Thursday, November 27, 2014

2010 center-pin Frank Yablans dead at 79

On Thursday, November 27, 2014, New York-born Frank Yablans, who was the president of Paramount Pictures during the era that produced movies including Chinatown and The Godfather, died of natural causes at his home in L.A., according to his son, ICM Partners agent Edvard Yablans. Yablans was 79.

Frank Yablans with Diana Ross.

Investor Kirk Kerkorian brought him on as vice chairman and chief operating officer and co-chairman of MGM from 1983 to 1985. During this time Yablans began to restructure the companies United Artists and MGM, creating MGM/UA as a single company, drastically reducing costs. Immediately after assuming his responsibilities at MGM/UA, Yablans launched a program to attract new talent all the while keeping costs manageable.

It was during this time he was instrumental in bringing 2010 to the silver screen. Having produced Peter Hyams' The Star Chamber, Hyams was Yablans' first choice as director once MGM/UA had procured the movie rights to Clarke's novel, after ceremoniously having offered the director's chair to Stanley Kubrick knowing full well the offer would be equally ceremoniously declined. Hyams, too, declined the offer, several times in fact, but Yablans was adamant: Hyams was to be the director. Ultimately Yablans got his way; Hyams relented and the movie became a reality.

However despite Yablans’ efforts to reduce costs by combining the historic studio with United Artists, the studio continued to face financial troubles. By March 10, 1985, the movie 2010 had earned $40.700.000 domestically, but Kirk Kerkorian was "impatient" and had the blunt-spoken and direct Yablans removed from the company.

Yablans proceeded to set up his own venture and produced films and television productions until the end of his life.

His son Edvard Yablans put it succinctly: "He never retired."

(Article in Variety magazine)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The cars of 2010

What will personal transportation look like in the future, four years ago, in 2010? Peter Hyams has his own ideas regarding the issue.

The cars, or rather the car of 2010: The Year We Make Contact is seldom mentioned. Perhaps it is because only one single car is seen driving in the movie, and it is seen only once. (A television advertisement for Sheraton hotels shows people exiting a DeLorean for a couple of seconds, but it is merely ancillary.) In any case, this article tries to rectify the lapse.

Design concept for the concept car.

Science fiction and fantasy movies often have specially made ad hoc cars and other vehicles, novelty items created by the prop department specifically as props for the movie. Not so in 2010. The car in question is an actual, driveable, real, bona fide car, created by a third party. What is this mystery car, then?

The car is a Ford Probe IV Concept Car, built in 1982/1983 by the Ford motor company. Ford launched a Probe model in 1989, but this vehicle is a completely different beast. The Ford concept cars were never meant to be templates for production models, but rather feasibility studies. Car companies made and still make concept cars, often outrageous designs never even remotely considered for production, but rather as eye catchers at shows. The Probe however was different. Fully operational and innovative, is was conceivably the most advanced concept car Ford ever made.

As is apparent from the model number - the roman numeral IV - there should have been three previous concept cars, right? Wrong. The Probe II Concept Car was never made, and number 1 obviously never had a number. In addition Probe III was only targeted for European markets and was a creation of Ford Europe. This means Probe IV was, despite the numeral, essentially the second general Ford Concept Car.

Ford Probe
1983 promotional picture for the concept car with wheel strakes clearly visible.

Probe IV was created after the 1979 Oil Shock, a largely manufactured energy crisis that never the less had real world repercussions. For the first time aerodynamics and fuel efficiency were brought to the forefront in car design. Car designs prior to the '79 crisis fundamentally looked like barges compared to the sleek, arrow-like designs that came after it.

Looking Forward

Probe IV was the epitome of aerodynamic thinking of the day. One of the most striking features of the design are the urethane wheel enclosures, created to minimize wheel well turbulence and to reduce drag. The membrane 'skirts' bulged and shifted with the wheels when turning the vehicle, reducing aero drag remarkably. There were other innovations in the design, as well. The undercar airflow was reduced by a streamlined belly pan and strakes in front of and behind the wheels. The front headlights were housed in a cone-like plastic casing. The seats were molded sling seats to reduce roof height while maintaining driving comfort. The windscreen had a wind spoiler at the base, and even the emblems and logos were flush with the car surface. In fact, the entire car changed posture when driving at higher speeds: the front end could 'dip' four inches, and the rear end could be raised up to six inches, all to create a more aerodynamic driving profile. As a result, Probe IV had a Cd (drag coefficient for the un-initiated) of 0.152, the same as an F-16 fighter jet.

The only car in the movie.

There are not many outdoor scenes in the movie at all. Perhaps that is why the Probe is so visible. Being photographed from the front, alert viewers can also notice the strangely thin tires of the vehicle, thin discs that almost look like bicycle tires. The thinness is not due to any optical illusion: the tires were P155/75R-16 LDC thin profile tires with a low drag tread pattern specially-developed by Goodyear for the Probe IV to reduce drag and raise fuel efficiency.

Looking Further

According to production designer Albert Brenner, director Peter Hyams requested the Ford because "he wanted the most advanced design car he could find." However, one little detail seems to suggest that even the advanced Probe was a bit too limited.

When the car passes the viewer, the distinct humming of an electric motor can be heard. The Probe IV however made no such sound; the scene was in fact shot silent and all the dialogue and audio effects, including the electric hum, were added in post-production by Richard Anderson's sound department. The Probe IV was after all powered by fossil fuel. A turbo-charged 1.6 liter engine, tilted almost flat to reduce hood height, but a fossil fuel engine never the less. Electric it was not.

While the Probe IV was a very forward-thinking vehicle, with plenty of clever designs, it seems director Peter Hyams wanted to go one step further.

Images copyright ©1982-1983 Ford Motor Corporation, ©1984 MGM.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2010 Picture Archive

The 2010 Odyssey Archive maintains an amazing resource for Peter Hyams' 20102010 picture archive

The biggest 2010 archive on the internet, bar none.

The archive is the most comprehensive picture collection regarding 2010: The Year We Make Contact available anywhere on the Internet, with over a thousand pictures about the movie, about the filming, about the props, and of course about the legacy of 2010.

Please be sure to check it out.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It was the best of Hyams, it was the worst of Hyams

The mysteries surrounding the Monolith were, perhaps, explained in 2010. On the other hand, the answer we received was, perhaps, not meant for the question we asked.

It seems people are of two minds regarding Peter Hyams' 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Either some people do not particularly like it for what it is not - mostly because it is a sequel to one of the most heralded movies in all of science fiction, conceivably all of cinema - or then they like it for what it actually is: a well crafted science fiction tale.

The Leonov heading for the Jovian system.

2010 came out in late 1984. To present a little bit of context this was the year that witnessed the release of TerminatorGhostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop. Among the light fluff of the 1984 movie canvas, 2010 was rather an oddity: a cerebral science fiction film with a positive message, in a time when all others around it were focusing on oddball comedy, savage robots, and marshmallow men.

The main reason for the more negative reviews seemed to be that it was (and is) very difficult - almost impossible - to decouple the movie from its formidable older sibling. If, however, one manages to do that one can notice that 2010 is, in fact, not a bad movie at all.

The most common criticism raised against 2001: A Space Odyssey is the impenetrable symbolism contained in the imagery. Because imagery is what it is, the first sound of a human voice comes at almost half an hour into the movie. In contrast, humanity is at the very core of Hyams' film. The first time we hear a human voice in 2010: The Year We Make Contact is at 00:00 seconds. The entire movie in fact opens with Dave Bowman's utterance of total amazement: 'My God, it's full of stars.'

The mystery reveals itself.

Andrej Tarkovsky said he made Solaris in response to the "cold and sterile" world of 2001. He felt Kubrick's movie was focused on tech and "lacked humanism". It cannot be denied, to a great extent the 1968 movie was and still is a tour-de-force of technology. In Tarkovsky's words, Kubrick "forgets about man, about his moral problems", arguing that such an approach leaves no place for people. While the Russian directors "anti-2001" arguments were drummed up a couple of notches too much in the Cold War narrative - and we now can (with 20-20 hindsight) see 2001 and Solaris as cousins and not antagonists - there is a grain of truth in Tarkovsky's words.

Where the elder sibling of 2010 was inaccessible and mysterious, the follow-up is an accessible, positive tale. All 2001 did was ask questions, it provided no real interpretations to any of the issues it examined. To be fair Solaris never offered any resolutions either, it only offered us a sense of grief.

2010, on the other hand, finally grants us a reply - at least partly - and states that the answer is a benevolent one. It tells us the Universe is not, after all, a hostile place. The Cosmos is host to a benign force, a compassionate instrumentality - one that goes the distance to offset the merciless indifference of what has been called the "hopeless distance" of the megacosm.

There is something out there, and I think they will be our friends.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM.