Episode 34: The Hidden Fortress (1958, Akira Kurosawa) / 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984, Peter Hyams)

Happy New Year! This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we reflect on the feudal past and look to the future that’s just around the corner.

Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress has been cited by many film school professors as a primary inspiration for Star Wars. This is a terrible underselling of Kurosawa’s mythic composition and classical storytelling which does so many archetypes so well that Lucas couldn’t have made Star Wars without accidentally copying this film. Horizontal wipes aside, this is Kurosawa at the peak of his powers and in beautiful widescreen Tohoscope™.

Toshiro Mifune, the John Wayne to Akira’s John Ford, portrays yet another samurai warrior with blades and eyebrows of steel. He’s not really the main character. This film doesn’t exactly have one, nor is anyone as particularly relatable as Mark Hamill, nor do they need to be. The lovely Misa Uehara, seen on the poster with Mifune, brings the legs and an even deadlier pair of eyebrows as the princess he’s sworn to protect.

Then we take a far-off look to the fu – hey, wait, this is next year! Wow! Apparently in 2010 the Cold War will be resumed and we’ll finally “make contact” with alien life for the first time. Again.

Answering the questions that no one who actually read 2001: A Space Odyssey was wondering about, Arthur C. Clarke returned to his beloved story of space monoliths and psycho computers in 1982 to publish 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Two years later the movie was made. Is that a coincidence or what? Peter Hyams of Capricorn One and Outland fame took a third trip to outer space by adapting Clarke’s novel himself, which amounted to the removal of problematic plot points like bisexuality and ethnic minorities and the emphasis of feel good Cold War pacifism where Russians and Americans put aside their differences for the common good of pointless sequels.

Roy Scheider is wasted, but no more than anyone else in this half baked turkey – Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban and John Lithgow mark time while Richard “Ghostbusters” Edlund’s visual effects at least make the space scenes convincing. With none of the grandeur or mystery of Kubrick’s original, 2010 even gives the short shrift to HAL the computer, once again melodiously voiced by Douglas Rain after being built up for most of the running time and then given nothing of significance to do except not kill Scheider, et all. Only Keir Dullea, in a return performance as 2001‘s astronaut-turned-space-baby David Bowman, perks up some interest in the final act as a space ghost.

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NEXT WEEK: ROBOCOP TRIPLE FEATURE! ROBOCOP (1987, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & ROBOCOP 2 (1990, IRVIN KERSHNER) & ROBOCOP 3 (1993, FRED DEKKER)

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