2010Synopsis: A new time, a new odyssey, a new chance to confront the enigmas arising from the daring Jupiter mission of the year 2001. Crew members aboard the Leonov are on course to rendezvous with the sill-orbiting Discovery. And that their fate will rest on the silicon shoulders of the computer they reawaken, HAL-9000. Based on Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel novel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Peter Hyams spellbinder – nominated for five Academy Awards – stars Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Oscar winner Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban and Keir Dullea.
2010 8.0

eyelights: the cast. the timely (at the time) story.
eyesores: the special effects. the score/soundtrack.

Did you know that the quote “My God, it’s full of stars!” is actually not in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘? ‘2010’ claims that in his final transmission, Dave Bowman said this – but he never did in the original movie.

In fact, it was only in the book.

Here’s what’s confusing: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke worked concurrently on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – the first on the film and the latter on the book. They had agreed on the main lines but went off and worked on their projects independently. So they are not carbon copies of each other.

Among the various changes are:

-the film ends near Jupiter, but the book ended near Saturn.
-the conflict with HAL is presented differently.
-Dave Bowman didn’t say “My God, it’s full of stars!”.

It’s not a big deal, it’s just that when Clarke wrote a sequel to his book, there were some discrepancies to be addressed – especially when it was decided that movie version of it would be made. After all, you can’t make a sequel to the original movie and then fudge the details. Especially not a ground-breaking classic like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – it would be hard enough to follow it up without dealing with that headache.

Let’s face it: director Peter Hyams had his work cut out for him. Not only did he have to walk in the shadows of Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece, but he had to find ways to make both stories gel, plus he had to contend with the fact that he couldn’t use the original sets and cast (Kubrick had all the original sets destroyed and, for whatever reason, some of the key cast didn’t return for the sequel) .

The fact that he actually pulled it off and made a standalone film that is solid and respectable is quite something – not everyone would have succeeded the way that he did. After all, the reason that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was as popular as it was is because of its style and substance – things that are very difficult to recreate with a different hand at the helm and a different crew working behind the scenes.

Bizarrely enough, what works best about ‘2010’ is that it actually eschews the elements that were key to the success of the previous film: instead, it attempts to be a solid film in and of itself. Not only that, but it also avoids making ‘2001’ a necessary component to our appreciation – it offers a quick briefing at the beginning, to put everyone up to date, and then moves on – allowing those who haven’t seen the original a chance to hop along for the ride.

And, as far as sci-fi rides go, it’s a good one. If one allows ‘2010’ to stand on its own ground and to be judged in relation to its contemporaries, it is an excellent motion picture – I’d even go so far as to claim it’s one of the best sci-fi films of the ’80s, in fact. It’s only when compared to its forebear that it pales in comparison (But don’t they all? Don’t pretty much all sci-fi films wane in the shadow of ‘2001’ A Space Odyssey’?).

Our story takes us nine years (duh!)  after the events on board of the Discovery One. Both the US and the USSR have competing space missions under development to go investigate the occurrences of 2001. The Russians are well ahead of their American counterparts, but they don’t know how to operate HAL, the Discovery One’s central computer. And since the Discovery is about to crash, the Americans will not make it in time.

Thus they strike a deal to send a joint mission, despite the rapidly growing political tensions between these two superpowers.

This is the core of the appeal of ‘2010’: the political dynamics between the two camps. Crowded in a spacecraft, and influenced by what is taking place back on Earth, one can quickly see how challenging it will be for them to function together. While they depend on each other’s expertise and know-how, they are also duty-bound to their countrymen, making the situation not only particularly fragile, but potentially explosive.

While it avoids the extreme lengths that ‘2001’ went to, ‘2010’ film is devoid of any traditional action. Let’s face it: these people are merely wandering about in space, headed towards a particular destination – not an exciting proposition. The picture makes up for it in the characters’ interaction, which are meaty due to the various personality types involved, as well as the complications inherent to their loyalties. Beyond that, there are a few minor attempts to add thrills, but nothing really worth noting.

Thankfully, the cast is as substantial as the original wasn’t: it’s filled with recognizable faces that are usually solid supporting actors, such as Bob Balaban, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Roy Scheider. Even the unfamiliar faces are actually quite good, and the film injects a little fun by having Candice Bergen voice SAL and by introducing Arthu C. Clark as the President of the USA and Stanley Kubrick as the Soviet Premier (on a Time Magazine cover).

My key issue is with Roy Scheider. Firstly I would have liked to see William Sylvester return as Heywood Floyd, given that he had the right tone for the part and would have made for a perfect connecting thread between the two films. Secondly, I find Scheider particularly bland here – not only does he not play Floyd in the same way (which would have been appreciated, for continuity’s sake) but he makes him even less appealing than the stuffy original. I really wish I knew why Sylvester wasn’t involved.

My next issue with ‘2010’ are the special effects. It’s hard to imagine, but the effects in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, even though it was made a decade and a half prior, are actually more consistent and hold up better than the ones in ‘2010’. These special effects are absolutely fine if one considers the time in which they were designed, but it’s nonetheless terrible to go from total wonderment to merely passable. I guess that’s part of what makes Kubrick a genius – his attention to such details.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

My final issue is related, and it’s in the finale, which features a bunch of monoliths joining together to create a new planet. Not only did I find the notion a bit hokey, but it wasn’t rendered in a convincing way by the visual effects team – it looked like poor animation instead of what I suppose was meant to be a breathtaking display of unusual extra-terrestrial activity.

I guess they did their best to translate Clarke’s vision, so one has to lay the blame on him: why didn’t he just come up with a more interesting concept than the monoliths spreading like a virus? If it had been some other force, not only would it have been easier to put together on the screen, but it would have felt like a more intellectually-satisfying concept.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

All that aside, ‘2010’ is a fine science fiction adventure. It doesn’t break any new ground, and it certainly isn’t the most memorable film one might see, but it holds up very well next to its peers. Granted, it will never ever be recognized in the same way that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ has and never will be, but it’s also not an embarrassment or a major disappointment – something that following-up an icon almost guarantees.

Surprisingly, ‘2010’ stands on its own in many ways, and is worth seeing on those terms. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t successful enough that Clarke’s other sequels ended up being adapted for the silver screen. A complete series would not only have been welcome by many sci-fi fans, but it would have given ‘2010’ a lot more credibility. It’s never too late: perhaps someday someone will produce ‘2061’ and ‘3001’ and bring the series to a close.

On can always dream.

Date of viewing: December 30, 2012

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