Saturday, January 1, 2011

Comparing 2010 and 2010

Yesterday, I finally finished watching a movie I started watching 20 years ago.

And in the process, took a break from watching 2010 movies to watch the original 2010 movie -- Peter Hyams' 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

It took me 20 years to watch the damn thing because of the abrupt tonal shift that occurs at about the movie's five-minute mark. If that seems like a ridiculous juncture for a "tonal shift," read on.

When I was growing up, we had a copy of 2010 on VHS, which my mom had recorded off cable, as she was wont to do. I watched the opening five minutes numerous times, because it scared the piss out of me. It contains a report on the failed Discovery mission depicted in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, with computer text steadily typing itself over still images from Kubrick's film. I was entranced not only by these ominous images of monoliths and the poor astronauts killed or otherwise compromised by HAL-9000, but also by the haunting choral music, and the cold deadness of the report's conclusions: "Status of the Discovery ... Unknown. Meaning of David Bowman's last transmission ... Unknown. Location of Bowman ... Unknown (Presumed Dead)."

Creepy shit. But not nearly as creepy as that last transmission itself: "My God, it's full of stars." That's the first thing you hear in 2010, before seeing any images, and it's warped by the degraded quality of the voice data, making it extra chilling. (Incidentally, I now have a clearer picture of where this opening came from -- it's more or less stolen from Outland, which I saw earlier this fall and which was also directed by Peter Hyams. The opening to that film contains the same kind of bottom-line report data over chilling images of outer space exploration.)

You'd think an opening like this would rope me in for the whole movie, even 20 years ago, when I was not yet the cineaste I am today. But after the report ends, the credits start, and the familiar strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" hit your ear drums and travel quickly down your spine, 2010 thuds back to Earth. It doesn't stay on Earth for long -- in fact, as I was watching yesterday, I was surprised to discover that I had a very wrong impression about how long it would be before the movie would return to space: something like ten minutes of screen time. But those ten minutes were enough to turn off the teenage version of me. There's an energy-sapping scene in which Roy Scheider's Dr. Heywood Floyd is addressed by a Russian scientist while working on a satellite dish, and this is when I would always turn 2010 off. As soon as they exchanged spooky space for broad daylight, I lost interest.

But I decided that the year 2010 arriving definitely meant it was time to watch 2010, and needless to say, I was running out of days to do it. I got it from Netflix last week, and when my wife went to the movies yesterday afternoon following my early release from work, I settled in for the final 109 minutes of 2010 during baby duty.

I'm not here today to tell you how good 2010 was or wasn't -- whether it delivered on even an ounce of the promise of that chilling opening. Because you might like to know anyway, I will tell you briefly that it's a decent movie if you are not comparing it to 2001. It's leagues more accessible than 2001, which is both a good thing and a bad thing -- ultimately, a lot more of a bad thing. For starters, there's some really terrible narration by Scheider at various points, which is not only on-the-nose, but his voice echoes in a very cheesy, space-opera kind of way. Then there's the little problem of the film's ridiculous ending. But there's also a lot of tension-filled danger-in-space shit, as well as a welcome appearance by Keir Dullea from 2001, looking as creepy and ethereal as he ever did. Plus, the special effects are pretty darn good for the year 1984. So, let's call 2010 a mixed bag.

No, what really interests me, and what allows me to turn this into a New Year's Eve "looking back at the year" piece, is how close they got to being right with their predictions about the year 2010. I took notes on the difference between our 2010 and the one depicted in the movie -- should we look at a few examples?

1. U.S. Foreign Policy
Their 2010: The United States of 2010 is still deeply entrenched in the Cold War, involved in a case of brinksmanship with the Russians that involves a Naval blockade off the coast of Ecuador (of all places).
Our 2010: Our United States is deeply entrenched in the war on terror, a war that has several fronts (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan), but its biggest case of naval brinksmanship involves the North Koreans and their nuclear testing.
Conclusion: Fears of nuclear annihilation are still high, even if the enemy is different.

2. The President of the United States
Their 2010: A never-seen conservative hawk who is described as "reactionary," "not into health food" and having "his finger poised on the button."
Our 2010: Barack Obama is a liberal -- though not as much of one as we may have originally thought -- who is trying to wipe out nuclear weapons in our lifetime.
Conclusion: Although Obama is in shape, he definitely likes his hamburgers, and I believe he probably still sneaks the occasional cigarette. So a health nut he is not. And some would say he is "reactionary," in the sense that he's quick to scrap some of his core principles in the interest of compromise. Whether you think that's a good thing or not is another issue.

3. Area of space exploration
Their 2010: Jupiter is the focus of all space activities thanks to the monolith, whose mysteries have dominated the resources and research of all space programs in all countries since the events of nine years earlier.
Our 2010: Although George Bush pledged to put men back on the moon, humans aren't very busy in space these days. The big NASA news of 2010 revolves around a different planet, Mars, where NASA engineers dropped bombs into craters to kick up plumes of vapor, intended to determine the presence of ice, and therefore, water. (I was having trouble finding the exact date or details online, so, to all you space buffs out there, please forgive any inaccuracies in the previous sentence.)
Conclusion: We don't care nearly as much about space as they once thought we would. It's the economy, stupid.

4. Status of major aeronautics company
Their 2010: "At PanAm, the sky is no longer the limit," says a TV commercial, advertising space travel through the company we would have known for their commercial airline travel: Pan American World Airways, as its full title was.
Our 2010: PanAm has not been in operation for the past 19 years.
Conclusion: The company this movie thought was poised to be the face of commercial aeronautics, well into the future, folded only seven years after the movie was released.

5. Status of the ballpark in Houston
Their 2010: Heywood Floyd (Scheider) and Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) discuss missing the taste of a hot dog. Curnow talks about the best dogs coming from the Astrodome in Houston, though Floyd prefers Yankee Stadium.
Our 2010: The Astrodome stopped being used by football's Houston Oilers in 1996 and baseball's Houston Astros in 1999. It hasn't been demolished, but there is currently a discussion of what to do with it, with the most recent proposal being to turn it into a movie studio. Where they would probably not sell hot dogs.
Conclusion: They couldn't have known in 1984 that almost all the existing baseball stadiums would be replaced in the next 26 years, least of all the Astrodome, which probably seemed state-of-the-art at the time. Even Yankee Stadium has been replaced -- though the new one is also called Yankee Stadium.

6. Status of bioscan technology
Their 2010: Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) activates a sophisticated government computer by using a scan of his hand to verify his identity.
Our 2010: I scan my thumb when I go to the gym.
Conclusion: Is the future a lot more futuristic than we ever thought it would be?

7. Virus technology
Their 2010: Dr. Chandra sends what he calls a "tapeworm" into the memory banks of HAL-9000, to destroy "unwanted memories."
Our 2010: Viruses enter our computers all the time, destroying things we actually want.
Conclusion: Advantage: Their 2010.

8. Signs that you're well off, financially
Their 2010: The Floyds own dolphins, who live in their indoor pool.
Our 2010: Home dolphin ownership is still a thing of the future, but if you're really cool, you now own a 3D TV.
Conclusion: I would probably rather watch images jump out of my TV screen than get to look at dolphins every day.

9. Portable computing
Their 2010: Floyd types on a computer on the beach, clunky though it may be.
Our 2010: We can take our laptops with us to the beach, if we aren't worried about sand gumming up the works.
Conclusion: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a match!

10. Number of suns
Their 2010: Two. At the end of the movie, Jupiter explodes, or something (it's hard to tell exactly), and a second sun is created in its aftermath, appearing as a smaller but still very bright light in the sky visible from Earth. Something to do with aliens, I think.
Our 2010: One.
Conclusion: Sorry to spoil the ending for you. But it's so stupid, I had to get it in there somewhere.

Bonus: HALs
Their 2010: HAL-9000.
Our 2010: Hal Sparks.
Conclusion: Sorry, that was the best I could come up with.

One final note regarding the year 2010. At the start of the year I wrote about not being sure what I wanted to call this year -- actually, by arguing in a January 5th post that we should call this year "two thousand ten" because we had always called the movie "Two Thousand Ten: The Year We Make Contact." Now that I've gotten to the other side, I feel the "twenty urge" building up inside of me. Although I've still heard as many people call 2010 "two thousand ten" as "twenty ten," I think the shift is really on for 2011, which will probably be referred to as "twenty eleven" by most people. Including, I think, me. I know, the firm "thousandaire" described in that post may be converting to a "twentier."

Well, happy twenty eleven or two thousand eleven or 2011 to all of you. See you back here next year.

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