and now, for something completely different.

2010: Odyssey Two – two reviews

2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke

Here we go with book and movie in one post, again.  I did this with the predecessor to the book/movie in this post when I covered 2001: A Space Odyssey in both book and movie form side by side.  This time, I’m taking a look at 2010: Odyssey Two (the book) and 2010: The Year We Make Contact (the movie) as close to side by side as I can.  I remember both reading the book and seeing the movie when I was a lot younger, but it’d been long enough that I really only remembered the climax:  I had no idea how either the book or the movie got there.  I remembered that I thought 2010 was the most awesome movie ever at the time (this was some time after 1984 when the movie came out, and 1990 because I saw it before then for sure), so I was a bit concerned because that was when I was young.  I approached the movie version of 2010 with not a small amount of trepidation.  You see (as an example), I ruined my childhood memories of Thundercats by throwing it on the store monitors late at night with my coworkers at Blockbuster Video like 15 years ago.  We all thought that would be a good idea, but only the potheads in the store looking for a “totally whacked movie” to rent appreciated it.  So, the risk was to ruin my childhood memory of a cool space movie.  Well, here we go.

First, both book and movie follow from the general events from the movie version of 2001.  If you read my review of that story, you’ll recall that the movie and the book were slightly different.  In 2001 the book, the story ended up around Saturn; while in 2001 the movie, the story ended up around Jupiter.  So this time, we’re around Jupiter, and the race is on to reach a now famous derelict.  Discovery is still orbiting Jupiter’s moon Io, and still nobody has any idea what happened all those years ago when Dave Bowman famously left to investigate the monolith sitting at the Legrange point between Io and Jupiter.  All anyone on Earth knows is that his last words were “My God, it’s full of stars…”

Floyd and Moisevitch discuss terms at the VLA

Both versions of 2001 start with a somewhat reduced Dr. Heywood Floyd (he was forced to step down following the failure of the Discovery missions) getting a visit from a Russian.  Dimitri Moisevitch approaches him scientist to scientist – outside of international politics – with news and a proposal.  Proposal first:  He wants Floyd to join the crew of Leonov, a Russian ship being built to make the run to Jupiter to both explore the system and also visit the derelict Discovery.  With Russian propulsion advances, it’s also slated to get there ahead of the American effort:  Discovery Two is still under construction.

It’s a bit of a political whirlwind, as the Discovery is still technically United States territory… but who’s going to arrest the Russian crew several orbits further than Earth away from the sun?  Dimitri obviously doesn’t care about the politics.  Discovery was Floyd’s mission to oversee, and he has the people with the expertise to investigate: the people who built Discovery and all of its subsystems (including the riskiest one, the malfunctioning HAL 9000).  Floyd, out of both duty and curiosity, agrees to leave his wife and young child to join the mission, but wonders how they will get both of their governments to agree.  That’s where the news comes in:  Dimitri tells Floyd to check Discovery’s orbit carefully (which is degrading) and bring that to the president; challenge him to say no, then!

Movie to book, this exchange is a little different.  In the book, the two scientists have known each other for a long time while in the movie, Floyd is approached by someone he does not know in a Cold War that has persisted 20 years beyond what it actually did in real life.  Remember, this was a story written before the demise of the cold war.  Both exchanges are good and stand up as equally workable political environments, but I prefer the book’s version… Clarke’s books always seem to be a lot friendlier between characters than the movie adaptations, at any rate.  More on that in a bit.

So begins the trek to Jupiter.  Floyd makes the trip in hibernation with two of his colleagues:  Dr. Chandra (the genius responsible for HAL 9000) and Walter Curnow (the engineer largely responsible for building Discovery).  The idea is to keep them in stasis to conserve stored food and air and keep human needs to an absolute minimum for as long as possible (similar to how Bowman and Poole were the only officers awake on the original Discovery mission).

Europa, the mysterious Jovian satellite

The Russians end up waking Floyd early, though.  The circumstances are somewhat different between the movie and the book, but the central reason is the same:  Europa.  In the book, the Chinese have surprised both the Russians and Americans by building what looked like a space station in orbit around Earth, and then turning around and launching it towards Jupiter… it turns out to be a ship!  Well, that ship – the Tsien –  has landed on Europa to refuel (using liquid water underneath Europa’s frozen surface), and it has found definitive proof of primitive life there.  The ship is destroyed, however, and the lone survivor marooned to die even as he sends the exciting news towards where he thinks Leonov is.  In the movie, the Chinese ship doesn’t exist, and it’s on Leonov that they discover traces of life on Europa.  First by detecting what they think is chlorophyll, and second by sending an un-manned probe to Europa.  The probe is destroyed, but life on Europa is confirmed.

The Alexei Lenonov orbiting Jupiter

As Floyd awakes, the movie also gives us our first real view of the Russian ship Alexei Leonov.  It definitely does not follow from the organic, flowing forms of Discovery as visualized in Kubrick’s adaptation of 2001.  Leonov feels much more raw, industrial; almost “just thrown together.”  I don’t know if that’s a mark of American prejudices towards Soviet Russia in the 1980s, but that’s really the way it struck me.  2001’s Discovery really felt like the clean future, a time where everything has its place and you only ever interface with what you need to.  Leonov was visualized as a much more industrial, dirty future… I’d actually probably compare it most closely with how the Marine ship Sulaco looked in James Cameron’s Aliens.  The book described Leonov as a much more claustrophobic and functional vessel, rather than the vast, warehouse-like ship we see on screen.

Lots of cables - interior of Alexei Leonov

The differences in the ship between book and film don’t end there, either.  To put it bluntly, the Russians are a whole lot friendlier in the book than they are in the movie.  Again, this may be 80s American stereotypes showing through in pop culture.  The movie is also quite successful in having it feel like the Americans are the leaders and end up saving the day, while it’s much more of a team effort from start to finish in the book.  Even the crew is different.  While the names and genders and some interactions between them and their American passengers are replicated in the movie, the captain (in particular) is much stronger and more level headed in the book.  For me, this was one of the larger disappointments in the movie.  I thought Leonov was a really cool ship, but the soul of it wasn’t there in the movie the way it was in the book.

Okay, back on topic.  The Leonov finally makes a miracle braking maneuver using the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, and it ends up orbiting Io, where Discovery is located. Discovery is found spinning end-over-end, caused by momentum transferring from its long disabled artificial gravity deck.  That obviously makes boarding it and getting inside a little difficult:  there is zero gravity at the center of the spin, and close to moon gravity at either end of Discovery.  Curnow and Maxim Brajlovsky (one of the Russian crew) get on board by starting at the center of the spin, and slowly rappelling to the control module.  This is one of the most impressive effects sequences in the movie, and John Lithgow does a dynamite job of being an extremely frightened engineer.  The rapport between his and Elya Baskin’s characters is well captured on film.  Once inside Discovery, the two work towards restoring some reserve power, and stopping the horrendous end-over-end spin by getting the gravity module spinning again.  Once that’s done, they save the decaying orbit and set up an umbilical to allow easy transfers between the two ships.

It is a long drop to Io...

Once the ship is back in business, it’s Dr. Chandra’s turn:  he is charged with reactivating and troubleshooting HAL 9000.  There are pluses and minuses to the appearance of his character in the movie.  The minus first (because I’m a negative kind of guy):  in the book, Dr. Chandra is an extremely introverted but genius little Indian guy; in the movie, he’s just a moderately annoyed little white guy with an Indian name.  They couldn’t find an Indian actor in 1984, I guess.  As for the pluses: the annoyed little white guy was well acted, and still spoke technobabble very believably.  Also, the sequence of him first moving from Leonov to Discovery is an amazing special effects sequence, and is actually the one that stuck in my mind as a memory of when I first saw the movie 20 years ago.  The vertigo of passing from one ship to another over the violently volcanic Io was well captured and it’s still very cool today.

Dr. Chandra begins the slow process of reactivating and then re-training HAL for his duties.  The general plan is to get Discovery operational again to hit a launch window some twenty to thirty days away that will allow both ships to use the fuel they have to get on a heading that will send them home.  Everyone (except Chandra) is skeptical and suspicious of HAL, no matter how often Chandra tells them what happened in 2001 could not have been HAL’s fault.  He eventually isolates the problem to conflicting orders:  in 2001, David Bowman and Frank Poole as flight crew on Discovery were not privy to the true nature of the mission to Jupiter (investigating the signal burst sent from the TMA-1 monolith on the moon towards Jupiter).  HAL was made aware of the true nature of the mission, in order to assist the mission crew placed in stasis for the duration of the voyage.  In the human mind, that sort of spy stuff is easy to sort out, but to an artificial intelligence, it’s tantamount to lying.  HAL was instructed to lie, which is a concept that his logic could not understand, and that caused him to get stuck in a loop where he did a lot of things he wouldn’t normally do.  With all of that on the table, most of the crew still doesn’t trust HAL.  Can’t hardly blame them.

The monolith says: “yo.”

Somewhere after the reactivation of Discovery, the allure of the monolith between Jupiter and Io gets the better of the crew, and they decide they need to investigate.  This is played out much differently in the movie and in the book.  In the movie, the Russian Captain (played by Helen Mirren) boldly sends out  Brajlovsky in a pod to get up and personal with the Monolith, while Floyd pleads extreme caution and begs her not to send him.  In the book, Captain Kirbuk is much more loathe to get near the thing; the less she has to do with it the better, and the crew keeps insisting to her that it is the second most important reason for their being in the vicinity of Jupiter and Io.  Either way, while being investigated, the seemingly dormant monolith comes briefly to life and emits a massive pulse towards the direction of Earth.  In the movie, this pulse kills Max Brajlovsky, which I thought sucked; in this canon I don’t think the monolith is a killing machine.

The Russians and Americans start to settle down into a watch routine, monotonously waiting for their launch window, and filling the time by observing Jupiter, Io, and the again dormant monolith.  Clarke does a great tongue-in-cheek job in the book of describing how even hanging out in a spacecraft near Jupiter eventually becomes boring.  I found the movie version of this to have suffered greatly.  Playing up the cold-war aspects of the 1980s, the Russian and American crews are banished to their respective ships and forbidden to visit or even communicate with one another.  Why they decided to care so far from Earth makes no sense at all to me, and breaks the scientific spirit with which Dimitri originally approaches Floyd at the beginning of the movie.

At any rate, in both book and movie, as the crews settle into that waiting game, a couple of strange things happen on Earth.  At the same time, while on watch in Discovery, Dr. Floyd gets a visit from an old friend with a fairly definitive warning.  Floyd is told that it’s in their best interest to get away from Jupiter in the next two days.  Floyd is given irrefutable (to him) proof that the warning is genuine and not a trick or a game from a malfunctioning HAL, and so begins the crusade of first figuring out how to convince Captain Kirbuk to leave sooner, and second how to remove two weeks from the launch window wait and still make it home.

Chandra helps HAL remember himself

And that’s where I stop.  The rest of the story is up to you, but the course of humanity is changed yet again by the monoliths, and HAL sends a message to his creators one more time.  Read the book to find out how!

So as much as it sounds like I am complaining about the movie, I still loved the movie I remembered.  This is a good thing!  The writing was very strong, the cast was excellent at delivering the dialogue, and the basic premise of the book was still well captured.  I particularly loved how small and seemingly insignificant elements of the book were thrown into the movie, just to keep it grounded.  Some of it could have easily been tossed in editing, but it wasn’t.  Special effects were also dynamite, and I found that most of them still stand up very well today.  I am still particularly impressed by the space-walk scenes.  I think a lot of this was helped by the precedent Kubrick set in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Without some of his pre-work on sets (inside of Discovery and HAL in particular), the movie could have been much weaker.

As much as I loved it, though, the movie did have two main weaknesses over the book.  Number one was actually the music.  I can’t imagine that Star Wars would be nearly as popular a science fiction movie as it is today if it had the horrendous synthesizer space-music used in 2010 as its soundtrack.  Kubrick’s 2001 stands up today as a masterpiece partially due to his visionary filming, and partially due to the fact that it uses a wonderful classical soundtrack that fits the silence and mystery of space perfectly.  There is no 60s sci-fi music there.  While 2010 shares the main theme of 2001 (Strauss’ wonderful Also Sprach Zarathustra), the rest of the sound track is 80s sci-fi synth… blech!  The second major weakness (for me) of 2010 the movie was the extreme play-up of cold war animosity.  None of that sentiment seemed to come out of the book, which looked forward at competition and collaboration, not backwards at suspicion and animosity.  The fact that the crews didn’t get as chummy in the movie really bugged me after reading the book, a sentiment that climaxed when the two ships were forced to separate by nationality.

The book is absolutely wonderful and does well to succeed the story started in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The characters are excellent, the problems are very real, and it’s close enough to our own time and technology that it seems imminently accessible.  I also love the continued mystery of the monoliths, not even the reader is really given any secrets over what humanity at large experiences or knows, giving them this ‘even bigger than the story in the book’ mystique that stands up really well.  2010 is definitely worth reading, it gives you a real sense of mystery and wonder.

Double review complete, I’m going to focus on simpler jobs for a bit.  🙂


4 responses to “2010: Odyssey Two – two reviews

  1. Pingback: 2061: Odyssey Three – book review « azzurriffopubijix

  2. Geoff January 4, 2012 at 10:15 am

    No mention of Roy Scheider? I loved him as an actor, but here he’s his portrayal comes off a bit too blue collar to fill the shoes of William Sylvester.

    • sulfurlad January 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      I agree there, I didn’t comment on it. He certainly played it like a plucky adventure hero, but given the rest of the movie I suspect he was also directed into it. As I said, I think that had Kubrick’s movie not existed as catalyst for creativity here, the 2010 movie may have ended up looking quite a bit more 80s cliched (like more than it already was).

  3. Pingback: 3001: The Final Odyssey – book review « azzurriffopubijix

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