June 6, 2012

Every now and then you hear rumors that some bonehead movie producer plans to make a sequel to Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, and you think to yourself, “How on earth could anyone get such a stupid idea?” Well, somebody got the idea to make a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even worse, they actually followed through on this stupid idea.

The result, 2010, is a ridiculous addendum to one of the great visionary works of the cinema. It takes up pretty much where 2001 left off, with stills from the first film to remind us of what happened to the first Jupiter mission, which was examining a large, inexplicable black monolith. (This introduction doesn’t make mention of any huge Star Child floating around.)

2010 has Russian and American astronauts cooperating to find out what went wrong with that mission by traveling to Jupiter and boarding the abandoned spaceship. The recognizable crew members for the new flight are Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, and Bob Balaban (the translator in Close Encounters).

Oh yes, there are a couple of members of the old crew still around. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), who underwent the series of inscrutable episodes at the end of 2001, still exists in some form near that monolith. And HAL 9000, the computer that flipped out so memorably before being dismantled, is resurrected.

The voice of HAL is Douglas Rain, the same actor who gave such unforgettable life to the computer in the 1968 film. Almost the only truly eerie moments in 2010 belong to HAL, because Rain’s voice is in subtly sinister character.

The rest of the film is hooey, with the imminent nuclear war on earth an obvious set-up for the unsurprising, upbeat ending. Writer-director-producer-cinematographer Peter Hyams (he did Capricorn One and Outland) throws in a couple of suspense pieces early on (a dull orbit entry and Lithgow’s shaky spacewalk) to distract us from the main objective, which is finding out what in tarnation that big black thing is.

Hyams gets the look of the film okay, but for all the technical progress of the last few years, it still doesn’t equal 2001. And he certainly can’t equal the earlier film’s stylistic breakthroughs; all he does is overlay his own optimistic view on things.

Stanley Kubrick would probably be disgusted by that. It was Kubrick’s chilly genius behind 2001, of course, and he is nowhere to be seen in this film—except as briefly glimpsed on the cover of Time magazine. Arthur C. Clarke, whose story “The Sentinel” inspired 2001, also wrote the sequel as a novel, and apparently had input on Hyams’ screenplay.

In a way, I’m almost relieved 2010 turned out to be as negligible as it is. Sometimes an ambitious or outrageous sequel can, in weird ways, tarnish the memory of an unimpeachable original. There’s going to be no problem about that with 2010. We can all just forget it.

First published in the Herald, December 7, 1984

Mostly I just remember being annoyed by the effrontery of the movie—the nerve of these people. Along with Rain’s vocal performance hitting the expected moments, there was a shiver conjured up by Keir Dullea’s presence, in part because he looked freakily like the guy from 2001—Dullea hadn’t aged much, and he didn’t have that many subsequent movie reference points to alter the image of Dave Bowman.


The Presidio

April 6, 2012

The Presidio is the first major dud among the summer movies, a silly film that employs almost every formulaic situation in the current book. The idea is a clash between an Army M.P. and a city cop when both are investigating a murder that happens on a military base.

This is not an unviable concept, but screenwriter Larry Ferguson and director Peter Hyams (2010) immediately step in the direction of cliché, and they never look back. In fact, the opening sequence is a car chase down the streets of San Francisco. Now there’s an idea that hasn’t been used in a movie in at least a year.

The military base in question is the Presidio, the hallowed compound at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course the Army man (Sean Connery) is a stiff-necked, by-the-book kinda guy, and of course the San Francisco cop (Mark Harmon) is a hothead who makes up his own rules. Connery was basically responsible for getting Harmon busted out of the Army a few years before, so these two fellows don’t much like each other, though you may suspect they will reconcile their differences before the final reel.

It probably goes without saying that Connery has a cute daughter (Meg Ryan) with whom Harmon strikes up an affair. And as long as we’re dragging in everything but the kitchen sink, let’s not forget Connery’s corny old pal (Jack Warden) from ‘Nam. Throw in a chase through Chinatown and the obligatory final showdown in an industrial factory, and all of the elements are there.

Except that none of the elements is new, or interesting. The Presidio is bad in many ways, from the regularly excruciating passages of dialogue to the palpable uncertainty of Mark Harmon essaying a tough-guy role (he’s trying to bring his voice down low, in an attempt to get away from his Mr. Nice Guy image).

The worst thing about the film is the way Hyams has left Sean Connery, his Outland star, out on a limb. Connery is fresh from winning the Oscar for his great work in The Untouchables, and he does try to fashion a performance here, but the role is so poorly written he doesn’t have a chance, except to get by on sheer professionalism.

The most embarrassing moment comes during Connery’s drunk scene, when he waxes about how the Army is “America’s Doberman pinscher,” always on the ready but not treated with respect. Or something like that. Anyway, The Presidio should do a fast fade and Connery can get on to what sounds like perfect casting: He’ll play the father of a certain globetrotting archaeologist in the next installment of the adventures of Indiana Jones.

First published in the Herald, June 15, 1988

Yeah, now this is a really awful movie. In 1988, based on the chewy pulp of Capricorn One, I still looked forward to seeing if Hyams might create a decent popcorn picture. The Presidio has the feel of something both contractually obligated and somehow left over from a writers’ strike, a deadness that sucks all the light out of the screen.