I’m afraid you had to be there at the time, to imagine how amazing it looked to a teenager in 1968. Orbiting satellites, strange shapes, and the passing through the Star Gate sequence, very like the psychedelic experiences being experimented by many young people during the late 1960s. The use of both classical and modern music was suitably injected to reflect the mood in certain scenes, and I recall being captivated by the use of “The Blue Danube” during a particular episode in the film.
Watching it years later, I was understandably less impressed. There is little dialogue in much of the film, which often leaves the viewer making up their own minds about what is happening. The best parts are undoubtedly those involving the computer H.A.L., and his interaction with the astronauts. Someone I know who doesn’t like the film told me that they found it to be ‘Pretentious and overblown, often dull and dragging.’ That wasn’t how I saw it, forty-eight years ago.
Fast forward to 1982. I am now thirty years old, and heading into a cinema to see another science fiction film. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, who was fast becoming one of my favourite film-makers. Five years earlier, I had watched his first feature, The Duelists, and been blown away. Two years after that, he directed Alien in 1979. This new film had been hyped to the limit, and also starred some actors that I knew and respected, including Rutger Hauer, and Harrison Ford. I left the cinema that evening completely believing that I had just seen one of the best and most complete films ever made. I have seen it many times since in almost every version. I still feel the same way about it today.
I have to say that it is a far better film than 2001. Why do I think that?
This takes a familiar genre, Film noir, and gives it a mix of traditional gumshoe detective films, a femme fatale, and adds a wonderful mix of memorable characters in the smaller roles. At times it feels like a western, at others, a sinister, futuristic warning. It is all things to all viewers, they take from it what they like best, and discard the rest. Somber lighting reflects the mood of the scenes, and the constant rain provides a relentless backdrop to the miserable existence of people in an America of the near future. Most buildings are dilapidated and unloved, even new apartments feel small and cramped. There is a nod to the possible make-up of future populations, with some cast members talking in a language that is a strange mixture of oriental dialects and English. The off-world life in space is referenced, but the action takes place on sets that are brilliantly conceived and executed. In a story set around the creation of incredible human-like robots, known as Replicants, we still have retro devices, and conventional clothing. Next to cars that can fly as well as drive on the road, there are old buses, airships, and umbrellas. It is familiar, yet strange, and that is the secret that makes it so captivating.
The reason these two films have been frequently paired as the best examples of Science Fiction is because they have influenced all subsequent attempts. Before CGI, these two films had believable worlds that blew your mind away. How Kubrick filmed 2001: A Space Odyssey is as interesting as what he had to say. (Has anyone figured it out?) Predicting the future always interests me. I remember when January 1, 1980 clicked to a reality, I wondered what 1990 would be like. 2001 seemed far away and November 2017 too far past my imagination. The future that was, is now the present. We have tablets and Skype. HAL is close and A.I. probably within the next 20 years. Thank you, Pete, for co-hosting this month’s Lucky 13 Film Club. Make sure you stop by his excellent blog found HERE
Which film is better? What is it about Science Fiction that appeals to you?