2010, film and book

2010: The Year We Make Contact won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1985

The other finalists were, in order of finishing, Ghostbusters, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the David Lynch Dune and The Last Starfighter. All were cinematic productions. I have seen all but the last of these. In general they are a rather uninspiring bunch, TBH, and I think I'd have voted for Ghostbusters. The really important question is, why on earth did The Terminator not get on the final ballot? It's top of one of the IMDB rankings for the year (admittedly beaten by Dune and Ghostbusters on the other), and surely the most memorable SF film of 1984.

In case you didn't know, 2010 is the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, seventeen years on. Apart from Douglas Rain as the Voice of HAL, there is just one visible returnee from the first film – Keir Dullea as transmogrified astronaut Dave Bowman.

There are a surprising number of returnees from previous Oscar winners. We have seen all three American astronauts before. Roy Scheider, Heywood Floyd here, was Russo in The French Connection fourteen years ago.

Bob Balaban and John Lithgow, here Dr Chandra and Dr Curnow, were respectively the student who gets a blowjob from Robert Redford in Midnight Cowboy, sixteen years ago, and Debra Winger's bank manager lover in Terms of Endearment last year.

And Dana Elcar, here Russian space expert Dimitri Moisewitch, was FBI agent Polk in The Sting twelve years ago (like Bob Balaban, appearing with Robert Redford).

Peter Hyams is no Stanley Kubrick, and although this is a gorgeous film to look at, and it got five Oscar nominations in the technical categories, there's a bit of a missing heart. We are shown the set-up with Floyd's wife and son, but no real closure; there's an intense emotional moment when a cute Russian cosmonaut finds comfort in Floyd's arms, but then they barely speak to each other again. Helen Mirren is great but underused as the Russian spaceship captain.

Because it's not so very clear what the film is about in human terms, the Cold War subplot becomes more dominant than was perhaps intended (certainly more so than in the novel); and that's also a barrier to today's viewer. In 1984 there seemed no reason to doubt that the Soviet Union would still be there in 2010, but in fact it lasted only another six years. The importance of the theme is reinforced by a mocked-up Time magazine cover with Clarke as the US president and Kubrick as the Soviet leader.

The effects are still gorgeous, as I said.

Basically it's a film that goes through the numbers of adapting Clarke's sequel novel to the screen, leaving out some of the good bits for lack of money and time.

As for the novel, the second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Even after all these years, and his endless reviews of the data radioed back from Discovery, he was not sure what had gone wrong. He could only formulate theories; the facts he needed were frozen in Hal's circuits, out there between Jupiter and Io.

There's nothing terribly wrong with the novel, but nothing terribly right about it either. Having spent the 1970s working on the three books from what was then the biggest book deal in science fiction history, Clarke came back to 2001 partly because he was interested to follow the story, but also I'm sure partly because he realised he could make a lot of money from it. There are some good bits that are not in the film – the relationships between the astronauts, and Floyd's marriage, are all given a lot more detail, the tragic story of the Chinese expedition is a well-judged interlude, and we actually get to see the alien life of the Jupiter system. But it's also clearly written not to end the story but to continue it. I rushed out and bought this when it came out, but did not do the same for the later books in the series, and I don't think I was alone in reacting that way. I love almost all of Clarke's work, partly for teenage nostalgia and partly for genuine sensawunda, but this is not at the top of my list. You can get it here.

The next Hugo winner is Back to the Future, but I have leapt ahead and will do a later winner first.

One thought on “2010, film and book

  1. I have many reasons to doubt almost all of the stories regarding Corbyn’s alleged incompetence.

    This is the New Labour machinery we’re dealing with here. An organisation that had no qualms about producing the dodgy dossier to take this country to war.

    Rubbishing everything Corbyn does is small potatoes to them.

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