Welcome back to the Week of Rockin’ Movies. Each movie we take a look at this week will have a significant connection to rock music. Today’s installment may surprise you.
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Directed by Peter Hyams
Was there ever a film that needed a sequel less than 2001: A Space Odyssey? If any movie had ever defied sequel-making, it was the original 2001. It is impossible to talk about 2010 without mentioning Stanley Kubrick and the groundbreaking film that started it all. With that in mind, 2010 is still a great science fiction film, intelligent and exciting, while feeling light years away from the original.
Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) has taken the fall for the disasters that occurred aboard the Discovery back in 2001. The infallible supercomputer H.A.L. 9000 (Douglas Rain) did fail, four astronauts were murdered, and Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) has disappeared (presumed dead). Nobody knows why, not even H.A.L.’s creator Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) . The Discovery is in a decaying orbit around Jupiter, and the Americans plan on sending a team there to find out just what happened. One problem: the Russians will get there first. Floyd has been offered a ride on the Russian ship, the Alexei Leonov, to combine missions.
The premise itself shows us that the cinematic universe has changed. Politics were all but inconsequential in the first film, but here they form major plot points in the whole story. The Soviets are still deep into a cold war with United States, but recent flare-ups threaten to go nuclear at any time. The President’s finger is hovering over the button. Amid this chaos, the Americans don’t want the Soviets to get to Dicovery first.
Heywood Floyd needs Discovery and H.A.L. to find out what went wrong last time, with five lost lives on his hands. Along for the ride are Dr. Chandra to reactivate H.A.L., and Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), the man who built Discovery. The Russian crew, portrayed excellently by mostly Russian actors for authenticity, are distrustful of the Americans. Their commander, played by Helen Mirren, is also an officer of the Russian air force and finds her loyalties tested when Dr. Floyd tells her that the phantom of Dave Bowman has warned that they must leave Jupiter in just two days.
Is it a phantom or has David Bowman really returned? Or at least something that once was Dr. Bowman? Keir Dullea, not looking a day older even though nearly 20 real-world years have passed, is eerie in his portrayal of Bowman. He is clear that Jupiter’s orbit will no longer be safe, but offers no explanation other than, “Something is going to happen. Something wonderful.”
2010: The Year We Make Contact was based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel 2010: Odyssey Two. Left to his own devices and without Stanley Kubrick’s collaboration, Clarke’s story featured much more dialogue. (The book also included entire chapters about a rival Chinese mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and David Bowman’s journey.) Peter Hyams wisely chose not to try to copy Kubrick’s style for 2010, as that would have been pure folly. The end result was a more accessible but less mind-altering film. It is certainly less authentic (for example there is no sound in a vacuum) and less ground breaking.
In one of the more human scenes, look for the late Natasha Shneider of Queens Of The Stone Age and Eleven as the cosmonaut Irina. Roy Scheider and Natasha Shneider have a memorable scene together that adds a lot of realism to the film. Shneider was a sometimes-actress in the 1980’s while trying to get her music career off the ground. When she formed Eleven with Jack Irons (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers and future Pearl Jam drummer) and her partner Alain Johannes, a little bit more recognition came her way. Besides touring as a member of Queens of the Stone Age supporting Lullabies To Paralyze, she also featured heavily (writing and performing) on Chris Cornell’s solo debut album Euphoria Morning. She died of cancer July 2, 2008 at age 52. How sad that she never saw the year 2010 herself.
This film is a suitable sequel for this sci-fi fan. Such science as “aerobraking” is shown on screen, and the possibility of life on Europa is explored. And, finally, we get to see what life on Earth in 2010 actually looks like! (Not quite like the real thing turned out, sadly!)
In an effort to “explain” the mysteries of the original Odyssey, 2010 succeeds by leaving just enough to the imagination. The ancient monoliths and the beings behind them are never fully explained. There are questions left behind, thus far only explored in the pages of Clarke’s novels. (Tom Hanks once expressed interest in making a film version of 3001: Final Odyssey but that idea, thankfully, is dead.) This movie could have been a disaster in many ways, but fortunately was not. While nothing can ever equal or top 2001, or come even close to breaking the ground that it did, this film serves as a satisfying coda and it is good to watch them both together.
DVD contains a decent documentary called “2010: The Odyssey Continues”.
4/5 stars. If this were any other sci-fi film franchise, it would have been 5/5. But when comparing to the original, nothing could be equal to it.
Roy Scheider as Dr. Heywood R. Floyd
John Lithgow as Dr. Walter Curnow
Helen Mirren as Tanya Kirbuk
Bob Balaban as Dr. R. Chandra
Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman
Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000
Natasha Shneider as Irina Yakunina
Candice Bergen as the voice of SAL 9000 (credited as “Olga Mallsnerd”)