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Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)


History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.

Welcome to the 80’s, where fashions are loud and the teenagers are incomprehensible. Welcome to California, where everyone, like, totally talks like a surfer. Meet Bill and Ted, two average high school students righteous dudes who are about to embark on an excellent adventure in order to pass history class.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a sci fi comedy film directed by Stephen Herek, based on characters created by writers Ed Solomon and Chris Mathesen for improvisational theater. It stars Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin, and a motley handful of historical figures.

In the year 2688, San Dimas is a peaceful utopia, inspired by the music of the historical band known as the Wyld Stallyns. However, this future is in danger, because in 1989 the founding members, one Bill S. Preston, Esq., and one Ted “Theodore” Logan, are just a couple of metalhead slackers who are in danger of failing history class. If that happens, Ted’s father, the Chief of Police of San Dimas, will send Ted off to a military school in Alaska, forcing the band to break up. And that would be bogus. An agent named Rufus is sent back in time to offer aid in the form of a time-travelling phone booth, while the Stallyns try to hammer out a report on how various historical figures would react if presented with the modern day, without much success. After a bit of convincing from themselves from 24 hours in the future, the lads decide to give it a shot. When they accidentally bring back Napoleon from a foray to Austria in 1805, they are struck with the idea of actually bringing historical figures to the San Dimas of 1989 and setting them loose to see what they think. Naturally, a lot of hilarity ensues.

This is one of the classic comedies of the late 80s, and the movie that introduced the world to Keanu Reeves. It’s goofy and fun and plays merry hell with both time travel and history, just because it can. The two leads are unabashed slackers who start out thinking that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife and don’t understand the historical significance of many key figures beyond their being a bunch of “old, dead dudes”. However, despite their baseline boneheadedness, the Wyld Stallyns are genuinely good-hearted people and care about each other in a hetero life partner sort of way, and the idea of being separated potentially forever clearly distresses them for reasons other than the breakup of their band. George Carlin’s portrayal of Rufus is somewhat nearer the “Mr. Conductor” end of his acting spectrum than the “Foulmouthed Cynic” end, and while his mentorship only lasts as long as pointing the Stallyns in the right direction for success, his handful of scenes are memorable as he acts as a Intertemporal Yoda.

Now, while at first blush this might appear to be just another stoner comedy (even though the boys don’t appear to be stoners so much as ditzy Californians), if you pay attention you will notice some very clever points scattered throughout the pure comedy. For example: Rufus never tells the Stallyns his name – they learn that bit of info from their future selves. In fact, they learn a lot about time travel from their future selves – and they seem to grasp it fairly readily once proof is offered (indicating they may be smarter than they appear). All the jokes involving Sigmund Freud (him getting attacked by the drape attachment on a vacuum cleaner, his corn dog drooping after he gets shut down by some girls in the mall), Genghis Khan in the sporting goods store (he actually assesses an aluminum baseball bat as a potential weapon, testing its strength and balance before going on a merry rampage), Beethoven tearing it up on electronic keyboards in a music store (even though he is close to deaf at the time they nab him, the speakers could easily be cranked up loud enough that even he could hear it), Napoleon’s exploration of San Dimas (he gets recaptured at a park named Waterloo, which is incidentally the name of the city where he was captured in real life) and the multiple temporal gambits the lads set up at the end to make sure they get their historical figures set up in the auditorium in time (which would require a hell of a lot of linear thinking on their behalf) combine to make you think while you’re laughing your ass off, and with a bit of afterthought you realize that all the potential paradoxes have been tidily ironed out (though this doesn’t seem quite so funny when you realize that all the historical figures most likely died shortly after being sent back).

If you’re looking for a multilayered time-traveling comedy that takes standard history and runs off giggling with it, I highly recommend Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You will be laughing your ass off at the stoner moments and the “aha!” moments alike, and the time travel, while mainly a vehicle for comedy, is very well done. Get this one for your collection.

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

05/16/2011 1 comment

I’ve noticed an interesting rule of low-budget sci fi franchises set in the future: When time travel to a recognizeable period is involved, the most common temporal setting is modern times. It makes sense from a budgetary point of view: recreating a certain historical period can be expensive, and it’s hard to get all the details exactly right. Naturally, it will transpire that the modern day has the thing or resource needed by our visitors from the future, with no easy way to communicate what it is or why they need it. Here we have this basic plot, only with a Hollywood budget. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sci fi film set in the Star Trek film franchise, the fourth film in the series, a direct sequel to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and the third movie in the story arc known to fans as the Star Trek trilogy, finishing the storyline started in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy, and stars Nimoy, William Shatner, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelly, Walter Koenig, and a couple of humpback whales.

It is the year 2286. The crew of the starship Enterprise (destroyed during the events of The Search for Spock), are living in exile on the planet Vulcan while their recently resurrected crewmate Spock is still recovering from his resurrection and having his katra re-integrated. So far, his Vulcan components are repaired and functioning just fine, but he is still having trouble coming to terms with his human half. As they are headed back to planet Earth in their stolen strategically re-purposed Klingon Bird of Prey to face trial for Kirk being a heroic badass and saving the day disobeying orders and stealing the Enterprise, they receive a distress call from Starfleet, telling them of a cylindrical probe approaching Earth (because Earth is the center of the universe), sending out a signal that has toasted the electronics of many crucial systems and has the potential to destroy the planet. One odd detail: the probe is being aimed at the ocean, not at any of the land-based civilizations. Spock determines that the signal is actually the song of humpback whales, a species rendered extinct on Earth 300 years ago. Well, arse. Since there are no whales, there can be no response, means that Earth is screwed – unless Kirk & Co. travel back in time to pick up a whale to talk to the darn thing. They slingshot around the sun to get the speed necessary to travel back in time, and arrive in San Francisco in 1986. Once there they find they’re in luck – two humpback whales are in captivity nearby – but at the same time they have a few more problems to solve before they can bring their aquatic diplomats back to chat with the probe, and of course, hilarity ensues.

This was a fun little movie. While it doesn’t have the intense drama of Khan or the cultural development of Spock, it does have a simple plot made believeably complex by the expected problems of being from 300 years in the future, trying to get what you need to save Earth in your home time, without beating the viewer over the head with the Save the Whales message. Spock’s continued post-resurrection disorientation provides some of the funniest moments int he film, and watching the Enterprise crew running around San Francisco, year 1986, was a riot, even during perilous situations that could have completely jeopardized their mission. Interesting bit of trivia: during pre-production the filmmakers were concerned about filming in San Francisco, thinking the locals would see the actors running around and interfere with filming. As an experiment, they sent some extras touring the city in Starfleet uniforms. Nobody noticed. This is reflected in the film itself when people dismiss Spock as a recovering hippie, and Chekhov and Uhura are largely ignored while trying to get directions to the Alameda Naval Base so they can recharge the Bird of Prey’s dilithium crystals (almost completely out of juice after travelling back 300 years). Incidentally, the woman who ultimately stopped to help was not an extra, and they had to chase her down and have her sign a release so they could use the footage.

It seemed that most of the cast acknowledged the comedic potential in the plot, and they were bang-on in delivering it, staying straight-faced trying to solve their problem while the audience was rolling on the floor laughing. I especially offer mad props to Nimoy, who had to stay absolutely deadpan during some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Scotty’s encounter with a PC that lacked voice recognition capabilities, Kirk and Spock’s encounter with a jackass on the bus with a loud boom-box, and Chekhov’s encounter with Red Scare-era naval officers were just a handful of great scenes sprinkled liberally throughout this movie (though given the political climate I’m left to wonder how much trouble the Russian-born Chekhov could have potentially been in, given that he was caught in the bowels of a nuclear sub). ILM’s animatronic whales were impressive, too – so impressive that the crew got bitched out by conservation and animal rights groups who thought they’d filmed the scenes with real humpback whales. This is why ILM is a god.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home brings a satisfying conclusion to the story arc started in Khan, offering thrills and laughs in equal measures against a backdrop of yet another potential apocalypse. I highly recommend watching this one, but for best results you should only do so after you’ve seen the previous two.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

05/13/2011 2 comments

In many long-running franchises, there is often a movie that the filmmakers intend as the “end” of the franchise, only to have it be so successful that a sequel (or multiple sequels) is made. Saw III. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Some of these are obvious – others less so. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was intended to be the last of the Star Trek movies, ending as it did with the heroic sacrifice and funeral of Spock. As expected, it was so popular that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How well did they do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film franchise, based on the original Star Trek television series, and serves as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (his condition for returning to the franchise), and it stars William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, the Enterprise had just had its ass kicked across half a solar system by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman tyrant who hated Admiral Kirk with the intensity of a thousand desert suns for a bunch of stuff Kirk indirectly caused. The casualties of this battle included half of Captain Spock’s fledgling crew, and Spock himself, who sacrificed himself to allow the Enterprise to escape Khan’s impending detonation of the Genesis device in a final last-ditch attempt to reduce Kirk to atoms. Khan’s plan failed, but the Genesis device appeared to work as designed, causing a nearby lifeless planet to burst into life, the same planet around which Spock’s funeral torpedo was placed into orbit. Now for the problems: Dr. McCoy has started acting a bit loopy, and is detained for observation. Starfleet Admiral Murrow orders the Enterprise to be decommissioned, and its crew are not to speak of the results of the Genesis detonation due to political concerns. Kirk’s son David and the Vulcan Saavik investigate the blooming Genesis planet, and find an inexpected life-form: a Vulcan child, minus his mental operating system. Finally, Sarek, Spock’s father, confronts Kirk about Spock’s death, and the two managed to piece together the reason behind McCoy’s erratic behavior: McCoy is carrying Spock’s katra, which Spock transferred over to him just before his sacrifice. Spock’s katra and body must be reunited in order to properly lay Spock to rest on the planet Vulcan, before the strain kills McCoy. Kirk has explicit orders not to go near the Genesis planet, where he suspects Spock’s body to be (and where it technically is), and his ship has been decommissioned. Will this stop him? Hell no – he’s Admiral Goddamned Kirk! Naturally, Klingons ensue.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and all I really remembered about it was Kirk and Kluge battling on the crumbling Genesis planet. However, when I watched it recently, I was quite pleased by how well it followed up on the tragic events at the end of Khan and led nicely into The Voyage Home (mainly by explaining why Spock was so loopy during most of the latter). Did the Federation really think that Kirk would do something as silly as follow orders when to do so would put several of his close comrades at serious risk? Hell no! And the events on and around the Genesis Planet went a long way towards establishing the Klingons as a race, and offers the first glimpses into the Klingon language, since developed fully by Marc Okrand. We also get a look at Vulcan spiritualism and culture, and how it ties into the race’s natural processes. The ritual of Pon Farr is glimpsed when Saavik finds herself helping adolescent Spock through a rather violent puberty, and expanded materials have implied that she conceived a child by him offscreen. In all, the cultural development of the Vulcans and Klingons is excellent, and would play a significant role in later movies.

There were a few surprises in the casting here. Saavik, previously played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, is played here by Robin Hooks, who fared decently well in the role. Also, I recall staring at Kluge for about half the movie, thinking, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy”, before it hit me – that was Christopher Lloyd under all that makeup! It especially comes out when Kluge starts getting upset, but he did very well outside his usual spectrum. The crew of the Enterprise remains tightly knit by years of mutual experience (in-universe and out), even considering the conspicious lack of Spock through much of the film, and it was fun seeing McCoy getting in disputes with his unwanted katra passenger, considering how much the two had bickered when Spock was alive and in one piece.

Star Trek: The Search for Spock followed well in the footsteps left behind by Wrath of Khan, and easily continues the story of the crew of the Enterprise, as well as developing two of the major alien races of that universe. I recommend this to all Trek fans and everyone who enjoyed Khan.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


No one fights like that Khan
Douses lights like that Khan
In a wrestling match nobody bites like that Khan
For there’s no one as burly and brawny
And you can see he’s got biceps to spare
Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny,
And ev’ry last inch of him’s covered in hair!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer based on the television series Star Trek and serving as a sequel to both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Star Trek episode “Space Seed”. It stars William Shatner, Richardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Walter Koenig.

As Admiral James Kirk oversees the training of Captain Spock’s hopeful future crew through the Kobayashi Maru simulation, the U.S.S. Reliant searches for a lifeless planet on which to test out the Genesis Device, a torpedo that can terraform planets for human colonization but can also destroy planets. When Commander Pavel Chekhov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to a likely candidate, Ceti Alpha VI, they instead find a genetically engineered tyrant, Khan Noonian Singh, whose band of supermen were exiled there during the events of “Space Seed”. It appears that since that time, a lot of bad shit has gone down for Khan et all, including the death of Khan’s wife, and he swears revenge. He implants Chekhov and Terrell with mind-controlling alien larvae to compel them to help him take over the Reliant, and from there hatches a plan to ensnare Kirk and destroy him once and for all. Kirk, meanwhile, is on a training mission with Spock’s new crew when they receive a distress call from Regula I, the space station developing the Genesis device. Kirk being Kirk, he comes to the rescue, setting off a deadly game of cat and mouse between old enemies, amid revelations between old friends…

Wrath of Khan is considered by most to be vastly superior to The Motion Picture, and it’s easy to see why. Building on a sequel hook set at the end of “Space Seed”, Khan weaves a tale of tragedy and revenge that pretty much blows the first movie out of the water. Much of Kirk’s old crew is moving on to newer things, but they quickly band together against a common threat, mainly because they’re familiar with each other and simply work well together. Everyone is forced to think on their feet in a deep-space game of speed chess that could potentially cost the lives of Spock’s entire crew. Kirk has clashed with Khan before, and he knows the tyrant’s weaknesses, but the reverse is also true, making the conflict seem very real as the stakes are raised again and again.

The cast is still tight here, having learned how to adapt from TV to film through the previous film. Kirk remains a badass, even as he witnesses the extent to which this madman will go to get his revenge, threatening an adult son Kirk has only just met. Khan is also a badass, albeit one with a laser sight trained on Kirk and everything he holds dear (and incidentally, that was Ricardo Montalban’s real chest exposed by his costume, rumors of prostheses aside). Chekhov barely escapes being shoved into the comic relief corner here, as he serves as a plot device to hook in his old Captain; fortunately his loyalty to Kirk is such that Khan is ultimately unable to use him as an assassin. The subplot involving Carol Marcus and the son she bore with Kirk seems like a natural extension of Kirk’s notorious womanizing rather than just another plot device, and to Kirk’s credit he does adapt to fatherhood reasonably well under the circumstances.

In all, Wrath of Khan easily outshines The Motion Picture both in terms of plot and characterization, and is a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise. Absolutely see this one.

The Abyss (1989)


About two-thirds of the Earth is covered in water. While science has pretty well figured out what lives on all the landmasses, the depths of the ocean remain a mystery. So far we’ve only caught glimpses of the strange, nearly-alien lifeforms that can withstand the crushing pressure in the deepest portions of the ocean, and its unlikely that were can ever know everything about the sea. We can only hope that whatever’s down there is friendly.

The Abyss is a science fiction film written and directed by James Cameron, starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Beihn, and some really neat CGI effects created the hard way. Because it’s a James Cameron film, that’s why.

It is the height of the Cold War. When the U.S.S. Montana sinks near the Cayman Trench after an encounter with something unknown, the Soviets waste no time in sending ships and subs to recover the submarine and its warhead. With a hurricaine moving in, the Americans decide that the quickest way to get to the sub before the Soviets do is to insert a team of Navy SEALs into a privately-owned experimental underwater oil platform called the Deep Core and use that as a base of operations. Lindsay Brigman, the designer of the platform, insists on going along, even though she knows that her estranged husband, Bud Brigman, is serving as the platform’s foreman. Things get complicated when the salvage team tries to determine the cause of the Montana‘s failure, and spot strange, apparently intelligent creatures down there with them. The situation goes from bad to worse when the hurricaine hits above them and they are unable to untether themselves from the Benthic Explorer before its crane breaks off in the storm, nearly pulling the Core into the Trench. Now trapped far underwater, they must decide the best method of recovering and disarming the Montana‘s nuclear missile, while all the time something unknown and inhuman is watching them…

James Cameron does not make small movies. Even when he has a small budget, he makes big movies. For The Abyss, he had a big vision that, unfortunately, outstripped the capabilities of special effects at the time. As a result, almost a half hour of footage was cut out of the theatrical release until Cameron was able to find a way to make it look good. Fortunately, I had the privilege of watching the Special Edition (sometimes erroneously called the Director’s Cut, even though Cameron did the original surgery himself), and it definitely fills in a few of the holes leftover in the theatrical release, like why are the water beings there and what the hell happened to the hurricaine at the end. The underwater setting is spooky and haunting, reminding us how little we know about this particular biome, and the interior shots are claustrophobic in a way that reminds me of the original Alien, and for similar reasons: there is nowhere to run. There is no escape. In this case, though, the main internal threat comes in the form of a Navy SEAL suffering High Pressure Nervous Syndrome, one of many true-life phenomena that Cameron included to give the story a nice ring of verisimilitude.

The plot was slow to develop, but engaging all the same. While the first third seemed like it was just going to be a deep sea drama, giving the audience time to meet the characters and learn about the setting and its hazards offered a chance to identify with the cast before weird stuff starts happening. As such, I had a chance to sympathize and care about these people, and I was definitely rooting for Bud during his moment of truth in the Trench. Some people criticized the Brigman estrangement subplot, pointing out the possibility that it had been inspired by Cameron’s own pending divorce, but I felt it added a layer of human drama to it, setting up a believeable reconciliation at the end. The alien beings were alien enough that they were definitely outside the realm of People in Suits, and the fact that all their technology was water-based offered a glimpse of the true possibilities of intelligent alien life. Interesting note: At the time this movie was made, CGI technology didn’t exist to create effects that shared a scene and interacted with human actors, so for example with the water tentacle Cameron made live-action models of the tentacle, and filmed the set from every angle so it could be digitally recreated with the water tentacle in place. In the end, ILM spent six months to create 75 seconds of really awesome looking footage.

If you’re in the mood for a sci fi drama with just as much drama as sci fi, check out The Abyss. It doesn’t get overwhelmed by the special effects, and in the end the human plot is every bit as crucial to the story as the alien plot. James Cameron wins again.

Tron (1982)


Some movies set out to make history, and fall flat on their face. Other movies set out to just make a good story, and succeed brilliantly. Yet other movies set out to push the limits of cinematic techniques of the day, and not only do they succeed, but they also make a parmanent place for themselves in the ranks of film classics. Here’s what happened when one man set out to tell a good story with movie tricks that were unheard of in the day, and would not even have been considered by a crew with a lesser imagination. Not bad for a film originally inspired by Pong.

Tron is a sci fi film written and directed by Steven Lisberger, inspired by the nearly universal fascination with video games that had developed during the early 80s. It stars Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Barnard Hughes, and David Warner, each in dual roles as human characters and avatars of the programs they have created.

In the mainframe of the software company ENCOM, a war is being fought on two fronts, each side unaware of the other except in vague concepts. In our world, a young and gifted hacker software engineer named Kevin Flynn is trying to gain access to the mainframe to find evidence that senior executive Ed Dillinger stole his code an presented it as his own, leapfrogging him into the upper tiers of the company, but Flynn finds himself blocked on every side by the Master Control Program that regulates access to the mainframe. When Dillinger tightens mainframe security in response to Flynn’s probes, Flynn convinces two ENCOM employees, Alan Bradley and Lora Baines, to get him direct access to forge a higher security clearance for Tron, a security program Bradley has created. Meanwhile, in the computer world, MCP is an oppressive overlord, trying to quash the programs’ almost religious belief in their users while at the same time absorbing all useful programs into itself to increase its own power, and trying to gain access into all parts of the network. Tron is a constant thorn in MCP’s side, and it has given the task of finding and derezzing this troublemaker to Sark, a control program who captures wayward programs and trains them for gladiatorial games in the Grid. When Flynn gains physical access to the terminal on the mainframe, however, MCP must act quickly to eliminate this new threat to its supremacy. Taking control of an experimental laser being developed for “quantum teleportation”, MCP digitizes Flynn and abducts him into the Grid. Lost in this strange world, Flynn is forced to learn the laws of the Grid, and then use his powers as a User (and a seasoned hacker) to bend these laws in order to free the denizens of the Grid from MCP’s iron-fisted rule.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as CGI specieal effects. Moviemaking technology that we take for granted today simply didn’t exist – until Tron. Pioneering this new technique – and doing it the hard way, mind you – opened the door to new ways of portraying things in the movie world that simply couldn’t exist in the real world, like a whole virtual world inside a mainframe. Of course, only a relative handful of FX shots were actually CG, due to the insane difficulty in rendering them; the rest of the techno-world was portrayed using methods that would seem stupidly simple today: monochrome film, backlit animation, and of course the actors simply imagining this virtual world on an otherwise blank soundstage. There are no shots where live actors interact with the CG items, or are even in the same frame (hooray for rotoscoped animation), but despite the extreme limitations of CG at the time, the effects hold up really well, mainly because they aren’t trying to portray anything that’s “real”, or trying to make things that the actors must touch or manipulate on camera.

The plot of Tron is decently simple, serving as a means to get human Kevin Flynn inside the digital world and give him something to do while there, but the plot doesn’t have to be complex to make a good movie. The plight of the programs, virtual though they may be, is genuine both from a human point of view and a computer security point of view. While MCP’s ever-expanding grasp calls to mind how ridiculously easy it was for Matthew Broderick’s character to hack into NORAD in WarGames, this fit the perspective of computer security of the day – systems weren’t sophisticated enough to independently react to threats, and there was still the fear of the megalomaniacal A.I. that seemed to lurk in the perpetual near future. MCP works as an antagonist in a different way than his spiritual cousin, HAL 9000, in that despite being a computerized creation his roots as a chess program give him the ability to learn and strategize, analyzing available data and devouring the resources it finds useful. HAL only turned murderous as a result of a logic bomb in his programming, but MCP seems to be deliberously malicious, possibly striving for virtual world conquest. His right-hand program Sark serves to give a face to the threat, a “real” entity that we can hate rather than a nebulous control program whose face bears a striking resemblance to the Biship of Battle in John Carpenter’s anthology Nightmares.

Tron was made when CGI was still in its infancy (and indeed helped give birth to it), but it still holds up today as an enjoyable movie. The effects don’t seem dated at all, and the story is still engaging in its simplicity. I recommend Tron to all sci fi fans.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

04/04/2011 2 comments

Okay, raise your hand if you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The whole thing? Good. Keep your hand up if you understood 2001: A Space Odyssey. Uh huh. Keep your hand up if you understood it without reading the tie-in novel? Yeah. I thought so. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke wrote a sequel, which was naturally made into a movie, in an effort to help explain what the hell was going on to audiences who have been confused for the last 16 years. Did it work? Let’s find out.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a science fiction film directed by Peter Hyams that serves as the sequel to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film was adapted from Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two, which also serves as a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Steady… no use getting confused already.) It stars John Lithgow, Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Kier Dullea, and the uber-creepy voice of Douglas Rain.

Nine years have passed since the epic mind-screw that was the failure of the Discovery One‘s mission to Jupiter, caused when HAL 9000 lapsed into Killer Robot territory and killed four out of the five crewmen, while the fifth, David Bowman, disappeared into an alien monolith about 2 kilometers long orbiting Jupiter and suffered an acid trip so bad that he evolved into a giant space fetus and left audience horribly, horribly confused. Somehow, the blame for all this (though maybe not the giant space fetus thing) has landed on the shoulders of one Dr. Heywood Floyd, who resigned his position as the head of the National Council of Aeronautics in shame. Tension has been growing between the United States and the Soviet Union (which in this timeline still exists, complete with Cold War, in the year 2010) as both nations prepare to go find out what the hell happened aboard the Discovery, with a slight wrinkle: The Russians will have their ship, the Alexei Romanov ready first, but American technicians will be needed to parse out the nature of HAL’s malfunction and to operate the American Discovery. Since the Discovery‘s orbit is decaying, it is likely to crash into the moon Io before the Americans are able to get their shit together, Russia and America decide to team up to find out what the hell happened. Once there, they make a few interesting discoveries: one, there is chlorophyll on Europa. Two, Europa gets really mad when they try to figure out where the chrorophyll came from. Three, HAL wasn’t homicidal, he just got confused when told to conceal information about the monolith and decided the best way to follow his orders was to kill everyone. Four, David Bowman is back. Sort of. Five, something wonderful is about to happen. And six, Dr. Floyd discovers the best way to get close to a hot cosmonaut who can’t speak English is to just be handy during a terrifying aerobraking maneuver. Down on Earth, however, tensions between America and Russia continue to intensify, and the force of both countries are starting to get ready to seriously throw down. However, when it appears that “something wonderful” is manifesting as countless thousands of little monoliths devourin Jupiter, the respective crews of both ships will have to work together to get clear of Jupiter, lest something wonderfully annihilate them all.

Good news: This is a straightforward narrative. You can all relax on that account, secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to watch it with a team of philosophy majors and compare notes afterwards. HOWEVER – you do have to have at least a vague idea of what happened in the previous film. They do recap what happened, as far as anyone on Earth can tell, but for obvious reasons they don’t explain anything about part four (remember, the acid trip?). You can catch up pretty quickly, though, so that’s good. However, something strange happened between 1968 and 1984: the space effects got slightly worse. They didn’t have greenscreen effects in 1968 (so far as I know), so they worked around it, to great effect. They did have greenscreen effects in 1984, though, and they used them to add a bit of realism to the spacewalking effects. They mostly succeeded, but if you know what to look for you can see the outlines. Not bad, though, and it gets a pass. Also, they get bonus points for getting Kier Dullea and Douglas Rain to reprise their respective roles as David Bowman and HAL 9000, though creepily Dullea doesn’t appear to have aged at all in 16 years. The addition of Roy Scheider, previously seen in Jaws was also a good choice, and would set him up for the sort of “wonderment of exporing new worlds” vibe he would give off in seaQuest DSV.

They also explain a lot of the trippy stuff that happened in the previous movie, which is good, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have even been necessary if the first movie had simply been a bit more straightforward. It doesn’t help that moth movies were trying to compress about two hundred pages of narrative into two hours of movie, but in that respect I think 2010 manages a clearer interpretation than its cinematic predecessor. It doesn’t jump around (let alone the first one’s jump of several hundred thousand years), and it follows a straight path to a definite conclusion. The story is tight and linear, and it actually makes itself understood. Yay.

If you liked 2001 but were left a bit light on explanations, try out 2010. It’ll help you understand most of what happened in 2001, and brings the whole story arc to a very impressive conclusion.