Re: CULTURE/SPACE: Tom Hanks on "2001"

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 14:04:05 MST wrote:
> 1/14/01 10:43:26 PM Central Standard Time, writes:
> > It's really not what you'd call a "fast" movie, y'know. 2001 dates from a
> > time when movies were much, much more slower-paced. That sequence at the
> > end alone... trying to watch "2001" after "The Matrix" is like trying to
> > watch "Psycho" after "Hellraiser II". You sit there and just marvel at
> > the idea that this was once cutting-edge; that people could think of the
> > movie as being anything but homey, wholesome, and relaxing. You do it for
> > the historical value and to just appreciate how different things must have
> > been a couple of generations ago. If 2001 were released today, it would
> > flop. How can you demand of my generation that they watch it?
> That "2001" would be a flop if it were released
> today is not necessarily a GOOD thing.

The exact footage would be a flop if released. If "2001" were recreated
today by people of equal talent, it would be a better movie. "2003"
<grin> wouldn't be a great innovative movie because it would no longer
have the capacity to shock and enlighten the audience, but it would be
more fun to watch than "2001". If you then sent "2003" back in time to
the original release date, it would be a _killer_ movie. Audience members
would be flopping around on movie theatre floors, their untrained nervous
systems destroyed by the sheer power of the movie.

> Some things - say, telling a story
> that encompasses the sweep of 4 million years of deep time - can't be done
> quickly, or at least not done well. Imagine trying to tell the story of
> "2001" MTV-style. Now consider whether we should uncritically embrace every
> cultural change, when it may carry with it the inevitable loss of artistic
> vocabulary to express important ideas. Consider taking a pit stop during the
> race into the future to stop and smell some roses from ages gone by.

An Extropian truth: Things improve with time. Not automatically, and
sometimes there are worse things as well as better things as you move into
the future. I don't know of any modern composer who has yet beat Bach at
his own game - kind of surprising, really - and nineties music may not be
superior to eighties music, but eighties music is far superior to
seventies music. Someone who prefers eighties music to nineties music
isn't necessarily an old fogey; I grew up in the nineties and I still like
eighties "oldies" music better. But if you prefer sixties music to
eighties music, then, I'm sorry, but you're getting OLD OLD OLD. So
unless you can get Ziana Astralos to override me on this "2001" issue...

I own a copy of the Lensman series, but the only reason that the series is
readable at all is because it was written long, long ago, back when it was
possible to be a talented writer and still have two-dimensional characters
with the emotional maturity of flatworms. If _Lensman_ were written
today, it would be badly spelled, full of grammatical errors, and have a
meandering or nonexistent plotline, because only a really lousy author
could write _Lensman_ today. I don't know what doc Smith would have been
if he were alive today, but however interesting his old corpus is as
adult-readable children's-fiction good-old-days SF, it doesn't come
remotely close to Greg Egan.

_Lensman_ is interesting to diehard SF fans, and it was groundbreaking in
its time, but it's no longer good SF. It's SF that used to be excellent,
which is a strange and terrible thing to behold. The quality is there,
the art is there, the love is there, the intelligence and wit is there,
and yet it looks like something that a nine-year-old would turn in as a
homework assignment.

Insofar as art is *real*, insofar as art is true quality and excellence,
and not just a herd of critics agreeing with each other, then yesterday's
art will sometimes become one with the typewriter and the slide rule.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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