Thursday, November 20, 2008

It was vinegar to start with

A couple days ago, the Netflix coughed up 2001 A Space Odyssey, which has turned 40 this year.

I remember seeing it during its first run, my 13-yr old brain in thrall to its cosmocity. Coming only two years after the debut of Star Trek, it further fed my desire for all spacey things.
Despite receiving mixed reviews upon release, 2001: A Space Odyssey is today recognized by many critics and audiences as one of the greatest films ever made; the 2002 Sight & Sound poll of critics ranked it among the top ten films of all time.[1] It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and received one for visual effects. In 1991, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.


The other SWIPIAW, the woman-child and I, watched it last night, with high expectations borne of 60s-infected memory and the preceding puffery.

Its pacing is seven bad ADD cases shy of leaden. The acting, in the few moments when it can be detected without extremely sensitive instruments, is comatose. Of the three critical plot points, at least four are indiscernible to any viewer who hasn't committed the book to memory.

As for the special effects, it is unfair to judge a 40 year old movie by modern CGI so powerful that real human actors are probably soon to be rendered superfluous. Along with their agents. Still, it only takes, oh, 15 seconds of multi-colored lights streaming towards the viewer from the vanishing point to fully convey the notion of whoathatissoinfinitedude. Minutes on end, besides redefining overkill, served to nearly bring time to a stop, a feat similarly accomplished in more modern times by that second Lord of the Rings threat to the very concept of entertainment.

My wife and daughter had quite the hoot seeing who could heap the most abuse on what they came to call "2001 Minutes of Space Idiocy".

Space Idio ... Space Odyssey premiered the year before the first lunar landing. Its creators made the classic mistake of linear extrapolation. In their 2001, we have regular transportation to a moon base, and build in 18 months a space ship capable of carrying a crew of seven (five in hibernation) to Jupiter.

In our 2008, we have spent $100B building an International Space Station to nowhere.

Speaking of leaden pacing.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I thought it was silly at the time, with that mystic mumbo-jumbo slab of whatever it was.

I haven't watched the whole thing again, but I did see a clip of the shutting down HAL part a while back, and you're right, it was leaden.

Maybe it was a big slab of lead. That's it.

November 21, 2008 9:31 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Well, the book was something of an ID argument: without the intervention of an Intelligent Designer, the proto humans would never have either (or both, I suppose):

a) developed anything other than proto-human intelligence

b) learned to kill others of their own species, which was a pre-requisite for developing anything beyond proto-human intelligence.

Which, like all ID arguments, uses its premise as explanation, without explaining its premise.

Have you read the book?

November 21, 2008 10:26 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...


I hate to say this, but after reading 'The White Ship,' I stopped reading sci-fi because it was too good. I was afraid I'd get hooked (like some college classmates) and never read anything else.

I made an exception for Algis Budrys, though I haven't read any of his stuff for a while.

November 21, 2008 1:17 PM  
Blogger ironflex said...

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November 25, 2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

When I was in HS, I read nearly every SF book the library had.

Since then I haven't been able to touch the stuff; I'm sure some of it is good, but the great majority is plot-device ridden dreck.


2001 in a nutshell: a deus ex machina provides proto humans the secret of --- intelligence? murder?

Untold thousands of years later, sometime around 1998 humans have established colonies on the moon. We discover a weird magnetic anomaly, excavate, and find another monolith. Which then sends a powerful beam of energy towards Jupiter.

We then build, in 18 months, a spaceship capable of carrying a crew of 5 to find the beam's destination.

En route, the astonishingly intelligent, except where it is mud box stupid, ship's computer mutinies and kills all but one of the crew.

Who finds the beam's destination, progresses through the remaining stages of his life in a decor modelled on French renaissance bordello, before regressing to an embryo.

With God-like powers.

He returns to Earth to put right all the Bad Things that hurt Women, Children and The Poor most.

The book doesn't deserve obscurity quite so much as the movie, but it is a close run thing.

November 25, 2008 11:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

2001 was one of my favorite movies for a long time. I never understood the ending, but the visual aspects of the movie always drew me in, even the French bordello at the end. I think it was the first sci fi movie that accurately portrayed many of the realities of space flight, such as zero gravity and silence in space. It alsp portrayed the immensity of space, particularly the scene where Frank Poole's body is drifting away from the ship.

The leaden acting was intentional, I believe.

But the basic premise of the story was cheezy at best. But that is what sci fi is about, far-fetched premises based loosely on scienific principle.

A worse sci-fi movie was "Contact". I think of it as Carl Sagan's bible, his statement of religous values. There is a messianic streak in the whole SETI movement, some hope that there are superior alien races out there that will descend upon us from on high and teach us in the ways of cosmic peace. Bleecch!

November 27, 2008 7:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I thought Contact was less awful, because Sagan was, at least in part, trying to describe the effect on society if we were to discover an alien society eons advanced beyond ours.

As for the rest, as any re-watching of Cosmos will quickly reveal, he is a grating, preachy, twit.

So the leaden acting was a feature, not a bug? Who knew?

All the SF movies I can remember that aren't re-enactments of pirate / WWII / cowboy movies were works were entertainment went to die.

I tried sitting through Dune. Mental waterboarding.

November 28, 2008 9:09 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper, part of the disenchantment with sci-fi is just due to the fact that it is an adolescent genre. The best sci-fi uses technology or space as just a plot device to tell a compelling story about the human condition. The worst sci-fi wants to escape the human condition, it is escapist. I'd put many religious impulses in that category as well, which is why technology idealists or transhumanists begin to sound a lot like messianic religious cultists.

I think the leadenness of Bowman and Poole's characters was some kind of statement in relation to the "human-ness" of HAL. It was like saying "computers can approach human-like function in part because humans are in many ways like machines".

But it would make sense that the people who were selected for a long space voyage would have very controlled, contained personalities. I think that they do similar profiling to choose crewmen for nuclear submarine duty. You don't want dramatic personalities on long space flights.

November 29, 2008 7:19 AM  

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