Hey, guys… Happy New Year.
“My God… it’s full of stars!”
Like many people, I look at the New Year as a chance to start things anew, to assess the way I’ve been doing things and look for ways to do things better. In particular, I want to post more here on the blog. A LOT MORE. And in order to do so, I can’t approach each piece as a small novel, which has always been my habit. Harry Knowles used to joke and refer to me as “one of THOSE comic book artists,” which stings but which also seems fairly accurate. I would imagine that if Greg Ellwood’s hair begins to thin any time soon, part of it is because of all the times he’s snatched it out waiting on me to finish something, hoping for more content.
One of the things I want to do this year is try to share thoughts on everything I watch. I’ve been asked over and over how many movies I actually watch during a year, and when, and how I manage to fit them all in. The truth is, I almost always have something playing. There are days where that’s not true, and days where it feels like it’s one right after another after another. Not everything deserves a full review. Some films have been written about endlessly, by myself or by others, and it seems like there’s nothing worth saying about them, and other films aren’t easily digested and I don’t have something immediate to say. But that ends up being a cop-out sometimes because I never come back to them.
So this year, I’m instigating what we’ll call the “QuickFix” here on the blog, where after I watch a movie… after I watch every single movie I watch… I’ll offer up a short reaction or a take or a thought… just something that marks the passage. And I figured there was no better way to kickstart both the series and the year than by watching the Peter Hyams film “2010: The Year We Make Contact.”
I started 2001 the same way, watching the classic Stanley Kubrick film for what must have been the tenth time, and I know it’s hopelessly nerdy, but I don’t care. My movie-loving OCD demands it, and so it shall be.
My first observation is that the film is crystal clear on BluRay, as I would expect, and that as a result, every single deficiency of the original materials is harshly exposed. So far, as studios have started releasing catalog titles on BluRay, I am struck by how wretched many of the ’80s films have been in terms of picture quality. At first, I thought it was individual transfers getting hosed for one reason or another, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s something about the era itself, about the film stocks that were used, about the way optical printers on FX films would degrade the image, and about the way movies were photographed at the time. There are some moments on the “2010” BluRay that are amazing, and some moments that look like they were shot through a snow filter.
I suspect that as studios get better and smarter about how they master movies for high-definition, my current issues will go away, but for now, caveat emptor when you’re picking up an ’80s film… you just don’t know what you’re going to get. It could be “The Terminator” (which actually looked sort of amazing) or it could be “Ghostbusters” (which I’d wipe my butt with if I didn’t think the edges would cut me). “2010” is somewhere in the middle, the quality shifting from shot to shot. The lower the light in a particular moment, the greater the noise in the image.
Questions of picture quality aside, it was amazing to revisit this film. It’s got to be terrifying to try to follow up Stanley Kubrick, and Peter Hyams was never what you’d call a critical darling. He’s made fun mainstream films as well as some abysmal crap, and the truth is that I don’t think he’s got a great eye for material. But if given something worth shooting, he shoots it incredibly well, and “2010” is a really smart piece of material overall, a true “hard SF story,” which is a rare thing for movies. Most of the time, SF films are actually action films or horror films or some other genre dressed up in SF clothing. Hard SF, stuff that’s based on science and speculation and big ideas, is not something studios seem willing to gamble on very often. For nerds like me, watching a sequence like the airbraking scene in “2010” or the space walk by Lithgow… that’s a dream come true. Gorgeously realized, grounded in reality, and yet rich with awe and wonder, “2010” would be considered a classic if it wasn’t dwarfed by the shadow of what is arguably one of the very best movies ever made.
Set aside the heady genius of Kubrick’s film, though, and what you’ve got is a smart, adult piece of SF that still manages to maintain a PG-rating. The Cold War stuff is fascinating because of what it says about the ’80s, and because it seemed impossible then that we’d have put that behind us by this point. I have a real fondness for SF films that are set in “the future” from when they were made, but which now take place in our past, like with “Space: 1999”. It’s always interesting to see just how far off the creators were in how they imagined a certain year. Hyams’ film is less concerned with tech than with the human personalities and how they react to an encounter with the unknown, and something like that doesn’t date.
The cast is amazing, with Roy Scheider at his prickly best, along with Bob Balaban, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Kier Dullea, and Ilya Baskin among those who make a strong impression. You do need to know the first film to fully appreciate the fine points of this one, but it works better as a stand-alone than one would expect. And I am most impressed by the fact that Hyams scripted this one himself from the Arthur C. Clarke novel. Makes me wish his career had played out in a very different way, because I can’t picture any studio ever letting him make a film this ambitious again.
Great way to start the year, and I look forward to sharing the journey of 2010 with you guys on a much more frequent basis.
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