have been easily handled with just a bit more dialogue between characters.  To that end, the narration could have been avoided altogether.  Again, I don’t know if it was just an overcompensation due to the lack of dialogue from 2001, but 2010 at times doesn’t know when to shut up.  Again, I love Roy Scheider, but whatever narration he does could have been handled by simply adding some words between him and Lithgow or Mirren or Balaban.  Heck, even some subtitled dialogue amongst the Russian crew would do the trick.  Or maybe throw HAL a few more lines?  Speaking of HAL…

Sure seems crazy that humanity would let a computer control every
aspect of life someday, right? Sounds far fetched, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

After all the wonderment of the HAL 9000 computer and his actions from 2001, why can’t we have more HAL in 2010?  They just get done reactivating him and then the crew is suddenly forced to abandon him on the Discovery to flee quickly from Jupiter.  For me HAL was the most interesting part of 2001 and oddly enough, he was the most human character.  The actual humans came off as wooden and clinical, but at least HAL appeared to have some personality in comparison.

Yet in 2010, after all the talk about HAL, the need to reactivate him, the wondering if he’d react adversely as he did in 2001, the interaction between him and Balaban, HAL ends up being at best an extended cameo in the film.  The kicker is that Douglas Rain was still available to provide the voice, that wonderful gentle voice for HAL.  And he just wasn’t given enough to do.  It is a missed opportunity.

Where are you, Roy? We’ve got even more voiceover work for you!

Follow-up installments?

 “Don’t patronize me. I’m getting nauseous.

Even though 2010 made money at the box office, it wasn’t the smash hit that 2001 was, so a follow-up wasn’t really pursued at the time.  Arthur C. Clarke did write two other books in the Space Odyssey series, one set in 2061 and the other in 3001. 

There have been various rumors surrounding film/TV adaptations of these two books, but as of this writing, nothing has come of it.  Unless Disney purchases the rights simply to waste them by shoehorning a baby version of a Star Wars character in them, it appears that those books won’t be adapted soon.

Figures that Disney would sneak in a Death Star as soon as they could!

And Finally:

I’m not taking a survey, if you’ve done the analysis what are the results?

I think the easiest and quickest and most pretentious way I can convey how I feel about these films is this: 2001 is a film, 2010 is a movie.  If I want to experience a landmark of the cinema, I watch 2001.  If I want to experience an enjoyable sci-fi ride, I watch 2010.  Peter Hyams did a remarkable job considering the circumstances, paying tribute while adding his own stamp on that universe.  Plus, Douglas Rain and Keir Dullea received a check, so all’s right with the world.

I still think Kubrick is a legendary, standard-setting director.  He never made a film that wasn’t interesting to look at.  He never repeated himself, he always picked interesting projects, his casts were always top-notch.  I can put in Dr. Strangelove right now and be thoroughly entertained.  The Killing is an amazing noir.  A Clockwork Orange is still uncomfortable to watch.  Paths of Glory packs a tremendous punch.  And if you are one that simply holds 2001 as the peak of Kubrick, I understand, I truly do.  By the same token, I can understand why some souls dropped acid to get through watching it.    

That black hole represents the amount of time that gets sucked from your life watching 2001.

Oh, and just to be that guy again, the line “My God, it’s full of stars.” is not in the 2001 film.  Nope.  It isn’t.  Clarke used that line the 2001 book, but it never was used in the Kubrick film no matter how much some want to retcon it in there.  People can swear upside and down that the line is said when Keir Dullea goes on his mind-bending travel to the monolith.  But it isn’t. 

Although if you listen close enough, you can hear HAL say, “Barry Lyndon is a breathtaking film, but if you thought 2001 was boring, you ain’t seen nothing yet, Dave.

Someday, the children of the new sun will meet the children of the old. I think they will be our friends. You can tell your children of the day when everyone looked up and realized that we were only tenants of this world. We have been given a new lease and a warning from the landlord.

Of course, the French were the first to point out that they were better because they had two suns.

You think I’d set foot on this tub sober? 

Published by benjaminawink

Being at best a lackadaisical procrastinator, this is purely an exercise in maintaining a writing habit for yours truly. This will obviously lead to the lucrative and inevitable book/movie/infomercial deal. I promise to never engage in hyperbole about my blog, which will be the greatest blog mankind has ever known since blogs started back in 1543. I won't promise anything other than a few laughs, a few tears, and maybe, just maybe, a few lessons about how to make smokehouse barbecue in your backyard.

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