The Treachery of 2010 (The Film, Not the Year)

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 3, 2010 in Cinema, Pulp Fiction |

title 2010

On paper 2010 has all of the ingredients of a great film: A story by Arthur C. Clarke, a cast that includes A+ actors like John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Roy Scheider — and then add to that you’ve got a visual genius like Syd Mead working on the production design. Even more impressive is the fact that as a genre hard science fiction films represent a blank canvas of possibilities. Yet as a film fanboy (who loves science fiction) I hated every frame of it.

Why? Because to me the film is a slander on the memory of Stanley Kubrick, who was the real genius behind 2001: A Space Odyssey. And to me 2001 was more than just a great science fiction film — but instead it was a great film standing above a genre categorization. And that’s where 2010 goes wrong: Kubrick merely based his film on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke called The Sentinel. But the vision to take that short story to the next level was a result of the hard work that Kubrick did for years before the film was ever shot. Yes Kubrick “co-wrote” the film with Clarke — but what made it a great film was Kubrick.

Time magazine cover from the film 2010 which features Clarke and Kubrick

In fact I’ll take this to the next stage: Even the very notion of Arthur C. Clarke writing a novel with the same name as that film was a pretentious move by Clarke to cash in on the moment. The film didn’t need a novel to make it better — the film was a great film all by itself. And what kills me is that Clarke as a creative professional should have known this. And I say this with the greatest respect to Clarke who wrote some amazing novels like Childhood’s End.

But while the genius of Kubrick was to have made great films in spite of Hollywood — Arthur C. Clarke seemed to get sucked into the intellectual void of tinsel town. And thus while Clarke had the legal rights to write the book 2010: Odyssey Two he clearly lacked the creative license to pull it off. Why? Because the genius of the film is that it’s about humanities contact with an extraterrestrial civilization — and that plot just didn’t need anything added to it to make it better. It would be like make a sequel to Citizen Kane — it’s just a morally bankrupt idea.

Arthur C. Clarke appeared in one scene in the film 2010 (that is him on the far left).

Above: Arthur C. Clarke appeared in one scene in the film 2010 — that’s him on the far left. It’s as if he was too embarrassed to do a proper cameo.

And even the fanboys of the 80s knew this: 2010: Odyssey Two was up for a Hugo Award for best novel in 1983. Did it win? Hell no! They gave that honor to Isaac Asimov for his schlocky sequel Foundation’s Edge. But to Asimov’s credit he was the only talent behind the Foundation series, not to mention the fact that writing a fourth act to a space opera isn’t exactly the worst thing you can do in the world.

2010: Odyssey Two

The cover illustration of 2010: Odyssey Two by Michael Whelan

Sadly even the cover art of 2010: Odyssey Two by Michael Whelan screams Kubrick! You’ve got every visual device that he created for the film — the monolith, the starchild, the Discovery and even Jupiter which was picked because they didn’t the effects to pull off Saturn. I read the novel when it came out and it was decent enough, but frankly it was no different than any Star Trek or Star Wars novel that you might have read. So as a fan fiction author Arthur C. Clarke is pretty much as good as you can get.

But frankly Clarke knew better that this was just fan fiction — in fact this was a Hollywood pitch. A pitch for a film he knew would get made, a pitch for a film that he knew would give him gobs and gobs of cash. But it was also a film that Kubrick wouldn’t have anything to do with, because Stanley actually gave a damn about quality. By 1987 Kubrick would go on to release Full Metal Jacket and in that same year Clarke released 2061: Odyssey Three which thankfully was never made into a film.

The film 2010 ripping off Kubrick

Above: To his credit Hyams does his own cinematography, but even here he’s ripping off Kubrick.

And thus we move to the abomination of cinema that is 2010. Hollywood picked Peter Hyams to direct the flick, now Hyams is a good director but he’s not a great director. During the 80s you had directors like Ridley Scott making Blade Runner or Terry Gilliam with Brazil but Hyams just isn’t in this league. His films previous to this were Capricorn One and Outland which were fun sci fi flicks, but they weren’t brilliant. The best film that Hyam would go on to crank out was Timecop which was a great “B film” but not what I’d call a classic. Hyam makes the films that you might catch on late night cable, but not the sort of film that you’d buy the director’s cut box set of the DVD.

Roy Scheider is playing Dr. Heywood R. Floyd

Above: Roy Scheider trying his best to play Dr. Heywood R. Floyd.

William Sylvester as Dr. Heywood R. Floyd

William Sylvester as Dr. Heywood R. Floyd

So the very foundation of 2010 starts off with bad fan fiction and an average director — and the rest of the film falls into rapid mediocrity. Roy Scheider is a good actor, but here he’s playing Dr. Heywood R. Floyd but his portrayal comes off a bit too blue collar to fill the shoes of William Sylvester. John Lithgow who shared the screen with Scheider in All That Jazz is in this film too, but he sort of seems out of place in outer space. Helen Mirren was in this film and would go on to nab an Academy Award, but her presence in 2010 seems to be wasted on the screen.

John Lithgow in 2010

Above: John Lithgow is a great comedic actor, but was that good casting for this film?

As a result 2010 comes off as a Timecop take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you love science fiction you’ll watch all 116 minutes as a result, but you won’t catch yourself buying the poster on eBay if you know what I mean. In fact one might argue that 2010 is so average that it makes you realize just how good Kubrick is when it comes to filmmaking.

I half suspect that Kubrick realized this himself because he didn’t fight the film being made. In fact when Hyams contacted Kubrick for his blessing he told him:”Don’t be afraid. Just go do your own movie.” What Kubrick is really saying to Hyams is that he’s just not in the same league, it’s as if he’s taunting him with this comment but Hyams is just too thick to get the joke. And if to further miss the point that Kubrick was the genius behind 2001 Hyams invested a great deal of time corresponding with Clarke when working on the script.

A scene from the film 2010

Above: Yes this is an actual frame from the film 2010! I’m not kidding you…

To his credit Hyams did the best movie he could, but his best efforts produced an average film. And looking back at the 80s you can see that Kubrick sort of had his revenge — you have a decade when so many amazing science fiction films were made, but 2010 just isn’t one of them. And where 2001 ended with a mind blowing first contact experience, Hyams leaves us with the lackluster warning that humans shouldn’t go messing Europa:


P.S. I think the Aliens were really warning Hollywood to not make a third film and leave well enough alone…

Keir Dullea in 2010

Above: The one good thing about this film was that poor Keir Dullea got a payday out of it — sadly after this film he didn’t do too much except land roles in Murder, She Wrote and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.


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