Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Movie Review: 2010

    The release of 2001 was a watershed moment, generally for film and specifically for Science Fiction.  So, 15 years later, when 2010 was released, it had HUGE shoes to fill, and in many ways was destined for failure.  Nobody could help but compare it to the first film, though I think the comparisons are often unfair.  It is a different monster.  2001 was made at the same time author Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel (based on his short story The Sentinel), and when he wrote the follow-up book, he based it primarily on the film, not his book (using Jupiter instead of Saturn, for example).  This movie, while connecting to the first film, is more adaptation of the book 2010 than it is sequel to the film 2001.  If that makes sense.  The design of Discovery remains the same.  Kier Dullea returns.  Otherwise, in look, tone, style, etc. it is its own film.  The cynicism of the 70s and the Cold War tensions of the 80s have tempered the hopeful exuberance of the first movie.

   The set design, lighting, costumes, and even effects feel more in tune with Alien, Aliens, and Outland (also directed by Peter Hyams) than with the sleek ultra-modern 60s look of 2001.  This makes it feel a bit more realistic, in a sense.  More lived in.  Less pristine.  And I think it makes the overall feel of the film more timeless.  Though all the Cold War posturing anchors it fairly solidly.  Though, like a lot of other visions of the future, a lot of the technology (especially computers and computer interfaces) look downright primitive.  Like in 2001, there are some serious attempts to achieve a degree of scientific accuracy.  The use of atmosphere to break the speed of the ship, the spinning section of the ship to give some gravity, etc.  Sadly, there is sound in space.  A lot of it is muffled, but I would have much preferred a totally silent vacuum.

    As far as the story goes, it’s a pretty good concept.  Years after the failure of the Discovery mission, the loss of the crew, and the disappearance of Dave, a combined Russian-American mission heads out to investigate the incident, as well as new anomalous readings.  In the book, the US and USSR had achieved a degree of peace, with the Chinese serving as a kind of rival expedition (setting up one of my favorite scenes in the book, when the Chinese discover something green and nasty).  In the film, we’re still stuck in a never-ending conflict with the Soviets, and the mission is a tension filled exercise in strange bedfellows.  I remember seeing this for the first time as a boy, while the Cold War still seemed like something that would go on forever, or until we blew each other off the face of the Earth.  This film’s hopeful message of cooperation was heartening to a young boy.

    One of my favorite aspects of this film is the exploration of Hal and in a sense, his redemption.  Hal was a villain of circumstance, not malice.  The stuff with Dave is also interesting.  Part of me wanted to go on with the novels, but I’ve never heard a good word of the books after 2010.  The potential of Hal and Dave and where they could help take humanity is fascinating.

    If you try to compare this movie with the artistic and critical triumph that was 2001, it will not live up.  If you watch this simply as a science fiction film, it’s actually quite good.  It has a good cast with lots of good character moments.  There are a few questions of morality and ethics.  It has excellent special effects and production design.  It is, by most standards, a very good movie.  Perfect?  No.  But very good.  I think its treatment by fans has been less than kind and less than fair.  And I would recommend giving it another go to anyone who hasn’t seen it in a while.


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