Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sequel to Masterpiece: 2010

Buried in the shadows of the numerous sci-fi hits of the 80s is the lackluster sequel to one of the most acclaimed sci-fi films of all time; 2010: The Year We Make Contact, sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The film is a moodier followup to Stanley Kubrick's cerebral masterpiece.  While its story addresses the mysteries in 2001, the execution is a far fallen apple that leaves a lot to be desired.  

Before I go into the sequel, I'm gonna to talk briefly on why 2001 is considered such a great film.  After all, it's really slow, there's a really long light show, and the ending doesn't make a lick of sense, right?  That there is philistine talk.  It's a piece of art and should viewed as such.  Among great filmmakers, there's sort of an unspoken rule.  It's very simple, but many forget it: don't say what you can show.  Kubrick pushed this while making 2001.  So much so that I would say he said a little less than the bare minimum.  There are hints of what Kubrick was actually saying sprinkled through the film, such as the classical soundtrack that accented the majesty of a new creation (See Also Sprach Zarathustra).  It climaxed by taking the viewer though science to existentialism.  As the Joker would say, it's all part of the plan.  Now about that light show, yeah it's a little long, but let's face it, modern viewers have seen longer displays of eye candy that said a lot less.  

When Arthur C. Clarke published 2010 in 1982, filmmaker Peter Hyams quickly jumped to produce it.  Some audiences actually did want to know what the ending was all about, so the goal of filming 2010 was simple: answer these questions through hints of a larger, but unseen, plan.  Sadly, Hyams dropped everything he needed to succeed and kept only enough to limp his way through the story's themes.  On top of that, he chucked Kubrick's style completely out the window.   Rather than using visuals, he told story through voice-over and boring dialogue.  Instead of being an immersing experience, it was a distancing one.  

While the viewer might be engaged by the political and scientific discourse of the film, they certainly won't feel part of it.  Many of the Earth scenes are shot from an extreme wide angle, like the camera was trying to awkwardly spy on the characters.  After this, several plot points are skipped over and hastily explained by the protagonist's voice over.  During the mission, many of the Russian crew members speak in their own language with no subtitles, which made it difficult to follow exactly what was going on.  This all makes the filmmaking feel like weak cinema verite.  The more exciting parts of the story are removed or toned down, like the space race with the Chinese and the crew's anxiety over HAL.  

The strongest point is the film's climax.  The crew is given an unexpected departure deadline by the Star Child (Dave Bowman), who tells them to leave Jupiter before it eventually explodes into a second sun (though Bowman just says it's "something wonderful.")  The uncertain plans of the monolith builders come to a head and the crew can only flee, while trying to work around the uncertain HAL, to escape in time.  Unfortunately, the moment is ruined by a sappy "peace and love" closing speech that's filled with faulty logic.  Something a little more uncertain might have been in order.  After all, I don't think the threat of nuclear war will go away if the Earth gets a little more sunlight. 

"My God, it's full of stars!"
In a rather odd circumstance of cinema/novel cooperation, the 2001 movie and novel are BOTH required in order to read or watch 2010.   In the 2010 film, there are several references to Dave Bowman's last transmission, "My God, it's full of stars," before he disappeared into the Jupiter monolith.  There's only one hiccup; the line was never uttered in Kubrick's film.  Oh, it was spoken in the novel, but Kubrick left it out to focus on the visuals (leaving absolutely no dialogue in the third act).  On the other hand, if one sticks to just the novels, there's a rather glaring continuity error between 2001 and 2010.  Clarke wrote that the original Odyssey went to Saturn, but Kubrick changed the planet to Jupiter when his special effects team couldn't make a very accurate Saturn.  Clarke then retconned the planet in his second novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, to accommodate this.  So a viewer needed to both read the book and see the movie in order for any sequels to make sense.  

Neither Kubrick nor Clarke ever even conceived of any sequels during the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in hindsight, I'd say their original instinct was the correct one.  Clarke's novel can easily be filed under Golden Age sci-fi, and Kubrick's film stands as a very majestic, but esoteric masterwork of cinema.  Hyman's film is a forgettable sequel at best, and a blatant disservice at worst.  Clarke's three sequels also do little to improve on the original and, in the end, raise more questions than they answer.  Left on it's own, 2001: A Space Odyssey, film or novel, leaves the viewer on a question of existential progress for humanity; a question that's best left unanswered because no one knew, then or now, what's next for our species.  

I guess in some ways, it was the original Lost ending. Only better. 

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