River Of Grass
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On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
With the world on the brink of nuclear war, a Russo-American space expedition heads for Jupiter to discover what happened aboard the USS Discovery. 2001 sequel starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren
Forget for a moment that this is the follow-up to the most significant pre-Star Wars science-fiction film and you might agree that this movie has been unfairly maligned. That it withers in Kubrick's eclipse-size shadow is hardly surprising. However, Hyams's picture isn't entirely idiotic in the way it opens up 2001: A Space Odyssey. And in Roy Scheider, it finds a suitably ravaged figure to portray man's curiosity and hubris.
As Dr Heywood Floyd (played by William Sylvester in the Kubrick film), it falls to Scheider to find out what happened to the crew of the missing Discovery and to investigate the meaning behind astronaut David Bowman's last log entry - "My God, it's full of stars." Obliged to travel into deep space with a crew of cosmonauts - led by Helen Mirren's Tanya Kubrick - Floyd finds his situation compromised by the heating up of the Cold War. With the answer to life's meaning apparently at his fingertips, our hero gets to grips with enigmatic computer HAL (voiced by Rain) and the impenetrable monolith, all the while wondering whether there will be a world for him and the other crew members to return to.
In attacking 2010, people often forget that the film is based on Arthur C Clarke's - not especially good - '2001' sequel. As for the widely despised emphasis on conventional action scenes (the air breaking sequence, for example), it can be explained away by the demands of 1980s SF audiences. Still, producer-writer-DP-director Hyams must shoulder some blame for the miscasting of John Lithgow, whose comedic playing is at odds with the understated mood, and in the quest for profundity his script occasionally blunders into black holes of pretension.
Compensation for these missteps comes courtesy of Scheider - has there ever been a more sympathetic leading man? - and Dame Helen, who gets to have a little fun with her Russian heritage. And then there's Bob Balaban (an E.T vet following Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) who as HAL's creator gets to play a remarkably moving scene opposite his homicidal PC. The sort of thing that could have been incredibly silly, that this sequence works should be enough to silence those bent on jettisoning 2010.
Speaking of HAL, all the major emblems of 2001 are present and they've lost none of their power. The monolith, the Star Child, the Strauss - they almost feel hardwired into our psyche. That said, it's Keir Dullea's Dave Bowman who is the key source of eeriness. When HAL instructs Scheider that his late former colleague is standing behind him, he looks like he's seen a ghost. Then Dullea appears, and we feel exactly the same way.
It can't hope to compete with Kubrick, but if you can distance Peter Hyams's picture from its formidable forerunner, you'll find a thoughtful and sometimes unforgettable science-fiction fable.
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