With the new and excellent facelift, I thought I should crack my Supernaughts cherry at long last. I’m not the greatest one for the discipline of writing things down, which is something I admire in all you writey prosemakers out there, but every now and again I have been known to do it. Forgive the rehash of something that was published back in the first weeks of Talkbacker in 2013. It’s still probably one of the best things I’ve ever written (lol), and Slate has kindly allowed me to republish here. So here goes, the Colonel’s praise of a sequel to a much beloved film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
My God, it’s full of stars!
Here’s the thing, I prefer 2010: The Year We Make Contact to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Is 2010 a better film than 2001? Probably not. Kubrick’s masterpiece is just that. A masterpiece. A groundbreaking study in effects, and minimal storytelling. It is a fascinating film, with some big fat ideas to chew on, but it is a cold movie. Not so much fun on the rewatch scale for me. I’ve seen 2001 a couple of times, but I own 2010 on DVD.
Released in 1984, 2010 is an excellent sequel, that picks up the 2001 story almost where it left off. It is the height of the Cold War, and USSR and US are at each others throats over a crisis currently going off in an unnamed Central American country. A strange signal is discovered coming from Jupiter, and both Superpowers want to check it out. Discovery, HAL’s original ship is still abandoned in orbit around Jupiter.The orbit had been stable, but now the ship seems to be drifting inextricably into Jupiter, and will be gone in a year. The USSR has a ship ready to go now, but the Americans are the only ones with the codes for Discovery, and if Russia just goes on their own, then they will have no way of making Discovery tell them what went on, and why HAL killed the original crew. Does it have something to do with the signal from Jupiter?
So in an act of Détente, USSR agrees to take three Americans in a joint mission. Something that is show to be unprecidented in the current high tension environment that exists between the Cold War empires. The three Americans are Roy Schieder as the Mission Controller from the original Discovery mission (who is still haunted by the seemingly total failure of that mission), John Lithgow as the Chief Engineer of Discovery (the man who can get her going again), and Bob Balaban as the creator and designer of HAL (Bill Gates ultranerd). There is a crew of Russians, including a most foxy late 20’s/early 30’s Helen Mirren (who, fun fact readers, is the daughter of Russian immigrants, and speaks Russian).
After 7 months of hyper sleep, Scheider is woken up first. On the approach to Jupiter, the crew have discovered a strange signal coming from Europa. Also strange reading that hint of possible organic life. Closer investigation discovers a Monolith in orbit over Europa. But not the small, monkey worshiping variety, but a two kilometre monster.
They radio back to Earth to discover the situation is at Def Con something bad back at home, and both nations hate the idea of cooperating. But there is still this strange signal from Europa. What to do, what to do?
There are some wonderful sci-fi ideas going on here. Although the FX are of the time, and even look a little Red Dwarf in places, it is not hard to buy into the wonder of the mission. There is a cool as fuck slowing down scene, where the Russian ship has to skim the atmosphere of Jupiter to slow itself down. A theoretic maneuver that has never been tried before. Schneider and a female Russian crew member have their own mini détente, as they cling the fuck to each other in a lifecraft sort of thing, as the ship decelerates thousands of MPH in only a few seconds.
Another wonderful scene, is the Russian ship putting itself into synchronous orbit with the spinning Discovery, and a Russian, and a shit scared John Lithgow have to launch themselves across space to create a bridge between the two spacecraft. Even with 80’s effects, it is a beautiful scene, as either the ship or Jupiter spin around you. A shot I have seen recently used in the Gravity trailers.
Things progress. Shit gets worse at home, and both crews are ordered to stop working together. The Americans are ordered off the Russian ship back to Discovery, which is considered US territory. But there is still this signal on Europa. And now something strange has started happening on Jupiter too. Shit starts to get metaphysical, and Keir Dullea (Mr. My God, Its Full Of Stars) makes an appearance.
It is directed with confidence by Peter Hyams. It uses sound design as spacely and cleverly as 2001, and is a strong companion piece, not a souless cash-in.
I shall leave it there, but to add one final thought. The film has one of my favourite lines of dialogue in it ever. A message is sent to Earth. One full of hope for the future.
Now if someone will just make 2061, the next sequel please! I want to know what happens next, and unlike Dave Bowman, I ain’t getting any younger!
Over and frakking out!