Friday, January 01, 2010

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Hey it's 2010, so I figured I'd critique the movie of the same name ! :)

I remember seeing 2010 the day it opened with a couple of mates. From the off it was leaving a bad taste in my mouth, the film started with a recap of the events of 2001:A Space Odyssey , and it really bugged me that they'd used actual frame grabs from that film to overlay their graphics. So after the opening to get anybody who hasn't seen 2001 up to speed we get the credits,the 'Year We Make Contact' title is nowhere to be seen, it simply says 2010.

The film based on Arthur C.Clarke's 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two was offered to Stanley Kubrick by MGM who refused to direct, it was then reportedly offered to a who's who of directors including Steven Spielberg who also turned it down, the common consensus is you can't make a film that could possibly follow 2001:A Space Odyssey and you'd be a fool to try, one of the directors who also turned it down was Peter Hyams, director of Capricorn One, Outland.
From what I remember reading at the time Hyams opinion was pretty much the same, then at some point, maybe MGM offered a bigger pay cheque, Hyams signed up to direct, stating he figured this was a story worth telling etc... etc...
The only real hold over character, besides David Bowman entity/spirit and HAL 9000, from 2001 was Dr. Heywood Floyd played originally by William Sylvester but recast in 2010 as Roy Scheider (Jaws, Blue Thunder), Sylvester was in his mid 60's and all but retired from acting. Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind,Altered States) played Dr. R. Chandra, who is mention in the novel of 2001 as the scientist who instructed HAL 9000, even though in the movie of 2001HAL says it was Mr Langley who'd instructed him,Dr. Chandra was also Indian in the novel of 2010. John Lithgow (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,Shrek,Cliffhanger) plays Dr. Walter Curnow,the American engineer who designed 'Discovery' and was helping to build 'Discovery 2''. These 3 Americans are part of the crew of the Russian spaceship the 'Alexei Leonov', you see Discovery is in a decaying orbit around Jupiter and the Russians will get there a year earlier than the Americans as 'Discovery 2' is still getting built, but it will take them longer to re start HAL and get the ship up and running, so even though this is still very much a cold war story, they agree that it's in everybody's best interests if the Americans come along for the ride. In the novel the conflict is with the Chinese, who's spaceship the Tsien already has a head start. Helen Mirren (Excalibur, Prime Suspect, The Queen) plays the captain of the 'Leonov', Tanya Kirbuk.
The trouble is with 2010 is that 2001:A Space Odyssey as a film is either a love it or hate it type of movie, it was hardly what you would call a mainstream popular movie or a blockbuster, but 2010 takes a much more Hollywood approach in terms of the characters and story, a film like 2001 only really works once, Hyams would have been a fool to try and stick to the pacing and style of Kubrick's film, but once you go a different direction then it doesn't feel like 2001 anymore. Costing $28 million, a fairly big budget back in the early 80's, 2010 has nice look, but on the whole feels somewhat cheaper than 2001. The centrifuge set seen in 2001 was 2010's first casualty, it was reported that the set was too expensive to recreate for such a small number of scenes, an estimate budgeted the set at around the $10 million mark, the same as 2001's full budget. So the set was scrapped and any scenes planned for it rewritten to other parts of the ship. It's been reported over the years that Kubrick, or MGM, depending on what story you read, had various sets, props and plans from 2001 destroyed, so production designer Albert Brenner and his art team had to use available stills and frame blow up's from a 70mm print of the film to recreate the 'Discovery' interior and exterior, and the spacesuit worn by David Bowman. Now on one level these sets look pretty authentic, but under closer scrutiny there are some differences, some that make 2010's sets seem a little more rushed and cheaper than those in the 1968 film. I've put some comparison frame grabs below

The bridge of the 'Discovery' has a number of details missing, and not just things like the odd light a different colour, the door behind the chairs being a major one, it's easy enough to see on any reference pic and they had frame blow up's, so why is the door simply left blank ? And where did the seat belts pop up from ?

The pod bay has quite a few, the floor of the ships in 2001 were meant to have a velcro type lining, so that when crew members weren't in the gravity of the centrifuge section they would stick to the floor and not simply float around, 2010's floor in the pod bay is just black and shiny, and the crew walk around like there's full gravity in all of the ship. Also Hyams who did the cinematography makes Discovery's interior looks foggier than Geoffrey Unsworth's crisp and clean 2001 photography, a stylistic choice by Hyams who also directed the rather Alien looking Outland with all it's smoky dark sets, obviously going for a much moodier look.

The corridor that leads to and from the pod bay has some cosmetic differences, and also some bright red and blue numbers (Below) that are nowhere to be seen on 2001's original sets, so who decided and why they decided to add these is anybody's guess ?!

Though in one scene ( 2 pics up) were David Bowman is entering the pod bay and Roy Scheider is following the door area around the pod bay has lost it's number altogether.

Also all of HAL's monitors in 2001 were square and flat, the images projected from the rear by 16mm projectors, I believe Kubrick did try some early version of small size TV monitors but opted for this approach instead. So the final film almost shows us what we have now, flat screen TV's with little reflection, 2010 simply replaces all of these screens with standard Sony monitors, that give Discovery's displays a whole different and naffer look.

In one scene back on earth we see an advertisement, this features stock footage of the station from 2001, which was under construction in the first film, are we meant to believe that 9 years later it's in the same stages of being built.

The film's concept work for the Soviet ship exterior and interior were handled by Syd Mead (Blade Runner,Tron, Aliens) The 'Leonov' is a superb looking ship, so good Babylon 5 ripped it off for it's Omega-class destroyers. The trouble with it is we never really get any sense that the spinning section does anything, like the crew are meant to be in there. People just walk around again like the whole ship has artificial gravity, yet in one scene in the ships pod bay we see a Russian Cosmonaut walking down the wall while other crew members stand on the floor, like it's Zero G in there. And in another Heywood Floyd pics up two pens and places them in the air to explain his plan for linking the two ships to make an escape, the pens just float, yet when Heywood Floyd and Tanya Kirbuk walk onto the bridge at the start of the scene there's no sign of low gravity !? The 'Leonov' has much more of a military feel to it's bridge, probably more suited to a SF action film such as Starship Troopers or Aliens. The ship has a seating area for the crew that is very reminiscent of the police headquarters in Outland with the TV monitors over the table area, this itself probably based on the table area in Alien.
Also the spacesuits in the film worn by both the Americans and Russians have that big and bulky old NASA feel to them, a far cray from the slimmer suits the team wore on the moon when at the monolith site in 2001, or those worn by Dave Bowman and Frank Poole for the Jupiter mission, it just seems like a giant step backwards design wise. Hyams also opts for the use of sound in his space scenes, something Kubrick didn't do in his film.
On the whole the film would have been better if it hadn't been a sequel to 2001, it's not a dreadful film, it's just it's not a great one either, there's some great Visual FX shots by Richard Edlund and his team, some early use of CG for the scenes of Jupiter. Also there are some very nice character moments.
Arthur C.Clarke has two cameos in the film, once feeding pigeons on a park bench outside the White House, and on the cover of Time Magazine in a painting as the US President, Kubrick also appears on this cover as the Soviet President.
Also in one scene we see a poster in Heywood Floyds son's bedroom for the Olympics Beijing 08, as this was made in 1983 this was a pretty good prediction on their part seeing as though they didn't announce the location of the 2008 Olympics until around 2001.


Graeme Neil Reid said...

Excellent review and you are right its not a bad film its just nowhere near as good or imaginative as 2001 but thats an almost impossible task to accomplish.

I love 2001, I think I watched it about seven times just last year.

Great work as always! Happy 2010.

Fraser Lovatt said...

Great review of a terrible film -- reading your review was much more entertaining than the last time I watched 2010. As always, your skill for spotting the details is astonishing. And what a lucky guess for the Beijing Olympics!

Happy New Year, and looking forward to lots of great Glazebrook writing in the new 12 months!

allen etter said...

I remember showing 2010 to a girlfriend I was dating at the time (she loved 2001). She was so angry that Roy Schieder was cast in the roll instead of the original actor that she sulked through the whole movie.

Great review.

Niel Bushnell said...

I love your OCD!

Anonymous said...

The Apple ][c being used on the beach dated the movie to 1984 right away. I suffered through the rest of the movie, wishing I had picked another movie to see in that theater.

Fraser Lovatt said...

I think Andrew's observation about the monitors on the Discovery illustrate it perfectly -- Hyams was using special effects technology fifteen years ahead of Kubrick, yet managed to make the interior of the Odyssey look dated. Kubrick was obviously thinking way ahead when he used the "monitors" he chose.

Anonymous said...

Truly excellent analysis of this crappy unworthy wannabe film.