Monday, November 7, 2016

End of Blog

Everything runs its course. Seemingly, so do blogs.

So it has at long last come to this; the final entry in the worlds longest-running blog about the 2010 movie.

It has been fun researching the motion picture, it has been fun to talk with the producers of the movie, and it has been both entertaining and educational to find out how things were created in the strange twilight zone on the cusp of the CGI era. While the movie itself has never been regarded as the classic it's predecessor was, it is still a worthy picture. I think this blog stands as ample proof of that.

Standing in the doorway between the analog and the digital, the movie has always been the odd one out; the strange, distant cousin. Watching it one feels the same emotions as one does when cheering for the under-dog: wishing it would be just a tiny bit more profound, just a fraction more engaging, just a little deeper. Just a little bit better.

The fact is it is not.

There is only so much one can say about the film, and I feel everything that can possibly be said about the movie has been said in this blog. There is precious little to add.

This has been entertaining.
This has been fun.

This is the end.

Hey, Peter Hyams, contact me, okay?

End of blog.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

From Hal to HAL - Part 2: Varsity

DOUGLAS ENROLLED at the University of Manitoba in 1946. The UoM, located in his home town of Winnipeg, was the first university in Western Canada. Immediately upon enrolling, he joined the Dramatic Society at the university and began honing his craft. It was not the first time he was acting with the Dramatic Society – he had previously participated in many productions with them – but this time he joined as a university student.

Canadian theatre was in a bit of an upheaval in the post-war years; to that date theatre in Canada had traditionally been either imported from Europe or it was in the hands of amateur groups, such as all the various companies Douglas had been in contact with. It was at this point – at the university – that he began to feel the first inklings of frustration; a mild irritation about the absence of professional opportunities within Canadian theatre.

One of the first major productions of the Dramatic Society that Doug was involved in was the comedy The Male Animal, which played only two days, on November 22 and 23 in 1946.

During the 1946 to 1947 season the Dramatic Society was very active, producing a total of thirteen plays, and it extended its activities to include several new groups.

[Section removed awaiting publishing.]

At the University of Manitoba, Noel Coward's comedy The Young Idea, directed by Robert Jarman, was the major production of 1946, presented at the University Auditorium, November 26 to November 29. The play was a story about a man whose sons from a previous marriage show up to break up his new marriage. Douglas Rain played Sholto, one the children in the play, and again his work was described in the press as “outstanding”.

On Friday, January 31, 1947, the Dramatic Society performed the play The Woodcarver’s Wife at the second annual Inter-Varsity Festival. Douglas acted the role of Louis de Lotbiniere. The entry of the University of Alberta was Bernard’s play Martine. The University of British Columbia was also present at the festival, presenting their production of Solomon’s Folly, a comedy about Solomon’s scribe Sofar, “the brains behind Solomon’s wisdom“, written by Sydney box and directed by Lacey Fisher. Among the members of the Players Club from UBC was a third year Arts student and young actress from Vancouver called Lois Shaw. Miss Shaw, who was a couple of years older than Douglas, was studying English and arts at the British Columbia University. She was very engaged in the university theatre group and had acted in several plays, as well as directed them. She had even been involved in other parts of the production, and done marketing, costuming and make-up. For this play she was assistant director. Young Douglas was quite impressed with her.

[Section removed awaiting publishing.]

In 1947 the major production was Maxwell Anderson's “relentless drama” Winterset, a sordid tale of injustice and brutality, presented at the Playhouse from November 27 to November 29 of 1947. Again Dramatic Society stalwart Robert Jarman was directing. Doug Rain and Joan Purdom were cast in the leading roles, Doug as Mio, a man who tries to correct injustices befallen his dead father, and Joan as Mirianne, Mio’s love interest. Again it was Doug “who received comment for his acting”.

Yet, even after all of this Douglas still felt that theatre in Canada was too immature, too un-professional. He felt very dissatisfied with what the scene had to offer. Theatre in Canada was in the midst of an identity crisis. In the 1800s Canadian actors were predominantly working in the United States or in Britain. When Canadian actors did manage to eke out a living they usually did so as part of touring companies. The advent of cinema and radio, and ultimately the emerging television industry put a definitive end to the tours. Grassroots companies had sprung up everywhere as a response, but they were all amateurish, and had very little money.

Douglas knew he needed to do something, but he didn’t really know what it was.

[Section removed awaiting publishing.]

In early 1948, at the end of January, Doug again took part in the Inter-Varsity Play Parade, this time it was the third time the festival was held. The festival was – as always – a non-competitive event, and no public reviews were made, although adjudicators were of course present to talk privately about the plays, this time in the form of Professor Emrys M. Jones, head of the drama department of the University of Saskatchewan and 1947 adjudicator of the Dominion Drama Festival. Manitoba presented Canadian playwright Bernard Dryer’s satirical comedy John Doe, a drama directed by Manitoba’s familiar director Robert Jarman, with “well known Winnipeg actor” Doug Rain cast in the title role. The University of British Columbia was also present, as usual, and presented their one-act adaptation of American playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da Capo, a drama about the war, directed by Joy Coghill. The leading part, Columbine, was played by a certain Vancouver actress called Lois Shaw.

Again Douglas’ and Lois’ paths had crossed.

[Section removed awaiting publishing.]

Doug soldiered on with his studies, trying to fit as much acting as possible into his busy university schedule. Again and again he was faced with the fact that Canada had at the time very little to offer in the way of professional stage work. In his own words “there was nothing.”

During his time at the University of Manitoba, in the summers Douglas also studied acting at the Banff Centre, in the city of Banff in the Banff National Park, west of Calgary in Alberta. The Banff Centre was an outgrowth of the University of Alberta, and specifically of its Continuing Education department. Another student at the Banff Centre was Lois Shaw. By now Lois’ and Douglas’ meetings were quite a bit more than merely meet-ups of people with similar interest. I was not long before they became a couple.

[Section removed awaiting publishing.]

Douglas kept on working, and kept on carving away the rough edges of his acting. It kept producing results. He received the Canada Foundation’s Junior scholarship at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1948. The scholarship consisted of a two-year apprenticeship at the Old Vic Theatre in London, to be commenced at discretion.

By now rightfully somewhat of a veteran of radio plays, he maintained a moderately busy schedule of broadcast acting as well, making money on the side to support his studies. In 1949 he did the radio play The Devil’s Instrument. The play was part of Andrew Allan's "Stage" series for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Although he was again praised for his performance, he also felt the by now familiar feeling, as if he was stuck in amateur circles, doing the same things over and over again which he had already been doing for a decade and a half. The radio play was to be his last Canadian production for a long time.

Rain graduated from the University of Manitoba with a B.A. in 1950. Lois and Doug had by then decided to move out of the country.

Their destination was clear.

(This chapter is only a redacted preview of the second chapter of 'From Hal to HAL.' The other 9 chapters might be previewed later.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

From Hal to HAL - Part 1: The First Eighteen Years

THE RAINS of Winnipeg were, and still are, of mostly Scottish ancestry.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, on a strikingly beautiful Wednesday in the late spring of 1928, on the ninth day of the month of May – making him curiously a Taurus – Douglas James Rain was born into that Scottish heritage.

DOUGLAS WAS named after his father, James Rain. Coincidentally another James Rain, also from Winnipeg, was the president of the Scottish heritage association – the Manitoba Dumfries and Galloway association – but the Rains of Douglas' immediate family were not deeply involved in clanhood or in their general heritage; it was what it was, and that was the extent of it.

At the time he was born Winnipeg was completely different from the city it is today. Only 9 years prior the city had been rocked to her foundations by the General Strike, the biggest strike in Canadian history, and the effects could still be felt among the working class. Unemployment and social problems were still huge issues, and resentment still lingered among those that were, at least according to themselves, treated rather unfairly after the strike. On the other hand, the same year Doug was born Winnipeg finally got her own airport, Canada’s first international one, the Stevenson Aerodrome.

Winnipeg was at a crossroads in 1928; a sizable portion of the city’s population was still entangled in past events, whereas certainly as many were looking forward, and in doing so were inadvertently erasing their recent history. To a great extent, everything was more or less politicized.

Growing up on Oakwood Avenue in the Riverview neighborhood in Winnipeg, young Douglas had his own interests, and they were about neither politics nor clanhood. While both politics and genealogy as endeavors tend to be geared towards solitude and quiet time studying manuscripts, Douglas saw manuscripts in a different light. From a very young age the precocious boy displayed an attraction towards dramatics, towards the craft of the stage.

His parents recognized his talents early on, and at their behest he began studying at the Jean Campbell School of Speech Correction and Dramatic Art on Garwood Avenue in Fort Rouge. It was a Winnipeg drama and elocution school founded in 1920, and ran by Mary Pearl Craw, who at the time of founding still went by her maiden-name Rice, and her mentor Jean Campbell, who also was director of speech and dramatic art at St. Mary's all-girl catholic academy. Jean Campbell had herself been mentored by Jean Alexander, renowned speaker and writer, whose books were sold all over Canada. In fact Alexander and Campbell had been on tours together crisscrossing the country. So when other boys were playing scrub baseball on corner lots, Doug was trotting off to speech lessons. He learned voice production, breath control, the phrasing of lines and an easy familiarity with a dozen different accents. His first teacher at the elocution school was co-founder Pearl Craw. Pearl was always proud of the fact she was the one who had taught “young Douglas public speaking.”

Things progressed quickly for the young artist. In 1934, at the age of six, he became a performer at the local Radio Kiddies, and in December of the same year the press noticed a “diminutive” Douglas Rain “of the CJRC Radio Kiddies” entertaining blind children at the annual treat that the Lions' Club of Winnipeg gave at The Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The CJRC Radio Kiddies was novelty programming by James Richardson’s recently licensed 100 watt station, broadcasting out of Winnipeg. For his excellent contributions Doug received a monetary reward of 25 Canadian cents. Thus Douglas took his first step on his long path to becoming a professional.

At the age of seven – the age when children are usually sent to first grade of school – Douglas, just Doug to his friends, was already performing regularly. But of course he went to school, as well; Winnipeg public school.

Displaying ambition at such a young age seldom goes unnoticed. Sure enough, at the age of seven he was rendering monologues as a member of The Good Neighbors Club, a charity organization focusing on helping the homeless and unemployed, consisting of unmarried, young men who themselves were unemployed as well. The young boy was naturally noticed by the local press, especially for his “clever recitations” at one particular Irish night, delivering his reading in an impeccable Irish accent that could have fooled a native.

The Irish heritage was notable in Winnipeg, as were all the other European groups. The last quarter of the 19th century and the pre-war period of the 20th were characterized by extreme expansion of the city. This included a steady influx of people of all walks; workers, aids, and officials; and mainly immigrants; Winnipeg after all has the largest community of Icelanders in the world after Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The Rains were not keen on their heritage, however. Unlike most people of Scottish protestant heritage the Rains were mainly Unitarian, too. Douglas’ mother Mary, who was born Mary Jordan, was even on the Unitarian Service Committee staff of the local Unitarian Church. Further, although he was born in 1895 in Glasgow, Scotland, Douglas’ father Jimmy was not involved in any heritage association; he was working for Canadian National Railway. In fact, James was a veteran of World War 1, serving as a young man; he was only a couple of months shy of 19 years old when the war broke out; as a Private in the 184 Battalion of the Canadian Infantry in the Manitoba Regiment – regimental number 874520 – receiving a Military Medal for his actions in the conflict. This was not common in Winnipeg; the city had the highest percentage of conscript defaults in western Canada, second only to Montreal.

Although not an actor himself, the elder Douglas James was a straight shooter who stood by his son, whatever the boy decided he wanted to do. Young Douglas had the best support anyone could wish for.

As soon as Douglas had been bitten by the stage bug, he could be seen all around his native Winnipeg. He took part in all sorts of revues and events, delivering his narrations, readings and monologues to the public. He was also at that time already a performing member of Winnipeg’s Little Theatre, and was notably cast as Little Tim in Dickens’ timeless play A Christmas Carol. Playing the part “with naturalness and clearness that would do credit to a stage veteran” he was immediately noticed by audiences and critics alike. Much later the Little Theatre was to play another role in his life, in ways he could not have expected.

He did not limit his craft to the stage alone. In 1936, at the age of eight, Douglas had his first role in a nation-wide radio play, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This was also the first year he received a certificate of elocution from Trinity College in London, the “First Steps” certificate. According to reports he had delivered his readings with “pleasing naïveté, humor and self confidence”. Several more certificates were to follow.

He was noticed almost everywhere he performed. At the annual Winnipeg Fresh Air revue in the spring of 1937, only two days before his ninth birthday, Douglas – "the very naïve lad of eight, who is a most impressive elocutionist" – almost stole the show with his two monologues, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Ring-Bearer". It seemed clear for many that he was heading for bigger times than the local stages.

Not content with performing with one theatre company only, he joined as many productions as he could. From early 1938 onwards he performed with the short-lived and then-newly-renamed John Holden Players at the old brick-built Dominion Theatre in Winnipeg. Previously known as the Good Company, the John Holden Players company was not very well off financially, so they rehearsed at the Fort Garry Court Hotel. By default the old theatre building was only heated during public performances in order to cut costs, and the company could not afford the heating bill. The rehearsals at the theatre would have been chilly, to say the least. Unsurprisingly the John Holden Players company folded not long after. This was not unforeseen; Canadian theatre at the time consisted of an ever revolving ensemble of amateur companies.

DOUGLAS KEPT honing his craft of elocution. In 1938, at 10 years of age, he was awarded his second certificate for elocution by the Londonian Trinity College of Music. True to form he secured honors at the examination. This year he also got his first official recognition for his stage work, for his performance of “an angelic-faced crippled lad” as the enfeebled son Jimmie in Mary Reynold Aldis’ one-acter Mrs. Pat and the Law, directed by Gladys Rutherford. Adjudicator Malcolm Morley from London bestowed his mention of “praise for individual acting” upon Rain’s stage performance in the piece. Critics said his portrayal was “splendid”. The recognition was bestowed upon him at the Dominion Drama Festival of Manitoba region, an annual drama and theatre festival that was going for its sixth year.

As a precursor of things to come, in the late fall of 1938 Douglas had his first contact with the University of Manitoba Dramatic Society, at the staging of “And So to Bed” at the Civic Auditorium, a three-act, “very talky” play. The play was mainly cast by Dramatic Society players, but 10-year-old Douglas – “who is always good”, according to critics – all but overshadowed the senior players. The ‘very talky’ play that “opens slowly and does not develop until many lines have been spoken”, was right up Doug’s alley; his innate talents of elocution came to the fore.

In 1939 he was awarded again by the Trinity College – the award traditionally consisted of a local scholarship – this time for his examination in the Junior division. He secured honors at this examination, too, just like he did the previous year. At this point Doug had become a familiar presence on Winnipeg stages and an equally familiar voice on the radio, and was already well known in the local press as Master Douglas Rain.

At the age of 12 Douglas became a member of the Winnipeg Sea Cadets. The Sea Cadets is an organization hosted by the Royal Canadian Navy, specifically The Navy League of Canada and presently the Canadian Department of National Defense. The raison d’être of the organization is to teach and develop leadership skills. He relished the opportunities the Cadets provided, but it also meant his time was becoming more fragmented.

On the first day of June in 1940, the then-12-year-old “young artist of radio and theatrical presentations” was again awarded a local scholarship by Trinity College of Music, London, for elocution, intermediate division, with honors. Douglas scored 95 out of a possible 100 marks, taking the first place in his division. His examiner wrote of him simply: "He is naturally gifted, and will do well."

In 1942 Douglas made a tour to Ottawa with the Sea Cadets and was one of participants who got the most press when the Cadets performed. According to the papers his recitation of “Big Ben” almost “stole the show.” By now, however, his attention was already divided between the Cadets, readings, school, radio, elocution classes and recitations. Acting had by now become only one among many of his endeavors.

AT THE END of 1942, having achieved the highest standing out of 11 contestants from the United States, Newfoundland, and Canada, he was again awarded yet another scholarship by the Trinity College in London, but this time it was a special Empire, overseas, scholarship. This was his sixth Trinity College award, and his third scholarship. By now Douglas was rightfully a veteran scholar of elocution, at nigh to 15 years of age.

When Douglas started studying at the local high school his stage engagements began to receive less attention. Although he was still an imposing talent, and could deliver impressive performances, he was no longer the child prodigy he had been throughout the previous decade. He focused his own attention on his attendance at high school, and the focal point was Kelvin High School in Crescentwood, at the corner of Kingsway Avenue and Stafford Street.

Despite him focusing on high school, however, in 1944 Doug again performed at the Sunshine Revue, like he had done the previous year. Nonetheless this was to be his last performance at the revue. Studying aside, he was no less majestic a speaker, though. When his elocution teacher Jean Campbell was too busy to accept an engagement or too ill to perform she called upon the best of her students to fill in for her. Her choice was most often Doug.

Douglas graduated from Kelvin High School in 1946. At the graduation the presentation of class banners was made by fellow student Mary Raleigh and, of course, Douglas Rain.

After graduating it was time for him to make his first decision with a long-term impact.

(This chapter is only a preview of the first chapter of 'From Hal to HAL.' The other 9 chapters might be previewed later.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2001 vs 2010, part 2020

Over the years, many people have asked me why, as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine [Starlog], my editorials don't appear in the front of each issue. Well, there are several reasons — not the least of which is that STARLOG's publisher, Kerry O'Quinn, uses the front editorial space for his comments, which come "From the Bridge." But I really do enjoy having the last word, a habit which I picked up early in life.

I bring this up now because there is something about which I would like to have the last word this month. The subject at hand is "2001 vs. 2010." Filmmaker Peter Hyams is in an extremely ticklish position, because 2010 certainly will be compared with 2001, regardless of the fact that it is definitely not a standard sequel.

The two films really have little in common: both are translated from Arthur C. Clarke novels and both have a Monolith and David Bowman. Unfortunately, this is enough to cause comparisons. The cast and production team of 2010 are painfully aware of this fact and, perhaps, a bit defensive about it. After all, 2001 is a classic, a landmark motion picture, an international phenomenon and the philosophical statement of a generation.

In explaining the difference between the two films, it has often sounded as if the people who are associated with 2010 are putting down 2001. This is unfortunate, unnecessary and clearly not the intention of Hyams and his team. And yet ... .

And yet there are certain comments by Hyams and "visual futurist" Syd Mead with which I must take issue. Specifically, in terms of the design differences between the two movies. According to these two multi-talented men, the Discovery is a work of pure fiction, while the Leonov is more reflective of reality. To a certain extent, they are right. Back in 1968, no one had any idea of how an actual interplanetary spacecraft might look. Today, as Mead has pointed out, we have walked on the Moon, sent remote-controlled craft to the outer planets, and seen a Presidential mandate for a manned space platform in the next decade. Today, we know how space looks, how spacesuits look, how the Shuttle was designed to take maximum advantage of limited space.

However. . .what Mead, Hyams, Clarke, et. al. fail to take into account is the ever-increasing speed of social and technological change. One must bear in mind that Stanley Kubrick's task was to extrapolate 33 years up the timeline. He had every reason—and every right—to believe that the speed of change would obsolete any subtle extrapolation from then-current designs. This is the crucial point.

Today, the speed of change has increased: Hyams' task of extrapolating 26 years up the timeline is an even greater challenge, due to that fact. A challenge which, I feel, he has not met as successfully. Let's face it: with enough time and money, the Leonov could be built now— pretty much as it appears in the film. Certainly, this gives filmgoers a reality base with which to appreciate the design work, the look and feel of astronauts in space. But it is definitely not a better job of extrapolation than that done by Kubrick's team. In fact, the Leonov would have been a better design for 2001, while the Discovery is still futuristic enough to look good as a ship designed in 2010.

I have much more to say on this subject, but, as usual, no more space. See the film and let me know how you feel on this subject.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Suits in Space

Suiting up for a romp through the Solar System, the producers of 2010 were aware of the legacy they had become the caretakers of. The costumes were perhaps not lavish, but practical. Practical to the point of being nominated for an Academy Award. 

American helmet with top mounted light.
The spacesuits in the movie were designed by veteran designer Patricia Norris, who had just come off her design detail for Brian De Palma's notorious movie Scarface. That movie, starring Al Pacino in possibly his hammiest performance, was mostly about pinstripe suits and open collars. For 2010, her gig was slightly different. She received an Academy Award nomination at the 57th Academy Awards for Best Costume Design for her work, but unfortunately lost to Czech designer Theodor Pistek for his splendid work on Amadeus.

American helmet.
All in all she was nominated an incredible six times for her work. This was not the first time Norris was paired up with Peter Hyams; she had previously worked with the director on another of his science fiction films, Capricorn One. Miss Norris sadly passed away in February of 2015.

The immediately noticeable difference between the American and the Russian space suits is, of course, the helmet. The Russian helmets have the work lights on the left and right sides of the helmet, whereas the American helmets have one single light mounted on top. This distinction is seldom noticed by the average movie goer.

Russian space suit helmet with
side mounted work lights.
All in all the American and the Russian suits are, of course, completely different.

The cut and the fabric for the American suits was very much designed as a match for the then-current NASA space suits, whereas the Soviet-Russian space suits were similar in design to the suits in the previous movie.

This sartorial design decision was made to reflect the difference in trajectories between the US and Soviet space programs; the Russians were more often than not focused on what had worked previously, and saw very little importance in recreating already workable models.

Discovery Suits

The Discovery space suits of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 have a series of differences, some noticable, some less so.

The most obvious is the size of the suit control apparatus. In 2010 a much slimmer piece had replaced the much bulkier one from 2001.

2001 suit at left, 2010 suit at right.

Since all blueprints, designs, and props from 2001: A Space Odyssey had been destroyed, the 2010 production crew had to use blow-ups of frames from the movie to recreate the red space suit for Dave Bowman. In the eyes of the casual movie goer the 2001 recreation was of course similar enough to produce the illusion of continuity.

At Dave Bowman's Leisure

One detail that is often overlooked, or missed entirely, is the evening suit of Dave Bowman. It's only visible in two short shots, and it is supposed to function as a bridge between the 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 movies. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the suit is worn by Dave Bowman in the perplexing hotel suite at the very end of the movie. In 2010 Dave Bowman wears it when he appears as an apparition for his boss Heywood Floyd.

Leisure suits, 9 years apart.

The suit was copied from blowups taken from the previous movie, and due to the limitations not every piece of the suit could be copied. The two shots are only a couple of seconds each, so it is doubtful any moviegoer would have noticed any differences.

Production Crew Attire

Arthur C. Clarke's personal jacket.
The final piece that belongs in this article is the attire handed out the the production crew. It used to be common for most major productions to have specially made jackets, caps, and various pieces of clothing made for the core crew.

Some production houses still do this, but most major movie houses these days are only looking at the bottom line. Therefore all paraphernalia is aimed at the general audience. For 2010 however the crew was given their own gear.

Baseball cap for the production crew.
Among the items created for the production crew was a baseball cap and a jacket. A jacket in the same style was for sale by Starlog magazine until the end of 1985. The Starlog jacket was, however, different from the jacket made for the production crew. The baseball caps, in fact, had a small additional run in the year 2010 to coincide with the actual year the events in the movie transpired.

Sir Clarke's 2010 jacket in
storage in Sri Lanka.
It is still possible to find some of the production crew items for sale. They show up - predictably with ever lessening frequency - in various prop stores and on online auction sites such as eBay.

Whether these crew clothing items were designed by Patricia Norris, or whether they were simply standard issue novelty wear, is not known at present.

The 2010 crew was given quite a lot of other items as well, but they are irrelevant for this article.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM, ©2011 Arthur C Clarke Foundation.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Monolith Metrics - Component Three

For better or for worse, doorways to our cthnonian self are indelibly imbedded in our psyche, and have been ab aeterno. The monolith, we realize, is a lot older than we think it is.

Of course the monolith is more than an unembellished jet-black slab.

The featureless simplicity of the shape - a simple geometric form - belies the complex profundity of its essence. Of course, as a mere block the monolith emits no menace, it simply is. Even Moon-Watcher himself literally forgets the existence of the brick once he has established it is neither edible nor a threat.

We should not dismiss the dark hunk so easily, though. There are several layers of meaning embedded in the chunk o' charcoal, and if one manages the inconceivable - scratching the surface of it - one finds it is veritably rife with symbolism and suggestion.

The Overmind

Perhaps the most obvious analysis is to compare the metamorphic capacity of the gateway to the transcendence of Man into the Nietzschean Übermensch. It has been said the opening leitmotif was chosen by Kubrick singly due to its majesty and brevity, but the tangential references to Zarathustra are difficult to ignore. The "perfect Intelligence" which Zoroaster ascribes to Mazda is fully realized in the monolith.

In Nietzsche's view, the übermensch is the purpose of the Earth, or rather, all of Creation exists in order to bring forth said super-human. And it must be remembered the übermensch prevails in the present, in the here and now, it is not an angelic post-mortem existence beyond these dying realms, þás sáwlung wuldorgesteald. Hence it is devoid of all need for deities and revelation; it is, in Nietzsche's words, the "death of God."

The Nietzschean transformation sequence is complete with the emergence of the Star Child, when Bowman as a panthera leo says "I will," and leaves the company of Man and ventures past the mouth of the Dragon - "on every scale glittereth golden Thou Shalt!" of all others, symbolized by the unobtainable monolith - and finally realizes his own will cannot prevail and can only submit.

When Bowman returns to the present after having been transformed, he is essentially resurrected as a higher being, as a child, as the "sacred Yes." This being cannot be anything or anyone else but the übermensch; the "one who has died but who has been resurrected", and is now living on another plane, the egenomen nekros. The monolith is thus the final grammatikos, leading the traveler to enlightenment, to the Campbellian boon. The Star Child is of course the Nietzschean child, who no longer exists codependently, but is unrestrained, utterly free "for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will ... its own world."

But there is much more to the monolith than this. It has, after all, a shape. A constitution.

Eternal Change

When the monolith is seen as pure Form, it cannot really be the Form for anything but the eternal, as we shall see. Before we do that we must acknowledge there exists a minor problem with this, however. Or not as much perhaps a problem as a lack of definition. It is impossible to ascertain whether the monolith represents the morphē or the eidos, or whether it is, indeed, its own form and ideal.

The monolith is due to its nature both the nominalist universal, as well as the platonist Form; it is "a shape for something that has no shape." The impossible perfection of the shape makes it a platonic Form, but since there exists nothing else that it can be a Form for, it is both its own Nominalist universal, as well as its own Nominalist particular.

Forms are immaterial, of course. Thus even the shape of the monolith is not real, it only resembles itself. And voilà, we thus paradoxically end up with the only post-Platonic conceptualized object in existence.

Change, perpetually fixed.

The changing chameleon nature of the slab is what makes it everlasting, for change itself is the only facet of permanence we can both control and be enslaved by. Schopenhauer acknowledged this when he said "change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal."

It is best you don't think about it too much.

The Philosopher's Gravelly Voice

The monolith is fundamentally the Philosopher's Stone, the item of legend that had the ability to turn any metal into gold, turning the worthless into the possession most priced.

But perhaps the greatest mystery of the monolith is akin to the mystery of the silent Sphinx of Giza. It's complete silence invites us, beckons us to give the monolith a voice. Ultimately the voice is our own, of course. The monolith never speaks, it is we who expatiate.

We prefer the impossible to the inarticulate - we want to agree with Parmenides; out of nothing, nothing is made. But the quietude is unrelenting.

Yet no analysis of the mystery can be complete without the monolith's voice.

The monolith is unknowable, recondite. Yet the noumenon that it represents is unnerving by its very stillness. We acknowledge that even Kant's transcendental logic of the Ding-an-sich, the thing-in-itself which is eternally and perfectly unknowable per definition, perfectly renders the monolith, but yet we cannot accept its saturninity.

And this is where we - at last! - interface with the Form and gift it with our voice. We bestow the twilight, the dark, with our words; we impart our beckoning, our Siren's song to "the endlessly echoing halls." Holmes saith, What endless melodies were poured, As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

When we communicate through silence, said Marcel Marceau, we are connected via the thoughts of Man. This is then after all the possession most priced, the established contact to what we can only understand as the higher existence, it is like Gandhi's longing of the soul.

The contact is inevitable, of course, and is only a matter of time. When Form and Essence become the same, we will be right there with it, endless. Time, as it were, is only a temporary obstacle.

I do not think we will have to wait for too long.

Images copyright©2015 MMXOA.

Monday, May 2, 2016

2010 - The D&D Game

Time-wasters come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Movies might be the epitome of entertainment, but there are many other ways of imploding hours upon fantastic hours.

The movie tie-in industry that blossomed, withered, and died in the 1980's and 1990's saw some rather unorthodox entries into the entertainment market. Some were spectacularly successful: the Star Wars paraphernalia market dwarf the revenue from the movie ticket sales by a factor of 25. Others were not so. The 1982 ET game for the Atari console has since become the gold standard for hubris and vanity projects, not to mention it ultimately crashed the video console industry itself.

However, some tie-in products are so peculiar, bizarre even, that the items still carry a novelty value due to their very eccentricity. We have previously mentioned the offbeat 2010 Graphical Action Game and the even more mystifying 2010 Text Adventure Game. Perhaps stranger still was the oddball 2010 tabletop role playing game released by Wisconsin-based, original Dungeons & Dragons publishers TSR - or Tactical Studies Rules - in October of 1984.

The Game and Box Contents

Loosely based on the plot of the novel 2010: Odyssey Two, the game was released as part of the Star Frontiers science fiction series begun by TSR in 1982. The game box came with a lot of game playing material, and expanded the 2010 universe quite commodiously. The rule book addition was a rather hefty 32-page document, detailing many elements of the game setting such as the Jovian system and even the moons. For the first time floor plans for the Discovery XD-1 space ship were made public. Many players bought the module for this reason alone.

The Discovery plans are consistent with both the movie 2001 and the movie 2010, plus they reveal details that can only have been known to the production designers, such as the water tanks and the radar dome that can be found in the original plans from 1966 (although the HAL 'Brain Room' is on the wrong side of the ship). This leads us to believe the module producers were closely collaborating with the movie producers. It is however not known whether graphic designer Ruth Hoyer was given access to the movie material. TSR has never revealed the extent of the collaboration, nor indeed if there ever was any. The Russian space vessel Leonov's ship floor plans were also part of the package, of course.

Leonov floor plan.

Other peculiarities included lengthy bios for the characters on board the ships. Some of the biographical information was naturally geared towards the game canvas, but some information was more general. This is the only place we find out, for example, that the Russian commander - captain Tanya Kirbuk - is 37 years old, or that engineer Walter Curnow is explicitly second-in-command on the Discovery. It is unknown at present whether the information was gotten from movie director and original script writer Peter Hyams, whether it was conjured up by module writers Curtis Smith and Bruce Nesmith (nowadays Director of Design at Bethesda Softworks), or whether it was straight from 2010: Odyssey Two novel author Arthur C. Clarke himself.

Even more strange is the inclusion of portraits of the characters, clearly taken by the movie production crew. Some of the pictures distributed with the game have never been published anywhere else - they are in fact copies of Polaroid pictures taken by special effects supervisor Richard Edlund during film production, further cementing the claim - or at least suspicion - that the TSR game producers were working closely with the MGM movie producers.

The Play

The widely held consensus among the D&D community is that plot-driven games created out of pre-existing properties commonly do not make great modules. The plot requirements demand a linear progression through the game chapters and segments - thus such an installment is often contemptuously called a 'railroad module' - and regularly does not offer much variation. Their replay value is frequently nil.

Another issue to keep in mind is the Star Frontiers game system does not usually lend itself well to slow-moving ruminations, it is rather better suited for quicker paced scenarios focused on battles and conflict.

However, the 2010 module - as well as the previous 2001 module - were created with the mentioned limitations in mind. The game system changes, as well as the minor plot enhancements, makes the module remarkably gratifying, even surprising in some facets. Both the Odyssey Sequence modules are similar in this regard.

Jupiter system hex map.

But even here the 2010 game fares better than the game based on the previous film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The invisible rails that were extant in the 2001 game are of course present in the sequel, too, and they must be in order to maintain game cohesiveness. The sequel does however allow quite a lot of divergence from the plot.

Science Fiction die.
To offer an example, the repair of HAL-9000 might fail, and the computer can despite the player's efforts duly return to it's psychotic, homicidal state.

Trying to save a derelict spaceship while a treacherous super-computer - hell-bent on your forthcoming demise - is running the show is not really how the novel panned out, much less the movie. Yet, the gruesome scenario is most certainly possible in the game, and makes for great entertainment.

Other minor deviations exist, such as the possibility the players - both PC and NPC players - might receive additional orders, all of which have the same tone as the Cold War narrative in the movie. The information presented to the players is obviously expanded beyond the scope of the linear narrative of both the novel and the movie.

All in all, the 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure is an enjoyable module, and as a player-only experience offers a solid, well-crafted romp through the Solar System. Additionally, for the game referee it presents a quite finely balanced, consistent system and is a sturdy foundation upon which to create Hard Science Fiction adventures and scenarios.

Where We Are

Requiring both the basic Star Frontiers box set Alpha Dawn and the Knight Hawks expansion in order to be playable, the game itself places the players right in the middle of the universe of 2010. The plot-driven game that comes with the package follows the basic plot of both the novel and the movie to a degree, and is rather standard role playing fare, albeit well crafted. The real value of the package lie in the character skill sets and the game setting, both of which can be used to create interesting game creations of your own.

When re-assessed in retrospect, the main buying incentive of the modules has proven to be the deck plans of the two spaceships - causing even non-gamers to buy the module - and to a somewhat lesser extent the mechanism of the new skill sets and the rules expansion to the underlying Star Frontiers system.

The module is rather rare these days. Original manufacturer TSR went bankrupt in the late 1990's, and the production runs were not huge. This means the odds of finding a mint copy of the game box is close to nil. It is rather recommended you buy one if you find one.

They sure don't make them like they used to. Whether that is good or bad is left to the discernment of the reader.

Images copyright ©1984 Tactical Studies Rules.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Stanley Kubrick Used To [Review]

by Magnus Anderson

A close escape.

Stanley Kubrick used to refer to 2010, the interloping successor to his own opus, as Ten past Eight. It was a little callous, perhaps, given that the critical world had long decided that his own was a masterpiece, and so he was taunting from an unassailable position. Yet it does reflect the main sense that I have when watching the film: that it’s not poor, but it is disenfranchised by its own heritage.

2010 plays as if the creators thought the ambiguity of the first film was an oversight, and each left-over question – the cause of the computer’s breakdown, the purpose of the alien structures – is given an answer. And this is where the film falls, in my view. Not because answering these questions is a mistake in itself, but because they demand a knowledge of 2001 which can only give its sequel a mistaken context.

2001 has developed a cult of its own myth, the discussions of which have kept it carefully beyond explanation. Depending upon whose essay you read, it charted the journey of mankind through technology to find enlightenment, pitted innovation against evolution, was very trippy, was very pretentious, or any of a dozen other things. 2010, on the other hand, is a sci-fi thriller about aliens.

2001 concludes with the birth of a Starchild, depicted with strange, incongruous imagery that yearned to enmesh the film in profundity. 2010 finishes with a spaceship racing away from an explosion and a nice voiceover about world peace.

There’s plenty more. Whatever your views on 2001, there’s no doubt that 2010 was less ambitious and less important. And don’t doubt that it was an postscript: the book of the first film was forged in the heat of Kubrick’s notoriously intense creative process, which Arthur C Clarke – the author – said couldn’t be followed. And when he did, he changed an important detail – the planet at the end of the odyssey – not to further the ideas of the film, but to allow a scientific plot device.

A new dawn.

The strengths of the second film – and I do think it has some – are the sort that are useful to conventional, self-contained crowd pleasers. It has a low key tension that builds to the climax, a mystery with a resolution, a disparate team undermined by distant political conflict. But to appreciate all this requires having already seen a very different film.

If 2001 is considered a success at whatever it was attempting, then the follow up is a minnow that belittles it. If not, then 2010 is trivia after a folly. And for anyone who hasn’t seen the first film at all, then the second is an irrelevance, and perhaps barely intelligible at that.

(Copyright © Freaky Trigger. Originally published December 26, 2003. Source )

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Star Peace [Review]

Last week saw the charity premiere of Arthur C. Clarke's new film 2010: The Year We Make Contact. John Gribbin enjoyed the evening but he wonders if the message filtered through to the audience.

by John Gribbin

IF AN ageing English pacifist who wears a sarong and lives in Sri Lanka provides the inspiration for a film in which all the Russians we meet are Good Guys (and Gals), the all-American heroes have to hitch a ride on a Soviet spacecraft in order to reach their objective, there is no on-screen sex or violence at all, and the author's message of peace, love and cooperation among all mankind is laid on so thickly that even the crassest American moviegoer could not fail to get a glimmer of his intent, how many people will go out to see the movie? When the inspiration comes from Arthur C. Clarke, and the movie is 2010, the answer is "a lot".

Arthur Clarke's greatest achievement, in a life full of success, may well be the way in which he has hammered this message home at a time when cinema audiences are developing a taste for super-nationalistic garbage like Red Dawn. I doubt very much if it will do any good, but at least he is trying to known some sense into their heads.

Against that perspective, the glitter of a royal premiere for the film looked distinctly inappropriate at the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, last week (4 March) – except, of course, that the proceeds from the jamboree went to the very worthwhile Prince of Wales Trust. The invitations said "7,15 for 8", and in large letters "PLEASE BE SEATED BY 7,45". The Royal party, of course, was late. Just late enough so that the film started promptly at 2010; but if it was someone's idea of a little joke the point was so subtle that it was lost on the audience. Indeed, most of the point of the next couple of hourse was completely lost on the audience.

One of my neighbours literally slept through most of the film. In the crush on the way out afterwards, typical expressions of confidence from the money behind the film and its distributors, that I overheard, included the classic lines "I liked the ending" and "What on Earth was it all about?"

Linking East and West ... in space.

The Philistines didn't know what they had just missed. For, undisturbed by the trappings of the premiere, and unhampered by Clarke's potentially crippling pacifist message, screenwriter-director Peter Hyams has come up with a good looking, straightforward filme that has enough excitement to hold the attention, enough futuristic hardware to please the fans, and just enough loose ends to make everyone rush out to buy Clarke's book of nearly the same name, 2010: Odyssey Two.

The film has a different subtitle, perhaps seeking to distance itself from the original (and to clean up on the Close Encounters market?). Comparisons with 2001 are odious, but inevitable. The films are not the same breed – 2010 is less mystical, has nothing to compare with astronaut David Bowman's "last trip", which had the hippies climbing up the screen in the 1960s, and is very much the film of the book, whereas with 2001 the film came first, the book next, and a second book explaining why the book and the film weren't quite the same (The Lost Worlds of 2001) came third.

Sit back in the cold light of day and try to analyse 2010 and you won't find much there except for the message that we ought to stop squabbling among ourselves and grow up a bit. The depressing side of this is that even Clarke seems to think that the only hope that we will grow up is if someone Out There gives us a stern talking to. Maybe he is right. But while you are watching Hyams carries you along with pace and glitter, a little bit of a race against time and a hint of a cliffhanger – much more like a non-sadistic version of Raiders of the Lost Ark than like 2001, and incomparably superior to any of the Star Trek genre.

The much heralded special effects, including computer simulations of the surface of Jupiter "better than anything from JPL" are indeed good, but so naturally a part of the story that they merge into the background. It is the highest praise for the effects team, though galling perhaps for those who have to pay for the effects, that you take the for granted. On the other hand, Hyams makes scarcely any attempt to convey an impression of zero gravity, which is better than trying to convey it and failing. Now we have all seen real zero gravity on television, the only way the movie makers can compete will be to shoot Odyssey Three in orbit. And, while the technology looks authentic, the level of scientific accuracy can be gleaned from a communication Clarke sent to Hyams on 31 October 1983:

As you are making a movie and not actually going to Jupiter (yet, anyway) you should not let the engineers brainwash you ... as long as the method chosen is plausible, the decision should be based on such factors as visual impact, audience comprehension, plot requirements, and special effects cost/feasibility.

On all those counts, I would rate 2010 a better movie than 2001.

The quote comes from one of Clarke's (or rather, "Serendib B.V."'s) spin-offs from the film, The Odyssey File (Granada), a book built around the "correspondence" between Clarke and Hyams in the run up to the production of 2010. And thereby hangs a tale. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Clarke's proposal for geostationary telecommunications satellites. Even when 2001 was being made in the 1960s, the prospect that its successor would be planned with the aid of home computers providing a link between Sri Lanka and California via just such satellites was almost unimaginable.

The Odyssey File is intriguing background to the film, and perhaps reveals more about Clarke and Hyams than they realise. Read the book 2010 first, then see the film (watch out for Clarke feeding pigeons in front of the White House), read The Odyssey File, then read the book again. From past experience, Odyssey Three should be ready in 17 years, in 2002, and will be set in 2018.

The future is catching up on us, but slowly.

(Originally published in New Scientist March 14 1985) Source

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Monolith Metrics - Component Two

Whether it was Arthur C. Clarke or Stanley Kubrick who came up with the shape of the Cosmic Swiss Knife (hint: it was Kubrick), it was Clarke who posited the most important question about the slab: why should we assume the monolith is a three-dimensional object?

After Clarke finished his Odyssey Sequence tetralogy, it had become clear the monolith was more than a a mere black block.

During the production of 2010, author Clarke disclosed to director Peter Hyams what he thought the monolith was: nothing less than "the Cosmic equivalent of a Swiss army knife." Thusly the monolith can be best described as a meta-machine; the ultimate gadget that will tailor itself according to whatever task it must bring about.

The slab performs many ostensibly unthinkable feats: it self-replicates ceaselessly upon demand (in 2010), it blots out the sun when necessity dictates (in 2061), it annihilates life at its discretion (in 3001), it bends space-time when needed (anytime, anywhere), and perhaps most conspicuously acts as a travelling agent to the stars.

Porta Exotica

The monolith is explicitly mentioned in 2001: A Space Odyssey as a "Star Gate". In physicist parlance the monolith would be called a wormhole.

A wormhole allows a
photon to take a shortcut.
The first such were the so called Einstein-Rosen bridges, based on a 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen. They noticed general relativity allows for what they dubbed 'bridges', linking distant locations of space-time; these bridges are nowadays referred to as wormholes.

Previously scientists were convinced that bridges - if they are spontaneously formed - will only exist for extremely short moments before collapsing upon themselves. As a matter of fact, Einstein's theory of relativity predicts such bridges must exist every/somewhere in the Universe, spontaneously popping in and out of existence. However, with the introduction of so called 'exotic matter' - theoretical matter with negative energy - it could excathedra be possible to maintain such a bridge indefinitely. If the exotic matter could be controlled as normal matter with positive energy, an Einstein-Rosen bridge could be maintained by "holding it open," effectively creating a portal allowing for seemingly faster-than-light (FTL) travel. The traveling would actually not be faster than light, but would only seem so due to the shortcut properties of the bridge.

Exotic matter is perhaps not as exotic as we assume. Negative energy can be produced in laboratory conditions by the Casimir Effect, where two plates are placed next to each other, nanometers apart. Vacuum is not "empty" (in the vernacular nomenclature), but full of quantum fluctuations, an immense amount of untappable energy. (The energy amount is truly enormous, conservative evaluations estimate the amount to be 1x10^42 Joules per cubic meter, which translates to one million trillion trillion trillion Joules, or the energy needed to reduce roughly 10 billion Earths to clouds of dust orbiting the Sun.) The electromagnetic waves caused by these fluctuations will not "fit" between the plates - their wavelength is "longer" than the distance between the plates - and thus the 'artificial vacuum' between the plates will contain less total energy than 'normal vacuum', in other words negative energy.

Thus the monolith might be constructed by exotic matter, explaining why it is "impenetrable" to all human attempts at cracking it. There exists one crux, however.

Linked black holes.
Both ends - or 'mouths' - of the bridge must, according to the Einstein-Rosen theory, be black holes. And very specific black holes at that. In the same 1935 paper, the venerable scientists postulated the black holes might be aspects of "black hole solutions with no matter." The 'matter' needed is either a past or future singularity, no present singularity is needed for the mathematic model to work.

There is one problem with the Einstein-Rosen bridges, however. While Dave Bowman might enter the wormhole from a place located in, say, another galaxy, and Frank Poole would enter the wormhole at the monolith orbiting Jupiter, they would both meet in the middle, but they would both be annihilated at a then-present singularity. In fact, any matter traversing the so called ultrastatic wormhole always results in a black hole.

What's even worse, the singularity - which is "shared" between the two black holes - will almost invariably spontaneously split into the two separate black holes at the point of the gravity wells in the space-time fabric. And yes, the split happens at a speed faster than light. It's better if you don't think about it too much. Any any case, not a pleasant option for intergalactic travel.

I don't think any insurance would cover it, either.

Sailing with Scharnhorst

A further anomality that can allow faster than light travel is a peculiar effect predicted by Klaus Scharnhorst; a photon can - in a very special set of circumstances - travel faster than light. It is not much faster, in fact it is 1 part in 10^36, but it is there.

Bending of space-time, courtesy of Douglas Trumbull.

Regardless of how much faster the photon might travel, any such effect can be multiplied indefinitely, setting no theoretical upper speed limit on relocation.

The effect is in fact poorly understood, but one of the possible explanations is that the photons really never travel faster than C, the speed of light - exactly as expected, and in no violation of causality - but the space "around" them is undefined, or rather defined as "moving". The reference system in which the photon is travelling is thus moving, or more precisely bent. In such a case, any and all movement within the system will still clearly be within the confines of the Cosmic speed limit of C, but that it is the fracturing of space-time itself within the system that allows for the seemingly impossible to occur.

The effect has been further examined by Miguel Alcubierre, and his Alcubierre metric relies on the creation of negative mass "bending" the space fabric in front of the point being moved. This allows the moving point to travel at the speed of C within a set of space with is itself "moving" while being bent by negative mass.

So, what does superluminal (faster than light, or FTL) speeds have to do with wormholes?

It's Full of Tachyons

Well, in 1967 Gerald Feinberg presented a 'tachyon hypothesis' in The Physical Review, essentially stating that superluminal speeds are not just possible, but probable, and most probably (bad pun intended) essential. Feinberg did concede that to bring any particle to the speed of light would give that very particle infinite kinetic energy, i.e. more energy than the combined energy of the Universe, but he proceeded to calmly offer undeniable evidence that the speed of light is in fact the only impossible speed. Superluminal speeds, i.e. faster than light are prefectly acceptable. The proposed superluminal tachyon particles are forever divorced from the subluminal Universe by the unbreakable "wall of light."

A block of negative matter, no less.

Now, going further down the rabbit produces some rather peculiar effects. Regardless of this permanent divorce, the nature of said tachyons put great strain on causality: a tachyon ray would hit it's target before it has even been fired, triggered tachyon relays send signals to their own past only if they will not have received a signal from their own future self, and so on. This means superluminal tachyon scalar fields can never relay subluminal signals. However, tachyon condensate - the spontaneous shedding of particles in order to lower energy - could be controlled by the already mentioned exotic matter, which as you recall is matter with negative energy. Hereby the shedded particles, the quanta of the scalar field - free bosons - seemingly remain fixed in a non-movable time frame, producing the perhaps somewhat surprising effect known as instantaneous signal transfer to any point in the Universe. Signal transfer is, of course, just a fancy word we feel compelled to use when we really mean 'traveling'. In science fiction this is also known as teleportation.

The monolith is many things. Some are complex. Some even more so. Out of all things it seems to be, perhaps being a star gate is the simplest.

The other things not so much.

Images copyright ©1968 MGM, ©2011 PBS, ©2013 ShutterStock.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2001 versus 2010

The two Odysseys are either 9 years apart or 16 years apart, depending on your chosen Universe. What happened in the gap then again relies on which reality you are thinking of.

When Peter Hyams set out to produce and direct 2010: The Year We Make Contact, he found out Kubrick (or someone else) had everything from the previous movie - the sets, the miniatures, the props - destroyed.

Speculations about why exactly Kubrick (or someone else) did so have made appearances ever since the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey wrapped up. What is seldom mentioned is that it is standard procedure to wreck movie sets after principal photography is concluded. If the shooting sets were kept indefinitely sound stages across the planet would be crammed to the rafters with set after set, continuously adding one more for every movie ever made. There seems to exist a tendency to ascribe sinister reasons for many behaviors. In this case, however, it seems it is not warranted. In fact Stanley Kubrick told 2010 special effects supervisor Richard Edlund before the recreation of the Discovery began that "the [Discovery] models were left in England in storage [and that] finally M-G-M didn't want to absorb the storage charges for them anymore and decided to destroy them." So it was 'someone else' that had them destroyed, after all. And that 'someone else' was none other than the production company.

Kubrick was not entirely unimpeachable regarding wanton destruction, though. When Hyams' crew began planning and building the sets they were told Kubrick had incinerated the plans for the sets as well. The obvious solution was then to create entirely new floor and building plans for a re-created Discovery. The only reference the crew could use was the film itself. Production designer Albert Brenner and his team used 70 mm blow-ups from the original movie as reference pictures for their recreations. Here we will take a look at just how well they managed to copy the designs of 2001.

While there are some anecdotes floating around on the web about re-creating the 2001 centrifuge, I have it on rather good authority (production designer Albert Brenner himself) that recreating the centrifuge was never even considered. When producer and director Hyams wrote the script he realized the centrifuge would have eaten such a huge chunk - a projected $10 million - of the $28 million budget, and for very little screen time, he rather quickly decided the team would not rebuild it. Cost-per-frame would simply have been too massive. (The same reasoning gave the Leonov its spinning middle section: filming actors in constant zero-G would have cost too much.) The pod bay, the command bridge, the 'brain room' of HAL, and the access corridors were the set pieces the production team rebuilt, four reconstructions in all.

The monitors

The 2001 bridge above, the 2010 bridge below.

The first thing viewers often notice is the change in Discovery's monitors. These are visible in a couple of places: the command bridge, the pod bay, and there is even one in the 'brain room'. The monitors in the previous movie were rear projected animations, which made the monitors appear as flat screens. However the monitors in 2010 are ordinary Sony CRT monitors. There are anecdotes about Kubrick pondering whether or not to use actual CRT monitors in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the way they appeared in 1964 to 1966, but ultimately deciding to use rear projection and Douglas Trumbull's hand made animations. [There exists one (1) computer animation in 2001: A Space Odyssey. See if you can spot it.] There are also anecdotes about Hyams doing the exact opposite, pondering whether on not to use rear projection as in the previous movie, or whether to go with CRT monitors. As we know he decided on the latter - ultimately the decision was made in cooperation with the effects crew - giving 2010 the look it has today. Hyams wanted a specific look for the Leonov, and hired the Los Angeles based company Video Image to create the computer monitor animations. The same monitor setup was then also used on the Discovery. The decision was very logical given the year the movie was made - 1984 - but it mercilessly dates the movie, making it a child of it's time, in contrast to the more timeless epic that 2001: A Space Odyssey is. We cannot really blame Hyams for this, there was no way of predicting in 1984 the flat screens of 2010, and the fact is Kubrick simply made a lucky guess.

Another small change that can be noticed is the HAL panel: the panel is slightly differently colored, and the trim surrounding the screens has changed from black to white in 2010.

The CRT monitors are of course not restricted to the Discovery alone. The Leonov set is littered with them, too, but the Russian ship is exclusive to 2010. The Leonov is a case of sui generis and thus will not be examined here.

The bridge

Aftward view of the bridges.

The aft part of the bridge has also had some major reconstruction. The side walls filled with gauges, buttons and meters are all gone, and the door towards the centrifuge access does not seem to have any function, nor does it even look the same. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the door had horizontal ridges from side to side, in 2010 the access door is plain white flatness.

The button panels on the outer sides of the seats are also gone, and interestingly seat belts have been added.

Another major difference is the topography differences of the two different Discovery ships. This is apparent in the scene where Heywood Floyd confronts Dave Bowman as the ethereal Starbeing. Bowman exits the bridge toward the left of the screen - looking backwards this is the starboard side of the Discovery vessel - via an opening. In the original there existed no such opening and even if one were there, such an exit would lead straight into the 'brain room' of HAL.

The Pod Bay

The 2001 and 2010 pod bays.

The pod bay is the other big set piece reconstructed from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are numerous differences between the sets, and a select few will be presented here.

The velcro mats on the floor - which both Frank Poole and Dave Bowman never step outside of in the 1968 movie - are now replaced by a black, glossy paint. Also, white squares and round shapes have appeared on the raised parts of the floor. In contrast the round fuel dispensers for the pods have disappeared from the ceiling. The outer doors are no longer beveled in 2010, as they were in 2001: A Space Odyssey.


HAL as he appears 9 or 16 years apart, depending on your chosen reality.

The HAL console in the pod bay of 2010 is quite different from the 2001 version; the dimensions of the computer desks are quite unsimilar. The 2010 console is much deeper than the earlier 1968 version, mostly to be able to hold the CRT monitor. In 1968 the monitor ratio was exactly 1:1, in 1984 it had become the standard 3:4 ratio. Compared to the younger HAL, the older console seems much more elegant. Again, the HAL panel is differently colored, and has slightly wider dimensions.

The later variant also adds a grey keyboard, something that was not present on the original Discovery spaceship in any form (in fact, the only extant keyboard in 2001 is an organ keyboard in the centrifuge shown only in passing); in the earlier rendition the HAL console hosted a flat screen in the same position. Naturally there are other, rather irrelevant divergences, such as the types of lights and switches used, but those are insignificant.


Accessways in 2001 and 2010.

One thing 2010 adds to the topology of the Discovery is another accessway. When Heywood Floyd is following the ethereal Starbeing that was Dave Bowman down into the pod bay, he is walking towards a big, red '1' at the end of an accessway, clearly marking this as 'Accessway One'. Later in the movie HAL informs Heywood Floyd that engineer Walter Curnow is in 'Accessway Two', this is also shown with a big, blue '2' at the end of the corridor where Curnow is sitting holding Maxim's hat. The velcro strips are gone, too.

The storage lockers, clearly visible on the walls of the accessway, are gone in the later variation.

The way the Discovery is configured, these two scenes present some problems. Accessway One would be, according to 2001 topology, a cul-de-sac. There would be no way for Heywood Floyd to enter it, except through the door shown, there simply are no other exits. The other problem is that there simply is not enough space inside the hull of the Discovery to host an additional structure as large as Accessway Two. It is never made explicit where this mysterious Accessway Two resides, and it was in fact introduced solely for purposes of script writing. In fact there was a complete scene with dialogue between Heywood Floyd and Walter Curnow shot in Accessway Two that never made it to the final cut. Model supervisor Mark Stetson said "there were other parts of the ship that you never saw in the first film, so we had to assume a symmetry or do whatever we wanted, depending on the physical requirements of the model."

HAL's Brain Room

Dave Bowman and Dr. Chandra visiting the 'brain room'.

The 'brain room' of HAL has some minor differences, too. During Dr. Chandra's revival efforts he interacts with HAL via a keyboard. This is yet another of the many keyboards that are introduced on board the Discovery in 2010. In 1968 HAL had no keyboard interfaces anywhere. In fact, in 1968 there were no keyboards on board the American spaceship at all. None that we know of, at least.

The 'brain room' of 1968 also housed six flat screen monitors, it is via one of these Dave Bowman finally learns the details of the Jupiter mission when HAL starts playing the pre-recorded video in its death throes. The six flat screens are nowhere to be seen in 2010, but a CRT monitor has been added.

There are naturally other differences, too. They range from the negligible to the minuscule to the outright ridiculous. However, the point of the reconstructed Discovery sets is to create the illusion of continuity. The sets succeed extremely well in doing so, and even when the most obvious differences are pointed out, the viewer cannot help but to be immersed into the space vehicle once again.

Production designer Albert Brenner and his team - especially designer Leslie Ekker - really did do a spectacular job. After all, Brenner and his team received an Academy Award nomination for his work.

It's hard to beat such a level of recognition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

2010 - An Odyssey that's Easy to Forget [Review]

By Terry Hazlett, Entertainment Editor

The best that can be said about 2010 is that it answers the questions from 2001 which have been floating around like so many discarded Sputniks for 16 years.

The worst that can be said about 2010 is that is doesn't answer them very well.

Still, the immediate outlook for this belated sequel is good. If anything can shove the '60s generation out of its TV chairs and into the theater seats, it's a film that promises to settle the mystifying questions and situations posed by Stanley Kubrick in the original film. To director Peter Hyams' credit, 2010 concludes with a revelation that is very much in keeping with the spirit of the 1960s.

Keeping the Pepsi generation in its seats is another matter. Imaginative as 2010 is, it is nonetheless light years away from the Star Wars series. Likewise, 2010 can't boast of sex, profanity or even humor. Despite its PG rating, it might as well forget the school crowd.

In the future, I say.

In 2010, three Americans join several Russians on board their space ship in a joint search for the Discovery. The Russians control all the data, the Americans have been invited only because they can expedite the retrieval of that data.

Roy Scheider is the man blamed for the deaths of the original Discovery crew, John Lithgow is the engineer, Bob Balaban (a Richard Dreyfuss lookalike) is the computer whiz who must reprogram the HAL 9000. There's initial tension between Scheider and Balaban, but it's dismissed like so much space waste.

While the Russians and Americans are beginning to live compatibly in space, the same is not true on Earth, where war is imminent. In the movie's dumbest moment, the U.S. president orders the three Americans to abandon the Russian ship for the Discovery.

The explanation of HAL's actions in 2001 are explained away only marginally better, while the monolith, though never defined, nonetheless appears to be exactly what most viewers believed in the first place.

Keir Dullea, who played astronaut David Bowman in the original, returns to the Discovery in various forms in 2010, wrapping some loose ends for his character and the viewer as well.

One of the major problems with 2010 is that it never seems very futuristic. Although Scheider's home is equipped with a dolphin tank, the movie itself makes no other attempts to vault itself into the 21st century.

Another problem is the movie's non-story. 2010 resembles part two of a mini-series rather than a sequel. Its major developments are never major, the major crisis occurs early in the film, when the spaceship must "brake" to float alongside the Discovery. Because it occurs so early in the film, there's no question the spaceship won't be destroyed. So much for suspense.

There is minor tension when a visibly trembling John Lithgow makes his first space walk, and, later, when Balaban tries to convince HAL to go against previous instructions, but it's not the stuff of great movies.

2010 is decidedly not a great movie nor even a good one. It's merely a competent film, but one as passe as today's space shuttle flights.

When there's no excitement, no danger, no crisis, no one is likely to care.

Originally published 22 december, 1984.