Matthew Kresal makes contact.
There are films for which a sequel seems either unnecessary or downright impossible. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey would initially seem to fit into the latter of the two categories. But with the mysteries left by its ending, it certainly left viewers (and readers of the novel by Arthur C Clarke) wanting answers. So when Clarke wrote his own sequel to it, published in 1982, it was perhaps only a matter of time before it would grace the screen. Released two years later, 2010 (later to be given the subtitle “The Year We Make Contact”) was to be a much different film to its predecessor.
One of the biggest departures would be in its casting. Whereas the cast of 2001 was made up of largely unknown actors, 2010 features some well-known names among its cast. Leading it would be Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd, the former space administrator who sent Discovery on its mission in the first film and now on a follow-up mission, led by the Russians, in search of answers. Joining him on the mission is his fellow American’s John Lithgow as engineer Walter Curnow, Bob Balaban as HAL’s designer Doctor Chandra with Russian crewmembers including Helen Mirren as Tanya Kirbuk and Elya Baskin as Max. The cast, including its earthbound members such as Dana Elcar and Mary Jo Deschanel, all do adequate performances if nothing spectacular.
The true highlights cast wise are the two returning members of the 2001 cast, Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman and Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL. Dullea and Rain are what the gives the film its real link back to 2001 having been, after all, at the heart of two of that film’s biggest mysteries. Their performances, despite coming more than a decade and a half after the first film, are nevertheless spot-on. Indeed, the most memorable moments of 2010 involve their appearances. The result then is a satisfying link back to the original without being gratuitous.
2010 also looks and feels like a completely different film. If 2001 was the film that gave us an optimistic view of the future, 2010 is the film that tried to combine that with a more realistic guess. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because the Leonov, the Russian spacecraft where much of the film is set, feels like a satisfying cross between what we saw in 2001 and something designed by an engineer rather than a film production designer. It’s also a good thing because it means that the Discovery from 2001 also fits seamlessly into the film. It’s a bad thing because it done something that 2001 hasn’t: it’s dated quite heavily in places, especially in the technological arena with an over-reliance on mid-1980s computers. Meanwhile, the film’s direction and cinematography (both from Peter Hyams) give it a more gritty feeling, the complete opposite of the clean and sterile vision of 2001. For anyone expecting a continuation of 2001’s look, it might come as a bit of a shock but there’s something brave about the approach Hyams and his production team took in this regard.
That brings us to the script and the novel it’s based on. 2001 is a film famous for leaving its audience with unanswered questions, and what 2010 does (in both book and film) is to try and answer those questions while telling its own story. The last half of that sentence sums up this film rather neatly. Yet, for all the questions it answers, 2010 also leaves some mysteries intact and even creates at least one new one. What the film also does is give us a look into some of the characters on the sidelines of the events of 2001 (such as Heywood Floyd) and what has happened to them since. Where the script runs into a problem, and where it dates, is in its inclusion of a Cuban Missile Crisis style Cold War standoff subplot that seems almost out of place with the rest of the story. What 2010 does isn’t to present a rehashing of 2001 but to continue it, (re)introduce characters, explain some things, but above all else tell its own tale.
So how does 2010 stack up? Comparing it to 2001, a masterpiece in the estimation of most is perhaps unfair. While telling a continuation of its story, it is by and large a whole different film telling a much different story. 2010 then needs to be judged on its own terms. In that regard, it is a good film that tells its own interesting story and is enjoyable in its own right.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.