Interstellar vs 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Days of Fear and Wonder Sci Fi Season Bfi

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Interstellar was released to an awaiting UK audience 2 days after its November 5th Los Angeles premiere. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Director Stanley Kubrick: 1968) has been given a polish and rerelease for 10th November and is being shown as part of the Days of Fear and Wonder season of Sci-Fi greats at the Bfi. The season continues until December, has a national emphasis and a few books out on classics by notable names in the industry, at least in the UK.

The films are 46 years apart. That is the life of this writer: Stanley Kubrick adapted 2001 from book by Arthur C Clarke called The Sentinel. The review comes after seeing this film for the first time on the big screen in spite of middle age. The same will probably be true of a lot of those seeing it at the Bfi - who is co-incidentally releasing it as part of its own label. 2001 is a philosophical work interspersed with Science Fiction. Interstellar (Director Christopher Nolan 2014) in comparison was born from an impetus for a film to make certain scientific pontifications about relativity and wormholes. One is though, owed a great deal to the other and it is difficult to imagine Interstellar holding its own for the next 46 years.  It has mysteriously won an enormous amount of great reviews in spite of its many flaws in plot and need be held against the excellent Particle Fever to learn something amount what really happens when something of scientific significance occurs. 2001 is a far deeper, more meaningful film regardless of the absence most of the time of dialogue and human interaction. Interstellar has us believe that with Earth's resources depleting, the solution is in the hands of a farmer/scientist with a tricky but smart daughter. The film about the journey to harness the missing boson that explains the origin of the universe and all matter, as well as providing data sufficient to help the understanding of what's next provides enough to found the next 100 years of science fiction based on science fact. In spite of the film being co-produced by a Theoretical Physicist, Interstellar remains, largely a ludicrous, overblown bore.

In reality - that is, the reality of living on Earth in the here and now, science is a definitive definite community with interested parties from all over the world: the idea  that Americans keep putting forward of them alone rescuing the universe or life as we know it is simply annoying (Armageddon, Deep Impact). So is the English Genius cliché whether applied to Bond films or over ambitious multimillion projects given to the latest Spielberg - Christopher Nolan.  Michael Caine plays the part of a never aging (even in earth years) scientist (Professor Brand) with an equally brainy daughter Amelia (Ann Hathaway - who has the most laughable lines of dialogue ever in a film about time, relativity and sums) and he sends messages from a parallel universe to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)via his very brainy daughter, Murph (Mackensie Foy) who is the emotional lynchpin for the film, as it is the search for the reconnection with love across time and space which fills the black hole left by boredom and plot leaps.
The bit with Matt Damon as lone guy an iceberg inhabited by rather nasty storms does really pose as that great a comparison to our tree filled, oxygen laden planet.

It is however, visually stunning and the 'space' research shows, albeit not unusual, but here a shade misguided. NASA adviser and The Science of Star Trek writer has been a continual CV credit for a MIT Professor for the past ten years or so. The merger of science fact and fiction is not new, and here Interstellar is part of a continuum more than a film providing any fresh insight as to who we are or where we are heading, in spite of the vast discoveries to channel into. The guys developing the script have obviously got the bit between their teeth years ago with the story and have stuck to it.

It is easy to see its influences and what it owes to which predecessor: The production design is straight out of Alien - the first one, and 2001. Gravity - will have been of slender influence, but the loneliness and the human need for emotional connectivity are coincidental themes. The idea of placing grieving folk in space is consistent with the Oscar winning vehicle for Sandra Bullock. Contact shares the father and daughter theme, which shares as well male lead in Matthew. The broken , or incomplete home aspects are straight out of ET (Spielberg was first script and production chief) and there is the reachiness of Close Encounters in terms of humans exploring other worlds, needing them to resolve our problems with accepting other intelligence. Star Wars gave us the two android machines as helpers ideal, but the robots in Interstellar are, without doubt the best things about it - and the most feasible, with each of them more believable as the anthropomorphic R2D2 and C3PO. 2001 though is the most obvious source and it shows that a sci-fi film set in space cannot conceive life without referencing heavily its first cousin.

The script for 2001 took almost half the time Interstellar took to conceive and develop. The Kubrick classic is often cited as one of the best films of all time and is undoubtedly the best Sci fi of all time. It is not post-apocalyptic, but rather starts at the dawn of man and consistently suggests that progression in us has had something to do with outside help and influence with the presence of big fuck off monoliths appearing at regular intervals. The all-encompassing and yawn inducing Tree of Life was embarrassing in its attempt to emulate 'the meaning of it all' stuff abundant in 2001: A Space Odyssey. What Kubrick's child did was to attempt to pose some of these interesting questions but give us a dose of techno fear at the same time. This has been carried into the works of Michael Crichton, with The Andromeda Strain, Coma and Westworld, more recently in the work of Cronenberg and more directly, in the excellent Demon Seed, the Donald Trumbull feature. Donald was SFX supervisor for 2001. He went from that to creating a monster that would rape Julie Christie.

HAL has got one of those reassuring quiet voices that seem malevolent even when messaging good intent. Mother in Alien (and Ash) were spawn of HAL - the ridiculously murderous computer that can read lips with no particular motive, just the need to keep it to himself. Kubrick manages to wrap a conspiracy theory into the multi threads of 2001 without making it its core component as was the main continuums true of the Alien sequels with the Industrial Complex the enemy of humanism to feed its defence programme. The theme of unfriendly computers/androids/robots has been fed us since in I Robot, The Terminator/2, Blade Runner and of course this had Metropolis as main parent - quoted as source for Christopher Nolan.  The cinematography still holds up today and the walking within the drum in the craft was 'Sweded' in the movie Be Kind, Rewind. The film just doesn't seem to age and continues to inspire.

Interstellar has taken a disgusting amount of money in its first couple of weeks and in Britain has been centre stage in the west end - with the excellent Days of Fear and Wonder at the Bfi across Westminster Bridge on the Southbank. The season was introduced to the British film press way back in July on a day we were invited to look at one of the original continuity scripts from Star Wars complete with Polaroids taken during the shoot. The script was guarded by a Storm trooper, the food spaceship shaped crisps and UFOs with sherbet in them. Nearly all said by the curator was affirmative - aside from the proposal that the Sci Fi fan base is informative: the fan base of this genre, the not so serious ones can let the side down considerably - as do Horror fans. But the proposition that Science Fiction mirrors the fears of the time in which it was made is correct: we have expressed isolation, alienation, fear of the unknown, and mostly the social consequences of the reliance on technological advances. Star Trek (the original TV series) and The Omega Man were the first motion pictures to depict interracial relationships. Science fiction has always been at the forefront of mirroring progression. However the statistics relating to Jedi having 390 000 folks claiming it as a religion or belief system is rather worrying, lightened somewhat by the alternative stats pointing to the amount of work and jobs Science Fiction features creates with Visual FX, Art Direction having 7000 employees. Britain of course is just top of the cake with an Oscar win by Frameworks for Gravity. Science Fiction is quoted the favourite genre of choice by 24% of women.

The season covers classic television such as Tomorrow's World, has over 1000 screenings in 200 locations. It continues right until the end of the month. The Sci Fi costume exhibition display at Bfi Southbank 'Fashioning the Future', is on until January 5th.
Interstellar is on general release.

Gail Spencer

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