Sequel Fever: 2001: A Space Odyssey

The future is shiny and a little baffling.

2001: A Space Odyssey.
It's a visionary thing.

THE PITCH?

One of the most nuanced (and, let's be honest about this) just plain silly science-fiction scripts of the late Twentieth Century is brought to the screen by one of the most distinctive (and let’s not beat about the bush here) over-rated film directors of all time.


Cue a druggy, confusing, visually splendid cinematic mediation on humanity, the nature of the universe, life, and all that stuff. One of popular culture's high points, or low points, depending on where you stand, and exactly what cinema is all about.


And then there was Peter Hyam's sequel.

THAT TRANSLATES INTO?



2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


Confusing, bemusing, bathetic and all over the place.


Calms down a bit and makes more sense when it gets into space, but until then it's a cross-eyed monster of a movie. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick put pen to paper with a tale of (and please bear with me on this) intergalactic manipulation of human destiny and the (forced?) evolution of the species so that it can touch the hand of God with a little help from the (artificial) intelligence that the humans create to help them along the way.


Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence (Hal 9000 – the strongest character in this most becalmed of movies) goes madcap and attempts to kill the astronauts en-route. Sort of ends at this point, with the last human survivor out-witting Hal and then going on a druggy trip around the moons of Jupiter before ending up looking down on Earth as a sort of star child.


Huh?


Divided the critics and, apart from the stoners in the audience, cleared the cinemas with a speed which we conveniently forget today. Eventually found its audience on television and, over time, has come to be, if not loved, then certainly tolerated and respected by viewers willing to trade a sore backside (it is a long and very slow movie) for a sense of wonder and occasional flashes of brilliance.


The model work, use of music and design has not been bettered and the future never looked so realistic or attainable.


Unfortunate use of monkey costumes, however.



2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)


Peter Hyman's slightly belated follow-up (sixteen years!) could only lose for all the obvious reasons, which it duly did.


Once again Arthur C. Clarke is the man with the pen (this time writing the novel from which Hyman wrote the screenplay) as a joint Russian-American crew leave Earth on a great big spaceship to find out what happened to the original Hal-handicapped mission. Luckily, Helen Mirren is at the helm, partially distracted by Roy Schieder (reprising his "there's something out there" role from Jaws).


Mirren speaks with an effective, if slightly stern, Russian accent, has a very tight perm and a nervous, mutually suspicious crew behind her. On Earth the Russians and the Americans gear up for thermonuclear war (ah, the 1980s) just as Mirren and her guys come across the abandoned Discovery and the Hal 9000, lonely for some, you know, company.


Cue a speedy rush for something close to resolution as the astronauts peg it for home, just as Jupiter sort of implodes. Hal saves the day, a new star lights up the night sky (where Jupiter used to be) and everyone learns to get on. They used to call this kind of thing détente.


Overlooked by everyone because it was not the starry original, in some ways, this is better: it has a plot (of sorts) and things happen. The model work looks tatty next to its bigger brother, but the design is just as effective and, let's be honest, anything with Helen Mirren in it can't be all bad (except The Cook the Thief, His Wife and her Lover, obviously).


THE BEST OF THE LOT IS?


2001: A Space Odyssey.


OK, so it's almost painfully slow and oh so arch, and it also makes no sense whatsoever, but nothing beats the thrill of watching the bone thrown into the air by the monkey come down as a spaceship.


So clever, so intelligent, so beautiful.


It also changed the way science fiction movies were made and received (until Star Wars came along, that is).


AND, OH DEAR, THE WORST?

Unfortunately, that only leaves 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which actually stands up in its own right. 2010's inescapable problem, however, is that it is a sequel to one of the great cultural artefacts of the 20th Century.


Peter, baby, what were you thinking?

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