2010

I think I saw 2001 the movie first, certainly didn’t understand it, then I read all four books in high school at some point. I don’t think I was even aware that there was a second movie until Netflix recommended it to me last year some time (yes, it only just now made it to the top of my queue).

So, first, 2010 is pretty generic sci-fi. It rather obviously doesn’t have the craft in Kubrick’s film, so while it wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t bad, either. I had forgotten how much the silence in space in 2001 changes the film.

As always, I am amused by what dated sci-fi got right, and what it got wrong. Part of that requires a certain level of special effects; the current capability of photoreal rendering lets you go pretty crazy with look-and-feel (yes, I’m thinking computer interfaces), whereas 2010 was doing mostly miniatures, set design, camera tricks, all the usual stuff.

I’m wondering when current sci-fi, like say Battlestar Galactica, will start to look really dated. They obivously thought ’80s hair was going to last a good 25 years after the film was made.

Also, when Dave Bowman shows up as an old man, my first thought was that he looked a lot like Dr. Soong (Brent Spiner in lots of makeup) from the nextgen episode “Brothers”. Guess what? Same makeup artist, Michael Westmore. I watch too much Star Trek.

7 comments on “2010
  1. stormwynd says:

    The movie 2001 didn’t make any sense to me until I read the book, then rewatched the movie. Good stuff.

    And the fact that you know the name of a makeup artist from TNG is a bit frightening, even for me. :-)

  2. carnap says:

    What are the computer interfaces in 2010 like?

  3. Nicolas Ward says:

    They definitely wanted the Russian ship to look utilitarian – and they managed to make it look a lot like Mir. Very few “glass” (i.e. dynamic screen displays) elements, lots of square indicator lights and switches.

    The few scenes in offices on Earth, they had to use picture tubes, and low-resolution ones at that, so people were viewing data with very basic line drawing, mostly text, at 640×480 or less, in very few (8?) colors. The monitors were wrapped in these even clunkier curvy future-looking cases, presumably to hide their normalcy.

    Now, you can at least do a set item with an LCD, which would let you get a real-looking screen that is high enough resolution for the camera and can be integrated into your futuristic set design. You can also just place rendered flat things in 3-D in post-production (which has the disadvantage of not giving the actors something to interact with); a good example of that is the Firefly episode “Train Job”, where there is some kind of e-paper on a desk showing video, even though it’s thinner than a prop LCD would be.

    While I think CG of humans has a long way to go (and has to cross the uncanny valley), CG of a technological construct with no real-world reference is much easier for the audience to accept. I don’t think the quality of the effect would be questioned anymore (no more auras around people in front of a bluescreen; digital color correction helps match the palettes of composited shots; etc.), but I wonder if the style would be. Just like the filmmmakers of 2010 didn’t think of trying to fake a flatscreen, maybe our ideas of what kind of displays might be possible are limited by our current tech, and so future viewers will look back and laugh at how unimaginative we were.

  4. carnap says:

    That last point is what I suspect will happen. Visions of the future have always looked a lot like the present. People assume future developments will be more impressive versions of whatever is happening at present, rather than something completely different. This is true of general societal norms and concerns too: consider the visions of the future given to us by the ’70’s, like the universal homosexuality of the society fighting Haledman’s The VietnamForever War.

  5. Nicolas Ward says:

    I guess what usually amuses me is how badly we missed on the Internet – I mean, it existed in its nascent form throughout the ’70s and ’80s, used for academia and business (a bit), and there’s very little power in the network from those periods. Once the WWW hit, the network has been a much bigger aspect of how computers are portrayed in sci-fi. Sci-fi was very conservative with computer tech, and yet always predicted “easy” things like electric cars.

  6. arctangent says:

    I’m still amused by how flickery and washed-out and generally bad the “holographic” displays in Star Wars are. (You can make a ship travel faster than the speed of light, but you can’t make a display device that works better than a modern-day TV?)

  7. Nicolas Ward says:

    I guess it’s the difference between tech people would use on a regular basis for day-to-day work and entertainment, which is something we are familiar with, and the plot device tech that is there to let you move between venues quickly enough (FTL, transporters, etc.).

    To continue on my internet riff, it seems like ’80s sci-fi tended to see cable TV as becoming two-way in various ways (I think Total Recall portrayed it like this?), and totally skipping the idea of computers becoming networked and handling multimedia data.

    Another thing I find interesting is that, until recently, most sci-fi showed communication problems using analog interference (look at the static and color changes used on the Enterprise viewscreen throughout TNG), because that is the metaphor for “the signal isn’t getting through” that is familiar to people, even though starships would presumably be using digital transmission of some sort.

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