Why ‘2001’ Still Rules SF



Red alert on the Avalon for Jim (CHRIS PRATT) and Aurora (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) in Columbia Pictures' PASSENGERS.

There’s a problem with most filmed science fiction. It’s just surfaced again in the flawed but enjoyable Chris Pratt/ Jennifer Lawrence starrer ‘Passengers’ and it’s this; most SF films are about earthly, human situations with the words ‘in space’ added.

Outland = Cop chases villains – in space.

Alien = People fight beast – in space.

The Martian = Castaway gets marooned – in space.

Interstellar = Cowboy reconnects with daughter – in space.

Event Horizon = Hazardous journey destroys ship’s crew – in space.

Contact = Girl has faith in God restored – in space.

And Passengers = boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl back – in space.

But ‘2001’ is different, because the idea is not one suited to an earthbound, human tale. And there’s the key word, ‘idea’, one we don’t hear anymore, because now we’re all about the self and what’s inside, not what’s out there. But for a brief moment, around the time that Kubrick made ‘2001’, it seemed as if we might be about to explore grander themes.

‘Passengers’ faces other problems. Its central idea is simply creepy when it should feel romantic, it goes against the current trend of independent female roles and it’s littered with plot holes (one med-pod for 5,000 people?). It was pretty, though, and not awful enough to warrant one American website describing it thus; ‘Misogynistic and predatory issues with agency and consent only highlighted the fact that the film had few redeeming creative qualities.’ Jeez guys, it was a rom-com – in space.

‘2001’ avoided criticism by virtually doing away with anything as small as human emotions and concentrating on the (literally) bigger picture. Even as its technology dates, the film becomes more impervious and superior to those around it. This is the opposite of George Lucas tinkering with his rubbery characters in ‘Star Wars’ movies and locking them to different periods of CGI development.

The big question remains; the great space books have never been filmed (Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ made it to an awful version on cable). Will a studio ever again have the nerve to finance something as grand and unknowable as ‘2001’?



9 comments on “Why ‘2001’ Still Rules SF”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I really liked Charles Dance as Karellen, though.

  2. Ken Mann says:

    Well “Arrival” got made, so there is hope.

  3. Brooke says:

    Take a look at the Jet Propulsion Lab website and you’ll find that reality is far outstripping any sci-fi, with the possible exception of D. Brin. But the general population is not science literate so it’s hard to see how writers and studios can portray “space” any better than the junk we see now. I miss Doug Adams and his mind bending language!

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Brooke – one can read those over and over – all five parts of the trilogy.

  5. SteveB says:

    Well Outland was avowedly High Noon in space and none the worse for it in my opinion.

  6. SteveB says:

    Hit the button too soon…
    There’s not many options to do a high concept sf film. Mostly they’re either a runaround, space as a backdrop, or of the dystopian variety.
    It was Nigel Kneale who said, you’ve got three stories: we go to them, they come to us, or they were here all along.

  7. Chris Everson says:

    I must be missing loads, as I found ‘Arrival’ banal, boring, one-dimensional and unoriginal. No tension (once she decoded the language… which was glossed over.. no threat). I love Renner and Adams. The latter was superb (as always), but Renner had nothing to do and Forest Whittaker just played the part he has a dozen times before. I hated it. People said it was ‘intelligent sci-fi’… I found it anything but.

    Passengers on the other hand… I loved. I could say why and elaborate more, but I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it. At first the ‘selfish’ act annoyed me, but I came to understand it, and I thought the four main actors were superb. The only think that annoyed me was… why was Andy Garcia even in it? He was on screen for maybe 5 seconds (I kid you not). He was above a couple on the cast list who actually were in it for a time (Lawrence’s friends on the messages and the hologram gal) who deserved a higher billing than him. But hey… the movie… I loved and it entertained me and made me think a darned more than ‘arrival’ did.

  8. admin says:

    Maybe you need to watch ‘Arrival’ again Chris…it’s the first ‘pure’ SF film in a long time because of the unique way time works in the film that explains communication. Some people who saw it missed the point completely. ‘Passengers’ was simpler and less rigorously SF.

  9. Peter Dixon says:

    Passengers: looked great but was like a 70’s disaster movie in space. It was lucky that the main man was an engineer and not a hairdresser. Will they still use electric screwdrivers in 2200 or whenever the thing is supposed to be set?
    Weren’t the scutters from Red Dwarf?

    There are hundreds of high concept SF stories in existence, mostly written in the 1950’s and 60’s that are aching to be filmed but never get a look in: watching repeats of the original Star Trek series is interesting because they were mostly written by real SF novelists.

    Thoroughly agree about Arrival. The Martian was a good one too.

    2001 set the bar really high but Solaris (the original) and the first Planet of the Apes were excellent movies from great books.

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