Saturday, August 29, 2009

2010: The Year We Make Contact

 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Peter Hyams, 1984) 2001: A Space Odyssey took scientific precepts and used them as a launching pad for a philosophical adventure about humans and their place in the Universe in a suggestive and non-narrative way. It's "official" follow-up, "2010," however, tells you what it's going to show ya—then it shows ya—then it tells ya what it showed ya, thanks to a narration by Roy Scheider's character that explains everything but what he had for dinner. It's as far afield in style from its cinematic prequel as it could be—so much so that they feel like they've come from two different galaxies, or as one IMDB poster put it, "it's like comparing apples and concrete."

Based on
Arthur C. Clarke's "romp around the Solar System" ("2010: Odyssey Two"), it proposes a fact-finding mission by Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider in this one) to attempt to discover precisely what happened to the Discovery Mission to Jupiter and its crew. By hitching a ride on a Soviet space-craft (commanded by er, Tanya KirbukHelen Mirren) that just happens to be passing by, Floyd and his crew—Discovery engineer Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) and Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), the computer scientist who developed the Hal 9000 and its twin in Urbana, Illinois—attempt to find out what went wrong with the mission that ended up with a dead crew and no information on where the signal sent by the un-mooned TMA-1 anomaly went.  Where the first film revels in the leaps of evolution foisted on Man by "the Zarathustrians" (as I call them), Hyams' film is stuck with the earth-men and women merely trying to crack "what-done-it." 

Frankly, they should have just re-played the first film.

Kirbuk...d'uh...Kubrick stayed away from the machinations, unless it was visually arresting or amusing—like the zero-gravity-walking up walls, or the gravity-making squirrel-cage aboard Discovery— but Hyams, like Clarke, is only too happy to show the nuts-and-bolts of dropping into orbit with ablating bags, the stress it has on the crew by shaking the camera, the spark-emitting panels, and the requisite astronaut who flies across the control center in zero-g. This is the stuff of sci-fi melodrama in all its cheapness, precisely what Kubrick was trying to avoid in his film.

ultimate Big Surprise is a nifty one—educational, too, about the configuration of Jupiter—but by granting the unseen architects in both films motivations that seem like cosmic buttinskism very much cheapens the first film and its scope, making man's Creation merely all in a monolith's day's work. And the cosmic consequence of "2010" feels like an after-thought. It is eerie to hear the voice of HAL again (Douglas Rain) and to see Keir Dullea, through some artful make-up, look as young (and as old, unnecessarily) as he once was. And working from mere screen-captures, Hyams and his art department did a meticulous job recreating the Discovery sectionsthey can't keep the ships from looking like models in the FX sections, however, which is curious for a more late-model movie. So meticulous is their work that it seems bizarre that the Russian ship would look so dfferent in its interior, than what the Americans had come up with by that time.   Again, apples and concrete.

One wonders, ultimately, if it was worth doing: it was a toe-splash for M-G-M to explore the possibilities of one of its core properties, but its utter conventionality only points to the other film's complete unconventionality in
terms of belaying cheap dramatic tricks and the standard "science fiction" obsession with mechanics. It is the only sense of wonder "2010" allows, where it's progenitor was far more about wonder than the why's and wherefore's.

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