Friday, May 8, 2015

Film Friday: 2010 (1984)

With us touching upon the unique career of Roy Scheider, I thought it was appropriate to finally finish the Peter Hyams sci-fi trilogy: Capricorn One, Outland and now 2010. I view Outland as a masterpiece. Capricorn One is a good but not great and has been unfairly forgotten, especially against today’s dearth of worthwhile films. Then there is 2010. 2010 is simultaneously a strong, entertaining film and a complete and utter disappointment. Let’s discuss.


Here’s the background: 2010 is the supposed continuation of 2001. After killing his crew, the HAL 9000 brought the Discovery One into orbit around Jupiter. The US is planning to eventually go get it and find out why HAL went rogue.

As the story opens, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) is approached by a Russian agent. The man advises Floyd that the Discovery’s orbit is decaying faster than expected and that HAL will be destroyed in a crash with Jupiter’s moon Io before the Americans can get there. He also tells Floyd that the Soviets are preparing to launch a flight to get to HAL first. The problem is that the Soviets lack the ability to restart the Discovery and get information out of HAL. That is why the agent has approached Floyd, because the Russians want Floyd to go with them.
Of course the trip almost doesn’t happen because tensions between the Soviets and the Americans are so high that war seems inevitable and no one wants to help the Soviets get to HAL. Ultimately, however, an agreement is reached and Floyd and two other Americans ride along on the Soviet ship, the Leonov.

As they approach Jupiter, Floyd is awoken early by the Russian crew. Telemetry from Jupiter’s moon Europa shows something incredible: the possibility of life. Unfortunately, tensions are running even higher at home and the Russians have been ordered not to cooperate with Floyd. They try to land a probe on Europa, but it gets destroyed.
Soon enough, the Leonov comes to the Discovery. The Americans board the Discovery and restart HAL. At that point, they start getting messages from Dave Bowman, the former pilot of the Discovery who vanished at the end of 2001, that they need to leave the area within a certain number of days. To do this, they will need to sacrifice the Discovery, using it as a booster rocket to get the Leonov into the right position to return to Earth. But can they trust HAL to sacrifice himself?

In the end, they get a message from God basically telling them, “Stay off my lawn.”

Entertaining Movie, but Major Disappointment

As a movie goes, 2010 is quite entertaining. You’ve got a good plotline, with the need to get to the Discovery before its orbit decays. They set up good tension between the two crews and do a good job of overcoming that tension. They add excellent additional tension with the question of whether or not they can trust HAL. The effects are well done and the space scenes are smart and heart stopping. They feel more honest to me than Gravity. The solution to the film is clever and the bit about God at the end makes for a nice ribbon on the film.
I do question why the Russians would agree to this on the terms they do, which let the Americans claim the Discovery and keep the Russians out at their whim, but it doesn’t really detract from the film. All in all, this is a good science fiction adventure and, while it’s certainly not Top 10 material, it is much better than most of what the studios turn out today.

Where the film goes wrong is as a sequel to 2001. It’s interesting. If this hadn’t been a sequel to 2001, I suspect the film would have been ignored. Without the mystery of HAL sitting at the center of this film, it just doesn’t feel like enough to draw people in. Yet, the film craps all over the legacy of 2001.
2001 had a futuristic aesthetic. It took place at a time when humanity seemed more robotic and sterile. Fashions were futuristic. Their technology, while feeling dated to us today, felt futuristic and advanced when the film was made. Their technology was obviously superior to ours. The Earth was different too and there was little sense of dueling superpowers. To the contrary, the film seemed to suggest that humanity had moved beyond our conflicted world today and was ready for the next step in their evolution. 2010 was none of these things. 2010 takes place in a world that is virtually identical to the 1980’s in every way. From a technological, aesthetic and human evolution perspective, 2010 is an entirely different world than 2001, it is a world that feels a hundred years less advanced.

What’s more, the feel of the two movies is entirely different. 2001 was a contemplative, science fiction film that took its time to raise questions about the nature of humanity and where we were going as a species. It also suggested some higher guidance, but stopped well short of declaring a deity. To the contrary, it left you guessing as to who or what the obelisks were and who placed them where they were and what they really meant.

2010 is just a low-key action film. It mentions a couple of philosophical questions, but it never even bothers asking the questions those mentions imply, nor does it spend time developing those issues. It is the difference between being asked to contemplate the nature of silence and being told, “Gee, it’s quiet around here.” At no point does 2010 address human evolution, the nature of life, or really the afterlife. All it does in that regard is have God send a warning through a dead guy and then send a text message to Earth... “Stay off Europa beeeatches.”
To me, this is the real failure. I enjoy 2010 as an action adventure, but I wanted more. Being a sequel to one of the most contemplative films ever, you kind of expected either that the film would provide some answers or would ask a new set of questions. This one doesn’t. And the one answer it does provide, why HAL went all Hannibal Lecter on the crew just isn’t satisfying or even up to the level of what it was implied in 2001.

In 2001, we are given clues to HAL’s behavior, but no real answers. We see that HAL is arrogant, despite seeming emotionless. He notes that he cannot make mistakes... only humans make mistakes. He is cold-blooded and doesn’t think twice about murdering the crew. He doesn’t even give them a chance by killing half of them in their sleep. He seems to be a liar or lacks self-awareness or is perhaps insane at the end when he’s trying to tell Bowman that he’s “all right now.” He seems to cling to life, even though it shouldn’t matter to him one way or the other.
What does this all mean? I think it suggests that HAL has attained a level of sophistication in his programming where he has developed human flaws. Why? Well, that’s the interesting question. That is what 2010 needed to answer. But all 2010 offers by way of explanation is that HAL was given conflicting orders with the suggestion being that evil scientists programmed him to somethingsomething Ronald Reagan is evil mumblemumble somethingsomething. So when his orders to protect the crew and to complete the mission came into conflict, because he saw the crew as standing in the way of that (why he thought this is another key unexplained point), HAL resolved the conflict by murdering the crew. HAL is, in fact, the victim! Root causes root causes!!
Up yours. This is utter crap. First, the two key points to this explanation aren’t even explained. They are just glossed over: the evil military scientists did SOMETHING and HAL freaked because of SOMETHING! Secondly, and even worse, this explanation completely undoes the setup. This explanation turns all of HAL’s surprising and fascinating behavior into “the military programmed him to do that.” There is no longer any question about HAL evolving or what his conduct says about us... he vas just followik orders! That flies in the face of everything about 2001.

This film should have swung for the fences, but it never even thought about trying. That’s the shame here.



Jim said...

Yeah, the Apple IIc on the beach kind of brought the entire movie back to the present.

Easter eggs in the movie:
(1) Candice Bergen as the voice of SAL
(2) Arthur C. Clarke sitting on the adjacent bench in front of the White House feeding pigeons
(3) Clarke/Kubrick on the cover of Time as US/USSR presidents.

PikeBishop said...

"Hal was taught to lie." That is what I recall from the film

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, They present it as Hal was ordered to conceal the existence of the monoliths from the crew, which is what caused HAL to have a paranoid breakdown and kill the crew because it conflicted with his primary function of accurately processing information. Basically, HAL doesn't do garbage in, garbage out, he does garbage in, homicide out.

Dr. Chandra then goes apeship about that and accuses Floyd of causing HAL to go crazy by issuing that order and rambles about keeping secrets.

But that sidesteps all the questions raised by the first film. For example, (1) why would this bother HAL, computers resolve conflicts all the time through order of importance, (2) how can a computer develop paranoia and why would such a minor order do it, and (3) why would HAL's resolution be a third conflicting idea, i.e. to kill the crew, rather than simply violating one or the other orders or going blue screen of death? This answer sidesteps all the humanity aspects of HAL and basically makes him a stupid machine who choked on a bad bit of programming. So 2001 goes from being an exploration of the conflict between a machine that is capable of surpassing man versus man and becomes some astronauts who got killed by a computer error. That's a huge blow to the first film.

AndrewPrice said...

Jim, The Apple is the danger of using anything that looks like the stuff we use today! LOL!

Nice catch on the Easter Eggs.

Kit said...


So it is basically a slam against Reagan?

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, No, not really. Almost the entire movie is apolitical. But there are a couple moments where they inject politics. It starts basically by us being told that the decision on whether or not to let Floyd go is one the President must make and the President is presented as essentially pushing a war with the Russians over an issue in South America (this was when liberals were pushing hard against Reagan for his Nicaragua policy). It comes across that the US is as much the aggressor as the Russians.

As the film progresses, that falls into the background with some stupid lines about God help us all and that kind of nonsense which sounds super insincere when it's delivered.

Of course, Floyd needs to comment on how stupid everyone back on Earth is compared to how enlightened they could be on the Leonov. That too falls away quickly, however.

And then Chandra delivers a couple speeches that come across as "you evil military/secret police types and your evil need to have enemies and keep secrets... you made poor HAL sick!!"

Those moments always struck me as aimed directly at Reagan over Nicaragua and the Contras and the arms build up they hated. But beyond those moments, the film is entirely without a political bent.

These days, few people would likely even make the connection to Reagan because the issue is long gone.

Kit said...


I haven't seen this movie since VHS was still in fashion.

ScottDS said...

"Peter Hyams sci-fi trilogy" is a registered trademark of ScottDS. :-D

I enjoy this movie very much and it's kinda become one of the movies I put on in the background when I have other things to do. It sounds like I'm knocking the movie, but it's pleasant enough and helps the time go by. I can't explain it.


-the actors

-the visual effects... I'm an ILM fanboy but this is one year when I don't think they deserved the Oscar. They won for Temple of Doom but either of the other nominees—this and Ghostbusters, both supervised by Richard Edlund of Boss Film Studios—were more deserving of the gold!

-the music... we get some Strauss and Ligeti along with original music by David Shire, which I believe is both orchestral and synth... I enjoy the music very much, especially the triumphant theme near the end.

-the sound design... I don't know whose idea it was to use whale-like sounds for outer space, but job well done! They add to the weird ambiance.

-the general atmosphere... it's not a shoot 'em up... it's an actual science fiction movie with professionals doing what they do best to solve the problem... they don't make enough of those nowadays!


-Hyams' scripts often feature very sarcastic characters but this is one instance where he goes overboard with it. Scheider makes it work, Lithgow doesn't.

-And speaking of Lithgow, I think Hyams went a little overboard with making his character too much of a chickenshit during the EVA scene.

-Yeah, the political stuff (such as it is) is a bit too on the nose. I'd be happy if they just cut Lithgow's "The goddamn White House!" clunker of a line.

-The voice-over... I'd LOVE to re-edit this film to remove the voice-over... it's waaaaay too much. And Scheider delivers three variations of the same line: "Something incredible's happening up there/over there/down there"!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It's an entertaining movie and I recommend seeing it just to add it to your knowledge of sci-fi, but it's really not going to add anything to 2001.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree with your points! I particularly agree that this is good science fiction in the sense that it involved professionals doing their job in space and the drama that comes from that without adding the fake conflict of laser fights and the such.

98ZJUSMC said...

I suspect the cold war tension, "reactionist" President, yada yada...was all done because Reagan.

.....and eeee-vil Republicans.

I liked the movie. I always just rolled my eyes at that part and continued on with it.

K said...

The Earth was different too and there was little sense of dueling superpowers. To the contrary, the film seemed to suggest that humanity had moved beyond our conflicted world today and was ready for the next step in their evolution.

When the apes throw the bone in the air and it turns into a satellite, it's a nuke armed satellite designed to launch it's warheads at the ground. All the other satellites shown are other countries (China, Germany) nuke-sats as well, so the political tension was in 2001, just not explicitly shown. In 2010, the story required that aspect to be called out front and center. Otherwise good review though.

AndrewPrice said...

98ZJUSMC, Welcome back! I saw it exactly the way you did, as an attack on Reagan. That's always bothered me, but as you do, I just ignore it and enjoy the rest of the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks K! On the bone, I believe it turns into the space station, which seems to be international in flavor. I think the main American even speaks with two Russians on board the station. So I don't think there is any political tension meant.

Anonymous said...

Several years too late, but I have to say I agree 100%. I enjoyed the movie (excellent performances and it was anything but slow), but it's not on the same level as 2001.

For one, it's plot-driven and character-driven, where 2001 was theme-driven. HAL isn't evil, he's a modern Golem--a symbol of man's hubris in trying to create a mind in his own image, and thus attain godhood. Of course, since man is flawed, his creation is flawed, and turns on him.

The whole bones-to-nukes transition is a way of saying despite our intellect and technology, we're still basically monkeys hitting each other with sticks. We just developed more impressive sticks. We're not really any wiser in our understanding of life, though.

That's why Bowman has to dismantle HAL in order to be "worthy" to go through the Stargate and evolve beyond human imperfection. It's an act of contrition and humility. At its core, 2001 is really a religious film.

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