Why ‘2001’ Still Rules SF
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’?