Thursday, November 03, 2005
Piece of pie.
Jess suggested that it may be worthwhile to post a negative review here and there, for perspective's sake. So let's talk about a film I find truly offensive - 2010, a sequel to my favorite movie that prefers exposition to enigma and hardware to poetry.
The film picks up in the titular year, as the first film's Dr. Heywood Floyd - played here by Roy Scheider - leads an American-Soviet space expedition to Jupiter in the hopes of boarding the abandoned U.S.S. Discovery, rebooting HAL, and finding out what happened to astronaut Dave Bowman. At one point, Floyd says of the famous monolith from both films that he has a lot of questions, and suspects that the answers the monolith could provide are much bigger than the questions. This typifies director Peter Hyams' wrongheaded material to the approach - he wants to give us big answers, whereas Stanley Kubrick understood that this would be wrongheaded grandstanding with a subject so immense. Kubrick embraces ambiguity - the unknowable - in his films, often to the frustration of audiences who prefer to be spoon-fed. To be clear, I think there are perfectly valid reasons to dislike 2001 - its performances are intentionally flat, and the deliberate pace can be challenging. But I could only regard a person that prefers 2010 to the original as a person that rarely dreams, and such a person has no place in my cinema.
It's not just that 2010 is a very different film from the original. James Cameron's Aliens was drastically different in tone, style, and even genre from Ridley Scott's original. But in that case, the difference in directors was a breath of fresh air; Aliens gives extra depth to the protagonist and further explores the world of the first film. 2010 trashes the world of 2001, and Hyams doesn't create anything of interest in its place. For starters, he betrays the silent space of the earlier film, giving us spacecrafts and strange lightshows that "WHOOSH!" and "ROAR!" In any other movie I wouldn't mind this, but seriously, if Hyams can do this, does he even like 2001? Why even make a sequel to 2001 if one of the things that makes it so distinctive is apparently disposable? It'd be like making a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind but replacing the five-note greeting with Coldplay - it's vulgar and dumb.
2010 exists to resolve the "loose ends" (as a character in the film says) from the first film. This consists of both spelling out what Kubrick had already implied and defining things that simply should not be defined. The character of Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), HAL's inventor, informs us that HAL's malfunction was the result of his attempts to serve his contradictory orders - that is, both the publicized aspects of the mission to Jupiter and the top-secret ones. We could have guessed this already, but Hyams discards the more disturbing implications of this and leaves us with the moral "It's wrong to lie, even to computers." Gee, thanks. As for the monoliths, if you haven't actually seen the ending of 2010, then you probably should see it for yourself. Let's just say that a giant word processor is really quite pathetic compared to what 2001 promised. Kubrick's film blew the lid off of speculative fiction; Hyams tries to jam it shut again.
The biggest problem with 2010 is the absence of awe. The one scene that produces any tension is the space walk between the Russian space station and the Discovery. John Lithgow and Elya Baskin are both believably terrified as they drift through space, and the scene ends with a nice shared moment between the two actors. But what a disappointment it is that, in staring into the vastness of space, the only emotional truth that Hyams can find is fear. This is a film without wonder or imagination, one that gives us a last-minute call for peace that feels cold and insincere. At one point, the Star Child, the most optimistic and moving image that cinema has yet produced, appears aboard the discovery. But it's small, and it's just there for effect, devoid of meaning - it's just a fetus, whereas before, it was a god.
My god, it's full of shit.