As far as sequels go, 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) is up there as one of the best. However, this overlooked film is often relegated to the dusty archives of forgotten gems, in fact a lot of people don’t even realise that Stanley Kubrick’s seminal work 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) even has a follow up, let alone one that answers some of the more confusing questions posed by the original.
Also based on the work of author Arthur C. Clarke, 2010 is set almost a decade after the events at the end of Space Odyssey, in a world where the U.S.A. and Russia are on the brink of a Third World War. Only a few years away from its grim prediction, it would seem. The two countries are also locked in another space race, this time the objective being the first to reach the abandoned spaceship Discovery, which is still orbiting one of Jupiter’s moons, IO.
Although the Russians will be ready to launch before the Americans, they know that they will struggle to board the Discovery and operate the systems, as well as the HAL 9000 computer, without U.S. assistance. Likewise, the Americans know that it will be too late by the time they are ready to launch their own mission, and so a deal is made wherein American scientists will accompany the Russian crew and together they will investigate the mystery of what happened to the Discovery, her crew and the infamous HAL 9000.
The film stars Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd (played by William Sylvester in the 2001: ASO) who is invited to join the crew on the Russian spaceship Leonov, along with an engineer Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) and HAL’s creator Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban). The soviet crew is led by Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren) who runs a tight ship, contrasting the Americans’ more liberal and forthright attitudes towards working collaboratively.
At the time the film was made, the Soviet Union was still a communist regime, and despite a recent thawing in diplomatic relations between the two super-powers, the so-called Cold War was still a daily reality. This portrayal of a mutual alliance between the (then) U.S.S.R. and the United States helped to thaw some of the frosty attitudes and misconceptions each country had for the other, eventually culminating in a renewed trust between the nations and an end to hostilities.
There are some great moments between Lithgow’s character and his soviet counterpart (played by Elya Baskin) that explore a common ground between astronaut and cosmonaut. As the crew arrive at the ghost ship Discovery and begin their investigation, they encounter some very strange phenomena that threaten to end their mission unless they act quickly. As ever, the monolith looms in the background, its very presence affecting every move that the Leonov crew makes.
Bob Balaban is excellent as Chandra, the inventor of HAL 9000. His scenes with the homicidal computer are both intense and emotional. His love for his creation is palpable and offer a unique perspective on AI and synthetic rights, that are way ahead of their time. The film also sees the return of Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL and Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman. It is in these aspects that 2010 truly feels like a sequel, offering respectable explanations for the events that transpired in the previous film and revealing answers to questions that were steeped in mystery at the end of 2001.
Although 2010 The Year We Make Contact is not as cerebral or philosophically sophisticated as 2001, it is incredibly loyal to the original and offers a similar level of high quality special effects, costume and sets that all pay homage to Kubrick’s original vision. The interior of the Leonov is reminiscent of the sets from Alien (1979) and Star Wars (1977) which were both heavily influenced by 2001 A Space Odyssey, giving the feeling of a natural evolution in the science fiction film-making of the time.
Peter Hyam does a stellar job as the creative driving-force behind the film, having shot, wrote, produced and directed. Something he admits he would never have attempted without Kubrick’s blessing, which he received during a telephone call before pre-production had begun.
There are minor criticisms, such as a couple of clunky voice-over scenes in which Floyd is recording a message to his wife. You can’t help but feel that these are purely for exposition and could have been treated in a more stylish and naturalistic way.
This does not take a great deal away from a film that is otherwise incredibly successful, especially considering that it is attempting to follow a movie that is considered to be one of the greatest ever made. 2010 The Year We Make Contact saves itself by not trying to be that. Instead it is a much simpler science fiction adventure story that uses the original as a basis for expansion. It is also a tribute to 2001 and displays it’s adoration in many aspects, paying homage to what came before, as well as propelling a much-loved genre forward into a new decade with enthusiasm and renewed potential.
Scheider is as enjoyable and dependable as ever, playing the part with verisimilitude and pathos. He steers the film throughout, giving the viewer a solid focal point around which the plot unfurls. At the height of his fame, he was perfectly cast as the compassionate hero and a character that wants to rid himself of blame for the tragic loss of his colleagues, witnessed in the first film.
2010 is a fantastic addition and expansion to Space Odyssey, and fans of the Kubrick classic should appreciate the thought and effort that went into the sequel. Despite there being more books that follow (see 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey) 2010 The Year We Make Contact remains the only other film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarkes’ series, and one that all sci-fi fans should check out or re-visit. Those that have not seen it should be pleasantly surprised and those that remember it will surely appreciate how well it has aged.
That wraps up our review of 2010: The Year We Make Contact!
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