Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2001 vs 2010, part 2020

Over the years, many people have asked me why, as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine [Starlog], my editorials don't appear in the front of each issue. Well, there are several reasons — not the least of which is that STARLOG's publisher, Kerry O'Quinn, uses the front editorial space for his comments, which come "From the Bridge." But I really do enjoy having the last word, a habit which I picked up early in life.

I bring this up now because there is something about which I would like to have the last word this month. The subject at hand is "2001 vs. 2010." Filmmaker Peter Hyams is in an extremely ticklish position, because 2010 certainly will be compared with 2001, regardless of the fact that it is definitely not a standard sequel.

The two films really have little in common: both are translated from Arthur C. Clarke novels and both have a Monolith and David Bowman. Unfortunately, this is enough to cause comparisons. The cast and production team of 2010 are painfully aware of this fact and, perhaps, a bit defensive about it. After all, 2001 is a classic, a landmark motion picture, an international phenomenon and the philosophical statement of a generation.

In explaining the difference between the two films, it has often sounded as if the people who are associated with 2010 are putting down 2001. This is unfortunate, unnecessary and clearly not the intention of Hyams and his team. And yet ... .

And yet there are certain comments by Hyams and "visual futurist" Syd Mead with which I must take issue. Specifically, in terms of the design differences between the two movies. According to these two multi-talented men, the Discovery is a work of pure fiction, while the Leonov is more reflective of reality. To a certain extent, they are right. Back in 1968, no one had any idea of how an actual interplanetary spacecraft might look. Today, as Mead has pointed out, we have walked on the Moon, sent remote-controlled craft to the outer planets, and seen a Presidential mandate for a manned space platform in the next decade. Today, we know how space looks, how spacesuits look, how the Shuttle was designed to take maximum advantage of limited space.

However. . .what Mead, Hyams, Clarke, et. al. fail to take into account is the ever-increasing speed of social and technological change. One must bear in mind that Stanley Kubrick's task was to extrapolate 33 years up the timeline. He had every reason—and every right—to believe that the speed of change would obsolete any subtle extrapolation from then-current designs. This is the crucial point.

Today, the speed of change has increased: Hyams' task of extrapolating 26 years up the timeline is an even greater challenge, due to that fact. A challenge which, I feel, he has not met as successfully. Let's face it: with enough time and money, the Leonov could be built now— pretty much as it appears in the film. Certainly, this gives filmgoers a reality base with which to appreciate the design work, the look and feel of astronauts in space. But it is definitely not a better job of extrapolation than that done by Kubrick's team. In fact, the Leonov would have been a better design for 2001, while the Discovery is still futuristic enough to look good as a ship designed in 2010.

I have much more to say on this subject, but, as usual, no more space. See the film and let me know how you feel on this subject.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Suits in Space

Suiting up for a romp through the Solar System, the producers of 2010 were aware of the legacy they had become the caretakers of. The costumes were perhaps not lavish, but practical. Practical to the point of being nominated for an Academy Award. 

American helmet with top mounted light.
The spacesuits in the movie were designed by veteran designer Patricia Norris, who had just come off her design detail for Brian De Palma's notorious movie Scarface. That movie, starring Al Pacino in possibly his hammiest performance, was mostly about pinstripe suits and open collars. For 2010, her gig was slightly different. She received an Academy Award nomination at the 57th Academy Awards for Best Costume Design for her work, but unfortunately lost to Czech designer Theodor Pistek for his splendid work on Amadeus.

American helmet.
All in all she was nominated an incredible six times for her work. This was not the first time Norris was paired up with Peter Hyams; she had previously worked with the director on another of his science fiction films, Capricorn One. Miss Norris sadly passed away in February of 2015.

The immediately noticeable difference between the American and the Russian space suits is, of course, the helmet. The Russian helmets have the work lights on the left and right sides of the helmet, whereas the American helmets have one single light mounted on top. This distinction is seldom noticed by the average movie goer.

Russian space suit helmet with
side mounted work lights.
All in all the American and the Russian suits are, of course, completely different.

The cut and the fabric for the American suits was very much designed as a match for the then-current NASA space suits, whereas the Soviet-Russian space suits were similar in design to the suits in the previous movie.

This sartorial design decision was made to reflect the difference in trajectories between the US and Soviet space programs; the Russians were more often than not focused on what had worked previously, and saw very little importance in recreating already workable models.

Discovery Suits

The Discovery space suits of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 have a series of differences, some noticable, some less so.

The most obvious is the size of the suit control apparatus. In 2010 a much slimmer piece had replaced the much bulkier one from 2001.

2001 suit at left, 2010 suit at right.

Since all blueprints, designs, and props from 2001: A Space Odyssey had been destroyed, the 2010 production crew had to use blow-ups of frames from the movie to recreate the red space suit for Dave Bowman. In the eyes of the casual movie goer the 2001 recreation was of course similar enough to produce the illusion of continuity.

At Dave Bowman's Leisure

One detail that is often overlooked, or missed entirely, is the evening suit of Dave Bowman. It's only visible in two short shots, and it is supposed to function as a bridge between the 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 movies. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the suit is worn by Dave Bowman in the perplexing hotel suite at the very end of the movie. In 2010 Dave Bowman wears it when he appears as an apparition for his boss Heywood Floyd.

Leisure suits, 9 years apart.

The suit was copied from blowups taken from the previous movie, and due to the limitations not every piece of the suit could be copied. The two shots are only a couple of seconds each, so it is doubtful any moviegoer would have noticed any differences.

Production Crew Attire

Arthur C. Clarke's personal jacket.
The final piece that belongs in this article is the attire handed out the the production crew. It used to be common for most major productions to have specially made jackets, caps, and various pieces of clothing made for the core crew.

Some production houses still do this, but most major movie houses these days are only looking at the bottom line. Therefore all paraphernalia is aimed at the general audience. For 2010 however the crew was given their own gear.

Baseball cap for the production crew.
Among the items created for the production crew was a baseball cap and a jacket. A jacket in the same style was for sale by Starlog magazine until the end of 1985. The Starlog jacket was, however, different from the jacket made for the production crew. The baseball caps, in fact, had a small additional run in the year 2010 to coincide with the actual year the events in the movie transpired.

Sir Clarke's 2010 jacket in
storage in Sri Lanka.
It is still possible to find some of the production crew items for sale. They show up - predictably with ever lessening frequency - in various prop stores and on online auction sites such as eBay.

Whether these crew clothing items were designed by Patricia Norris, or whether they were simply standard issue novelty wear, is not known at present.

The 2010 crew was given quite a lot of other items as well, but they are irrelevant for this article.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM, ©2011 Arthur C Clarke Foundation.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Monolith Metrics - Component Three

For better or for worse, doorways to our cthnonian self are indelibly imbedded in our psyche, and have been ab aeterno. The monolith, we realize, is a lot older than we think it is.

Of course the monolith is more than an unembellished jet-black slab.

The featureless simplicity of the shape - a simple geometric form - belies the complex profundity of its essence. Of course, as a mere block the monolith emits no menace, it simply is. Even Moon-Watcher himself literally forgets the existence of the brick once he has established it is neither edible nor a threat.

We should not dismiss the dark hunk so easily, though. There are several layers of meaning embedded in the chunk o' charcoal, and if one manages the inconceivable - scratching the surface of it - one finds it is veritably rife with symbolism and suggestion.

The Overmind

Perhaps the most obvious analysis is to compare the metamorphic capacity of the gateway to the transcendence of Man into the Nietzschean Übermensch. It has been said the opening leitmotif was chosen by Kubrick singly due to its majesty and brevity, but the tangential references to Zarathustra are difficult to ignore. The "perfect Intelligence" which Zoroaster ascribes to Mazda is fully realized in the monolith.

In Nietzsche's view, the übermensch is the purpose of the Earth, or rather, all of Creation exists in order to bring forth said super-human. And it must be remembered the übermensch prevails in the present, in the here and now, it is not an angelic post-mortem existence beyond these dying realms, þás sáwlung wuldorgesteald. Hence it is devoid of all need for deities and revelation; it is, in Nietzsche's words, the "death of God."

The Nietzschean transformation sequence is complete with the emergence of the Star Child, when Bowman as a panthera leo says "I will," and leaves the company of Man and ventures past the mouth of the Dragon - "on every scale glittereth golden Thou Shalt!" of all others, symbolized by the unobtainable monolith - and finally realizes his own will cannot prevail and can only submit.

When Bowman returns to the present after having been transformed, he is essentially resurrected as a higher being, as a child, as the "sacred Yes." This being cannot be anything or anyone else but the übermensch; the "one who has died but who has been resurrected", and is now living on another plane, the egenomen nekros. The monolith is thus the final grammatikos, leading the traveler to enlightenment, to the Campbellian boon. The Star Child is of course the Nietzschean child, who no longer exists codependently, but is unrestrained, utterly free "for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will ... its own world."

But there is much more to the monolith than this. It has, after all, a shape. A constitution.

Eternal Change

When the monolith is seen as pure Form, it cannot really be the Form for anything but the eternal, as we shall see. Before we do that we must acknowledge there exists a minor problem with this, however. Or not as much perhaps a problem as a lack of definition. It is impossible to ascertain whether the monolith represents the morphē or the eidos, or whether it is, indeed, its own form and ideal.

The monolith is due to its nature both the nominalist universal, as well as the platonist Form; it is "a shape for something that has no shape." The impossible perfection of the shape makes it a platonic Form, but since there exists nothing else that it can be a Form for, it is both its own Nominalist universal, as well as its own Nominalist particular.

Forms are immaterial, of course. Thus even the shape of the monolith is not real, it only resembles itself. And voilà, we thus paradoxically end up with the only post-Platonic conceptualized object in existence.

Change, perpetually fixed.

The changing chameleon nature of the slab is what makes it everlasting, for change itself is the only facet of permanence we can both control and be enslaved by. Schopenhauer acknowledged this when he said "change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal."

It is best you don't think about it too much.

The Philosopher's Gravelly Voice

The monolith is fundamentally the Philosopher's Stone, the item of legend that had the ability to turn any metal into gold, turning the worthless into the possession most priced.

But perhaps the greatest mystery of the monolith is akin to the mystery of the silent Sphinx of Giza. It's complete silence invites us, beckons us to give the monolith a voice. Ultimately the voice is our own, of course. The monolith never speaks, it is we who expatiate.

We prefer the impossible to the inarticulate - we want to agree with Parmenides; out of nothing, nothing is made. But the quietude is unrelenting.

Yet no analysis of the mystery can be complete without the monolith's voice.

The monolith is unknowable, recondite. Yet the noumenon that it represents is unnerving by its very stillness. We acknowledge that even Kant's transcendental logic of the Ding-an-sich, the thing-in-itself which is eternally and perfectly unknowable per definition, perfectly renders the monolith, but yet we cannot accept its saturninity.

And this is where we - at last! - interface with the Form and gift it with our voice. We bestow the twilight, the dark, with our words; we impart our beckoning, our Siren's song to "the endlessly echoing halls." Holmes saith, What endless melodies were poured, As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

When we communicate through silence, said Marcel Marceau, we are connected via the thoughts of Man. This is then after all the possession most priced, the established contact to what we can only understand as the higher existence, it is like Gandhi's longing of the soul.

The contact is inevitable, of course, and is only a matter of time. When Form and Essence become the same, we will be right there with it, endless. Time, as it were, is only a temporary obstacle.

I do not think we will have to wait for too long.

Images copyright©2015 MMXOA.