Prometheus (2012) -vs- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

June 5, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Strange artifacts are left here on Earth beckoning inhabitants to come visit superior beings and/or ancient visitors, requiring a massive undertaking to build and dispatch a mighty state-of-the-art spacecraft on a long, dangerous journey with an A.I. on board to take care of its human crew. Director Stanley Kubrick swung for the fences with this set-up over four decades ago and now it’s Ridley Scott’s turn.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now — 2001: A Space Odyssey is a true film classic. It deserves its praise, and it deserves to be seen in any good film school program. If you haven’t seen it, you should. […]

Apollo 18 (2011) -vs- Apollo 13 (1995)

September 1, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Probably the only good way to look at NASA these days is in the rear-view mirror of past accomplishments, given that the agency seems to have lost its way. After all, it’s ended the manned space missions of the Space Shuttle program with no clear replacement in site. There is no grand new mission, like going to Mars, just the past-tense glory days of going to the Moon.

But before we get too nostalgic here, we have a Smackdown to remind us that space is not always a triumph. Sometimes that cold vacuum of nothing can force a human to look straight in the eye of death. And, as Elton John reminded us in Rocket Man, “It’s lonely out in space.”

The new Apollo 18 is a fictional story about a manned space mission to the moon that you never heard about. NASA officially pulled the plug on Apollo after 17 missions. So this one is right out there in conspiracy theory heaven. And the other film, Apollo 13, is about the NASA’s greatest near miss with disaster that could easily have landed the astronauts involved into the history books with the crews of the Challenger and Columbia or the doomed Apollo 1 mission. […]

Moon (2009) -vs- Solaris (2002)

June 15, 2009 Bryce Zabel

“Moon” (2009) -vs- “Solaris” (2002). “Moon” is the latest little film that could — made for $5-million — about a very big idea. It comes to us direct from director Duncan Jones who, helpfully I’m sure, is David Bowie’s son. Dad’s “Space Oddity” came out in 1969, the year after “2001: A Space Odyssey” was released and blew the minds of a generation of stoned college students. Besides, the granddaddy of science-fiction Jones’s sci-fi thriller has also been compared to “Silent Running,” “Alien,” “Outland,” and even, in one key element, “Blade Runner.” We’ve thrown our share of films into the Smackdown ring against “2001,” but it seems a fresher and more appropriate opponent is Steve Soderbergh’s re-make of “Solaris.” Both “Moon” and “Solaris” serve up disorienting helpings of the isolation of space, the sense that things are not what they seem, romance bent by quantum physics and leading men who think that, just maybe, they are losing their minds.
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