Have You Seen… ‘2010’?

Film and TV you might not have checked out but really should…

2010

The spacecraft Discovery encounters “something wonderful” in 2010 (image credit: MGM, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year: 1984

Starring: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain

Directed and written by: Peter Hyams

What’s it about?

As tensions between the United States and Russia approach boiling point, Dr. Heywood Flloyd joins a Russian expedition to Jupiter in an effort to uncover the mysteries surrounding the ill-fated Discovery mission and the enigmatic object known as the monolith…

In review – why you should see it

2010 is the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, 2010: Odyssey Two. With the stature of 2001 in mind, 2010 (marketed with the subtitle “The Year We Make Contact”) would seemingly have the odds stacked against it, yet, despite being inferior to Kubrick’s film and Clarke’s novel, Peter Hyams’ (Capricorn One) film is still an overlooked slice of superior, cerebral SF.

Taking 2001 as a launching point, 2010 continues the story in a very entertaining and imaginative way and ably directed by Hyams, who also serves as screenwriter and cinematographer – delivering some striking images that are comparable with those of Kubrick’s. Whilst the screenplay adheres to the overall narrative of the novel there are some departures (undoubtedly for budgetary/creative reasons), the most significant being the conflict between the United States and Russia which was not a theme in Clarke’s story and which, despite some stereotyping and Cold War clichés indicative of the times, is a logical and valid component of Hyams’ adaptation and provides tension and drama whilst delivering some prescient commentary of real world issues. The film’s hopeful conclusion sends an important message that, sadly, still has resonance today but offers a grander perspective of humanity’s place in the universe and leaves the viewer with a sense of optimism and wonder.

The cast portray their characters well, with enjoyable performances from Roy Scheider (whose genre credits to this point included Jaws and Blue Thunder), succeeding William Sylvester in the role of Dr. Flloyd and John Lithgow as the likeable all-American engineer, Walter Curnow as well as the welcome return of Douglas Rain who voices the Discovery’s troubled A.I. computer system, HAL (the reasons for his malfunction revealed with some slight retconning) and a mysterious cameo from Keir Dullea as ‘Bowman’. Rounding out the central cast is Helen Mirren who stars as Tanya Kirbuk, commander of the Russian spacecraft Leonov and Bob Balaban as computer expert Dr. Chandra, both of whom share a number of good scenes with Scheider. Chandra also has memorable interplay with HAL as he reactivates the supercomputer and establishes a trusting relationship with it. Glimpses into Flloyd’s home life during the opening act and the subsequent narrations thread throughout as he transmits messages to his wife and son back on Earth add greatly not just to Scheider’s character but also to the film’s emotional core. It’s to Hyams’ credit that he injects a lot of characterisation into proceedings, something that would not have worked for 2001 but is in harmony with the more human-focused approach taken with 2010, which seeks to provide answers (and establish its own mysteries – the possibility of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, the status of Bowman and the warning of an incredible event) without detracting from the overall enigma of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

2010 is a highly enjoyable continuation of the Space Odyssey story with some entertaining human drama and edge-of-the-seat tension as the film reaches its climax. If you like imaginative high concept science fiction (or indeed read the novel) then it’s well worth your time.

Geek fact!

David Bowman’s last transmission “My god…it’s full of stars”, utilised in 2010, was never spoken in the film version of 2001 but the line was featured in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel.

Also worth a look…

Interstellar : in a similar vein to 2010, Christopher Nolan’s science fiction epic (which coincidentally also features John Lithgow in its cast) combines scientific theory with speculative fictional concepts, grounded in strong character drama.

It’s a Classic: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Open the pod bay doors please HAL…”

2001

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) faces an unbelievable journey in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (image credit: MGM/Warner Bros. used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1968

Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick / written by:  Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

What’s it about?

Mankind learns they are not alone in the universe when a strange artefact is uncovered on the Moon, leading to a journey to the outer solar system and beyond all imagination…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Fifty years ago, author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick brought what many consider to be the greatest of all science fiction masterpieces to the big screen.  Based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only a seminal masterwork of SF cinema but also, frankly, one of the best films ever made.  An ambitious production that’s still impressive today, 2001 is a mesmerising, haunting and beautiful visual and aural experience that marries high concept science fiction ideas with incredible photography (captured by Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later work on Richard Donner’s Superman), innovative special effects and an inspired mix of classical music and contemporary orchestrations, eschewing the use of a traditional motion picture score produced by a single composer.

2001: A Space Odyssey can be an enigma to the uninitiated, it’s more focused on hard SF concepts (technological and existential) and extraordinary visuals than a “coherent” plot – although repeated viewings and a reading of Clarke’s novel (which he wrote whilst collaborating on the film’s screenplay with Stanley Kubrick) deepen both understanding and appreciation for, and enrich the experience of, the “proverbial good” science fiction film Kubrick and Clarke set out to make.  The lack of clear explanation, especially in the mind-bending finale, is an intention on the part of Kubrick and Clarke, wanting to impart interpretation and meaning on the viewer.

In terms of the underlying narrative, 2001 follows the evolution of man and its encounters with an alien intelligence via black, featureless slabs – or monoliths – at key points, from the human race’s primitive beginnings to its spacefaring ways millions of years later (connected by that iconic jump cut) as mankind reaches for the stars and is ultimately taken on a journey beyond comprehension.  Following the unearthing of a mysterious monolith on the Moon a powerful signal is blasted into space, leading to humanity’s first expedition into the unknown.

The main bulk of 2001 focuses on the spacecraft Discovery as it journeys on a mission to Jupiter.  The ship’s scientific crew in hibernation, only her commander, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and co-pilot Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) remain awake to attend to the day-to-day functions of the mission along with Discovery’s advanced supercomputer A.I., the HAL 9000.  Without delving too heavily into spoilers, everything runs smoothly until the HAL 9000 – or HAL – begins to exhibit signs of malfunction and turns against Bowman and Poole as they consider the possibility of disconnection.  This provides drama for the central act before viewers are taken on “The Ultimate Trip” as 2001 moves towards a conclusion that has been endlessly debated and dissected.

Kubrick’s expert direction coupled with the understated and naturalistic performances of the actors gives an almost documentary style of execution to 2001.  Again, it’s more of a visual and auditory experience that challenges the mind (and the senses) than a showcase for awards worthy character portrayals (as it happens, there is actually – intentionally – very little dialogue in the film).  The exception to this of course is Douglas Rain (who sadly passed away in November) who provides the voice for HAL.  A chilling and unrivalled performance, Rain’s subtle, soft tones and restrained delivery bring a sense of unease that only becomes more unsettling as HAL’s programming begins to unravel.

The production design of 2001 is staggering, with intricate model work and meticulously detailed sets having a functional and believable quality to them.  Adding to this are the astonishing special photographic effects, designed with assistance from Douglas Trumbull and directed by Kubrick – the iconic ‘Star Gate’ sequence remaining one of the most incredible and startling in all of cinema.  The use of music is also ingenious, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s jubilant rendition of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy, waltz-like imagery of man’s journey into space whilst Adagio (from Gayane’s Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) conveys the isolation and loneliness of the Discovery’s voyage to the outer solar system.  Most effective though are Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres (performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sudwestfunk orchestras respectively), compositions that complement and accentuate the eeriness and mystery of the monolith and Bowman’s cosmic and reality spanning journey ‘beyond the infinite’ as he encounters a larger version of the alien object floating in the vicinity of Jupiter.

There’s so much that has been said and can be analysed about 2001: A Space Odyssey but in basic terms it is simply outstanding and an enduring masterpiece that will forever be influential and revered by lovers of science fiction, film, music and art in general.

Standout moment

Unable to verify HAL’s report of a fault in the Discovery’s communications system, David Bowman and Frank Poole employ subterfuge as they enter one of the ship’s EVA pods to discuss deactivating the ship’s computer, unaware that HAL is observing…

Geek fact!

Prior to filming on 2001, Gary Lockwood appeared in the second pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

If you like this then check out…

2010 : Peter Hyams directs the Kubrick-less sequel that sees Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd journey to Jupiter in order to reactivate HAL and uncover the secrets surrounding the monolith and the disappearance of David Bowman.

Solaris : Russian cinema’s answer to 2001, Solaris is a similarly cerebral and enigmatic piece that’s worth checking out.