In honor of the late Roy Scheider—and because it was already on my DVR—I watched 2010 again last week. The last time I'd seen it was in a multiplex, back in 1984. At the time I'd just seen 2001 on TV a few months earlier, then read Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2001, and then read 2010, so this may have been the first time I'd ever read a book before seeing a movie. I could tell already, at the age of 13, that 2010 was just well-crafted entertainment, not aspiring to art. But because director Peter Hyams wasn't in his full-on hack phase yet, 2010 has some moments of real suspense, like when computer programmer Bob Balaban tries to convince the revived HAL 9000 unit to sacrifice itself for the good of the crew, and some moments of real spine-tingling grandeur, like the closing shot of a black monolith rising out of a newly formed swamp on one of Jupiter's moons.
What startled me though, on watching 2010 again in the year 2008, was how mundane the movie's vision of the future is, especially in comparison to the leaps of imagination in 2001. Sure, the world Scheider lives in has interplanetary travel, cryogenic sleep, and pet dolphins who swim in big pools in living room floors. But like nearly every other future-set science-fiction and TV show ever made, 2010 is really set in its own time.
Star Trek had its miniskirts and beehive hairdos, and 2010 has its Cold War politics and outdated technology. Did you know that two years from now, we're still going to be squabbling with the Soviet Union? And that the majority of our computer data will still be stored on cassettes? There's something admirable about a science fiction film that doesn't try to overreach in its vision of Things To Come, but still…cassettes? CD players and computer diskettes were already in use by '84, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the technical advisers to 2010 should've been expected to connect the dots. In sci-fi movies (as opposed to books), the writers and designers tend to think more about the big changes in the human experience, not the little ones. We'll be able to teleport! But we won't be able to pause live television.
Coincidentally, over the past week I've also been reading a book called What's Next: The Expert's Guide, in which "50 of America's most compelling people" predict the coming trends in popular and business culture. I had planned to review What's Next, but after spending some time with it, I see that it's not really a "reviewable" book, per se. It's just a bunch of short, dry essays by people who by and large aren't really writers. And their insights aren't exactly revelatory. What's coming up in the world of sports? Leagues will become more international, and the internet will play a major role! To quote Lisa Simpson: "Wow! You can see into the…present."
Most of these glimpses into "the future"—in What's Next, 2010, etc.—are more about better-defining aspects of the modern world. In 2010, we were meant to understand that America and Russia could learn to get along. In What's Next, Reza Aslan writes a heartening essay about how the example of assimilated American Muslims is changing the way Muslims overseas view the USA. In both cases, the seers are just taking what they already know—or what they want to believe—and making it a forecast.