Well, I knew it was going to be a different experience.
2010 is, of course, a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which was itself a collaboration between Kubrick and science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. 2010 exists as a movie mainly because Clarke wrote a sequel – in fact, he wrote three, two of which have not been made into movies. But apparently it was written with much the same back-and-forth with the director as 2001, made perhaps a bit easier by advances in telecommunications made in the meantime. Seeing director Peter Hyams fire up a Kaypro to communicate with Clarke in the “Making Of” featurette is a nostalgia trip all its own.
That Clarke wrote sequels to his novel doesn’t particularly bother me – both Kubrick and Clarke were pretty realistic in their regard for each others’ work as being different interpretations in different mediums of the same ideas. I do kind of question the necessity of a movie sequel, when 2001 is a fairly well self-contained cinematic experience. But I get really confused when I try to think about that too much, because I really like 2010. Not as much as I like 2001, but I still like it. So, of course, when I watched 2001 as part of the Stanley Kubrick Project, it was almost inevitable that I would wind up revisiting 2010.
2010 is a much more humanistic story. Gone is the substrata of humanity trying to function in a high-tech world, replaced by an increasing desperation as the earth comes closer and closer to nuclear war. Heywood Floyd, magically transformed into Roy Scheider, has to hitch a ride on a Soviet (!) spacecraft to reach the derelict Discovery before its increasingly erratic orbit smashes it into the moon Io. Accompanied by an American engineer (John Lithgow) and the man who created HAL 9000 (Bob Balaban), the idea is to reboot the craft and computer, find out what happened, and maybe figure out what the hell that two kilometer-long monolith is doing, also in orbit around Jupiter. This is made difficult by the worsening political state on Earth and the fact that a post-human Dave Bowman (still Keir Dullea, who looks like he hasn’t aged a day) keeps popping up in impossible places.
If the urgent need to evolve has been replaced by the even more urgent need to avoid a planet-destroying war, the urge to deliver splendid visuals at least remains. Visual effects had come a long way in the fifteen years since 2001‘s debut, though, to the original film’s credit, not that far. It may have been Richard Edlund who mentioned back during Star Wars that they were able to have ships flying across the face of planets, something that had been impossible during 2001; Edlund is the FX supervisor here, and boy howdy do they fly across the face of planets here. A favorite segment is the aerobraking sequence, where the ship does a untried maneuver to save fuel while still putting them in the correct orbit around Jupiter.
This also provides one of the better character moments: Floyd, having no duties during the maneuver, is strapped into his cubicle, stewing because unlike the Russians, he has nothing to distract him from the upcoming danger. Seconds before they start skimming Jupiter’s atmosphere, a similarly off-duty female cosmonaut appears outside his cubicle, obviously freaked out. They crowd together on Floyd’s bunk, riding out the aerobraking, which is a harrowing, noisy experience. When it’s over, they slowly part, but the cosmonaut turns back to give Floyd a quick peck on the cheek. As the woman I was dating at the time pointed out, they didn’t try to make anything of that moment later, and she was glad of that. So was I. It was a good, human moment.
And therein lies the major difference between this and its predecessor: “good human moments”. There is an easy warmth about the movie as the Soviets and Americans learn to work together. It is an almost completely different style of story, though still drawing upon the basics of the 1968 movie. This is the sort of thing that can make you crazy, if you try to think about things like continuity too much. Theoretically, each movie should exist in a vacuum; that is very hard, if not impossible, to do with a sequel. Aliens is a different sort of movie from Alien, but both easily exist within the same universe; 2010 and 2001… not so much.
It is a very solid movie. Peter Hyams is a director I do not enthuse over, but I do really like his work occasionally. The cast is exceptional, from the aforementioned American crew to Helen Mirren as the Russian Captain. Even HAL gets some redemption, this time around. This is a movie that could easily not have existed, and not been missed, but I’m rather glad it does, headaches and all.