"Stanley Kubrick made the ultimate science fiction movie, and it is going to be very hard for someone to come along and make a better movie, as far as I'm concerned. On a technical level, it can be compared, but personally I think that '2001' is far superior."
—George Lucas, 1977
Today, the third trailer for Christopher Nolan's upcoming [Interstellar](movie:813746) was released online. The buzz and anticipation for this film is building huge momentum. With out a doubt, one of the most anticipated films of the year. Some argue that this film can possibly be a watershed moment in modern Sci-Fi films, which to be honest, could use another boost from an imaginative mind like Christopher Nolan. Comparisons, to Kubrick's 2001, are already being made, and whether Nolan can bring heady Sci-Fi material to the mainstream.
During this past week while I was writing my article on my Top Ten Stanley Kubrick Films , I decided to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again, perhaps Kubrick's magnum opus, although he was such a great director that's merely arguable at best. I watched the Blu-Ray release of the film with commentary from the films stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, two relatively unknown actors besides their appearances in 2001. After all, 2001 is not really an 'acting' heavy film, although Dullea's performance is truly underrated and deserves reappraisal.
I've known and most movie goers know that 2001 had a profound effect on the Science Fiction genre. After all, before 2001, science fiction films weren't nearly held in the same regard as other genres, often considered B-movies with campy plots. The influence of 2001 on subsequent film-makers is considerable. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and others, including many special effects technicians, discuss the impact the film has had on them in a featurette entitled Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 included in the 2007 DVD release of the film. Spielberg calls it his film generation's "big bang", while Lucas says it was "hugely inspirational", labeling Kubrick as "the filmmaker's filmmaker". Sydney Pollack refers to it as "groundbreaking", and William Friedkin states 2001 is "the grandfather of all such films". At the 2007 Venice film festival, director Ridley Scott stated he believed 2001 was the unbeatable film that in a sense killed the science fiction genre.
Similarly, film critic Michel Ciment in his essay "Odyssey of Stanley Kubrick" stated "Kubrick has conceived a film which in one stroke has made the whole science fiction cinema obsolete." Others, however, credit 2001 with opening up a market for films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Blade Runner, and Contact; proving that big-budget "serious" science-fiction films can be commercially successful, and establishing the "sci-fi blockbuster" as a Hollywood staple.
Indeed, while Lucas and Spielberg may have opened the genre back to "B-movie" formula, they achieved it in such a well made, inspirational way. The point is, as a result of 2001, science fiction was finally taken seriously as a genre. Indeed, even television shows like Neil deGrasse Tyson's new rendition of Cosmos owes a lot to Kubrick's 2001. These films and shows get the discussion started on scientific topics, and I think that's a great thing.
I wanted to focus on a couple of films that are in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and my take on them.
One thing I really want to point out is that plot's like 2001, which was also written in novel form by Arthur C. Clarke, involves a mysterious occurrence where a crew of astronauts, or sometimes simply a few astronauts, set out in search of what happened to the previous crew of a mission, most of the time the mission the second crew is on is the same as the previous mission, and the details are either kept secret, like they were in 2001, or involve some kind of mysterious/ambitious conclusion.
Solaris - 1972 - Andrei Tarkovsky
Plot: A psychologist is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane.
Sounds similar in some way to 2001, however there's a difference, the issue of love. Salman Rushdie calls Solaris "a sci-fi masterpiece", and has urged that "This exploration of the unreliability of reality and the power of the human unconscious, this great examination of the limits of rationalism and the perverse power of even the most ill-fated love, needs to be seen as widely as possible before it's transformed by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron into what they ludicrously threaten will be 2001 meets Last Tango in Paris.' What, sex in space with floating butter? Tarkovsky must be turning over in his grave."
Alien - 1979 - Ridley Scott
Plot: The commercial vessel Nostromo receives a distress call from an unexplored planet. After searching for survivors, the crew heads home only to realize that a deadly bioform has joined them.
Again a group of astronauts (more military/engineers) set out on an adventure again to discover what a stress call might be. Like 2001, Alien takes it's time, and we're a little more engaged with the human characters this time. However, soon the film goes right into alien creature horror, where as in 2001 we are never shown any extra terrestrials, although they are heavily implied and described in Clarke's novel. Alien also features one of the most horrific, surprising moments in cinema history. The slow build up only makes that moment even more impactful.
The Abyss - 1989 - James Cameron
Plot: A civilian diving team are enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.
After bursting onto the scene with The Terminator and Aliens, James Cameron goes for a more philosophical approach in The Abyss. One could say The Abyss is '2001 under water'. While the 1989 theatrical cut was met with mixed reviews, the 1993 Director's Cut was thought to be an improvement over the theatrical cut.
Contact - 1997 - Robert Zemeckis
Plot: Dr. Ellie Arroway, after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens, who send plans for a mysterious machine.
While this may not be an astronauts on an adventure film, this certainly qualifies as being in vein of 2001, and owes a bit to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Like 2001, the aliens aren't seen in Contact. The film also deals with religous fanaticism vs science. Neil deGrasse Tyson named Contact one of his Ten Best Science Fiction Films: The second film that I know of that is all about contact with alien intelligence and yet does not offer you a glimpse of what they look like. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Carl Sagan advised Arthur C. Clarke to not show aliens in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Contact” itself is Carl Sagan’s Story. A brilliant exploration of how our culturally and religiously pluralistic society might react to the knowledge that we have been contacted by a species more intelligent than we are.
Contact was praised for having a more intelligent plot than Independence Day, released a year before, while still making it an accessible popcorn movie. Zemeckis is from the Spielbergian school of filmmaking, and that's not a criticism.
Mission to Mars - 2000 - Brian De Palma
Plot: When the first manned mission to Mars meets with a catastrophic and mysterious disaster, a rescue mission is launched to investigate the tragedy and bring back any survivors.
Out of a lot of the films in vein of 2001, Brian De Palma's much maligned film Mission to Mars is clearly heavily inspired by 2001. As I mentioned it was savagely criticized by critics for it's somewhat awkward, clunky dialogue. However, you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking science fiction film. The space sequences are visually stunning, and the scenes depicting astronauts on Mars looks as if it was shot on location.
It's interesting to note that this is De Palma's only film that's not rated R, as a matter of fact it's rated PG, also echoing 2001, which received a G rating. The movie was made by Walt Disney Pictures, who had several theme park rides that were like a mission to Mars, and I believe they were hoping the success of this film would launch something like that. Why they decided to go with De Palma, I have no idea. I personally think De Palma is at his best when he's not involved in huge budgeted blockbusters (although I like Mission: Impossible).
Mission to Mars is ultimately worth it however for it's stunning visuals and touching portrayal of extra terrestrial life.
Sunshine - 2007 - Danny Boyle
Plot: A team of international astronauts are sent on a dangerous mission to reignite the dying Sun with a nuclear fission bomb in 2057.
Plot wise, this film is pretty bizarre, and woefully scientifically innacurate, although I don't hold that against the film. The idea is that the Sun is dying and that in order to be "reignited", a nuclear warhead must be set off on the Sun. Interesting concept, although completely hooey. Scientists estimate at least another 5 billion years before the Sun dies out. I think we'll be alright.
Previous science fiction films that Boyle cited as influences included Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, and Ridley Scott's Alien. As a matter of fact it's more like a blending of those three films. Danny Boyle is an extremely talented filmmaker, and this film is dramatic and suspenseful with some really good performances given by a multi-ethnic cast. The film tackles ideas of religious fanaticism, indeed the main "villain" turns out to be a God freak, believing that God wants our planet destroyed.
After the reveal of the main villain, the film kind of morphs into a slasher film in space, albeit a very well made one at that. It's definitely worth a look for fans of science fiction and Boyle.
Moon - 2009 - Duncan Jones
Plot: Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems.
We move from the Sun to the Moon. The most obvious homage to 2001 in Duncan Jones's first feature film Moon is the relationship between Sam Bell (Rockwell) and the HAL:9000 like GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey. The film was specifically written as a vehicle for actor Sam Rockwell. The film pays homage to the films of Jones' youth, such as Silent Running ( a film I considered for this list but I feel is horribly outdated), Alien, and Outland.
Jones described the intent: "[We] wanted to create something which felt comfortable within that canon of those science fiction films from the sort of late seventies to early eighties." The director spoke of his interest in the lunar setting: "for me, the Moon has this weird mythic nature to it.... There is still a mystery to it. As a location, it bridges the gap between science-fiction and science fact. We (humankind) have been there. It is something so close and so plausible and yet at the same time, we really don't know that much about it."
Gravity - 2013 - Alfonso Cuarón
Plot: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after a catastrophe destroys their shuttle and leaves them adrift in orbit.
To me this film represented the possibilities of the future of filmmaking, and sitting in a theater watching this film for the first time back in October, in this cynical age towards cinema and cinema theaters, was breathtaking.
The film works on a more basic level than 2001. The plot is simple and straight forward, but the technical achievement by Cauron, who won the Oscar for Best Director this past Academy Awards, is right on par, if not equal to Kubrick's 2001. Gravity, like 2001, places the audience in a situation of what it might actually be like to be in space and experience zero gravity. The opening unbroken take of the first few minutes in the film is miraculous.
Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás. Cuarón told Wired magazine, "I watched the Gregory Peck movie Marooned over and over as a kid." Marooned is a film I have not seen, and perhaps will be on the list once I check it out.