Comparing 2001 and 2010

by John Morgan

I would say that people who I know who like films per se invariably think 2001 is by far the superior work, while people I know who are into science fiction tend to think that 2010 is better, because it has less of what they consider to be BS and is a straightforward SF story. This also explains why the best and brightest in the literary SF community reacted with almost unanimous distaste to 2001 when it was first released: Ray Bradbury, thought Clarke had been "raped" by Kubrick. These writers recognized, quite correctly, that Kubrick was putting cinematic art ahead of story in his list of priorities. A parallel can be drawn here with Stephen King's dislike for Kubrick's version of The Shining.

The plot of 2001 can easily be reduced to a few lines, it's not the storytelling but the cinematic technique that makes it work. And if you don't admire technique, then you probably won't enjoy 2001, or any of Kubrick's other works for that matter.

Personally I still think that 2001 is far superior to 2010. Having just seen 2001 projected in a theatre, there are a few things that have dated, although everybody acknowledges that the world of 2001 will be very different from the way Kubrick and Clarke imagined it. But we can still be mesmerized by their vision. 2010, with its heavy reliance on a Cold War scenario, is already far more out of date than 2001 . I've met countless people whose lives were affected by 2001...I seriously doubt that this is true for anyone who saw "2010." The message of 2001 still manages to captivate an audience - I did not hear a sound during the last 30 minutes of the film. This was never, and never will be, true of "2010, which has nothing like the same impact. On a technical level, I find the special effects in 2001 far more interesting than those in 2010.

I have to credit Hyams with one thing... he didn't even try to make a film as mind-boggling or as artistic as the original. 2010 is a sequel in name only, and a successor to the plot of the original without trying to BE the original. At least he had sense enough to steer clear of trying to better Kubrick. I can't think of a film that needed a sequel less than 2001 did, but if you're going to do one, 2010 was the best that you could hope to do without seeming ridiculous.

Gabrielle Pace, a correspondent to the newsgroup, wrote, "Theoretically, 2001 is a free entity. It does not exist in relation to any novel or sequel. However this theory is undermined watching 2010 which strives to explain things kept consciously ambiguous in 2001. Yet the answers 2010 gives are not the solution to the riddle posed by 2001. Still, 2010 is based on Clark's novel, so therefore it can be taken as Clark's solutions.

2010 definitely has more of Clarke in it than 2001 does, but the novel 2010 is still significantly different from the film. For me, the fact that 2010 tries to explain the original is one of its worst aspects of Hyams' sequal. Instead of a Starchild as a symbol of human progress, here we have a literal Starchild, zipping around space and giving mysterious warnings. Instead of being left to contemplate the meaning of HAL's psychosis for ourselves, we are spoon-fed the fact that HAL was made paranoid by conflicting orders. In case you missed the fact that the monolith was a powerful alien artefact, now we see it blowing up spaceships (something that was not in the novel). Instead of an unseen alien race helping human progress from afar, we now get greeting cards from them telling us to "live in peace." This desire to explain renders banal the symbolism that Kubrick used on a much more mythological level in the original.

Says Gabrielle Pace, "Kubrick is more of a high thinker, always asking the big questions: 'Why are we here? What is the meaning of it all? Is there a God? What is the purpose of Art? Is there a merging of Art and Science?' Where Clarke in comparison only asks small questions, and offers us a storybook ending praising the good of mankind."

If you read more Clarke, you'll see that he rarely shows signs of any artistic conscience beyond plot. His occasionally ridiculous remarks on the meaning of 2001 at the time of its original release clearly show this. ("If you can understand 2001 in one viewing, we have failed in our intent," he once said, as the critics prepared to pounce upon him.) Still, I do respect him as an SF writer, although I definitely credit the 2001 film to Kubrick. Don't blame Clarke for the storybook ending of 2010, however...the novel is much less melodramatic, and Clarke has little faith in the "good of mankind"...he seems rather to hope that one day we will all become machines! (cf. his Profiles of the Future)

GabrielIe's question is, "Is Kubrick correct in making the movie larger [than the book]? Does he really have the right? I mean, the man's a genius, he could make up his own screenplays to convey these ideas. But he always works off of novels. So, is it full of stars, or full of shit?" But it's not a question of right or wrong. It depends solely on what you want to get out of a film. If you're looking for a good story with strong characterization and a complex plot, then 2001 is not your film, but 2010 just might be. On the other hand, if you are more interested in "higher" themes, and in a piece of cinema that works visually rather than by traditional dramatic conventions (2001 is one of the most purely cinematic films ever made)

In conclusion 2010 is a genre piece while 2001 is a masterpiece, and if you are receptive to its message, I will leave you with this thought...2001 is definitely a film that requires that it's audience does a bit of work. With this film you can not shut your off your mind when you go into the theatre. When I recently saw the Polish director Kryzstof Zanussi speak, he said that he considered it fair for a director to expect his audience to meet him halfway, to be willing to expend a little effort to appreciate its subtlety. So I suppose the real question is, does a director have the right to expect this from an audience?