Posts from 26th December 2003

26
Dec 03

Ten Past Eight

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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.

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, than 2010 is trivia after a folly. And for anyone who hasn’t seen the first film at all, than the second is an irrelevance, and perhaps barely intelligible at that.