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.

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