(December 1984, U.S.)
By the year 1984, I'd only seen Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY when it aired on TV or when I rented it on pan and scan video cassette. When Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: ODYSSEY TWO was released in 1982, I read it as soon as a copy was available at my local library, and when the film version was announced with Roy Scheider taking over the role of Dr. Heywood Floyd, I waited in anticipation for its release.
I went to see Peter Hyam's sequel with a friend of mine who'd never seen 2001, so I don't think he was too keen on its sequel. Still, I was persistent about it and he was a good friend. He approached our trip to the movies with a good attitude, and was willing to at least give it a try. And to be fair, I took the time to catch him up on the events of 2001 while we drove to the movie theater, beginning primarily with the discover of the monolith on the moon, hardly bothering to describe the Dawn of Man sequence because it hardly fit in with the new movie. As he listened to my detailed description, my friend sounded genuinely interested, but who could really tell. Maybe he was just being a friend and humoring me. My descriptive backstory of 2001 combined with 2010's pre-credit recap of the events of the first movie leading to the point of the sequel’s introduction might have been enough information for him to know what he was watching without actually seeing 2001. That’s bullshit, of course, because there is no substitute for seeing the entire masterpiece of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on screen if possible, and certainly a lot more than once.
Admittedly, I would’ve loved to see William Sylvester return in the role of Dr. Heywood Floyd, but Roy was about as perfect as a substitute as I could’ve imagined. At the very least, Keir Dullea returns as astronaut David Bowman and Douglas Rain as the voice of the HAL 9000 computer (some things can never be substituted). It's nine years later now, and the world is on the brink of World War III due to international tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Heywood Floyd is now a college professor because he was initially blamed for the failure of the Discovery mission to Jupiter in 2001. A new mission is in the works, in which U.S. and Soviet astronauts will return to Jupiter together in the Soviet spaceship, the Leonov, to find out what happened to David Bowman, Frank Poole, the Discovery, and HAL. Questions that are lingering for nine years are due to be answered. Intriguing is the fact that this joint mission will take place even as it looks like the U.S. and Russia are about to destroy each other.
While en route to Jupiter, signs of life are detected on one of its moons, Europa. An unmanned probe and a burst of mysterious energy determine that something is warning the Leonov to stay away from Europa. The Discovery is found continuously rotating in space, which I consider an original visual effect rather than the ship just sitting there like a dead relic. It's the eventual arrival at the Monolith itself that disappoints me. It, unlike the Discovery, isn’t moving at all. It does sit there like a dead relic. This is a terrible point in the story because it's the mystery of the monolith’s motion and travel through space I find so breathtaking in the first movie. While I realized Peter Hyams doesn't want to intentionally copy anything Kubrick already did, this decision seems like a mistake.
Still, there are two more groundbreaking moments in the movie: an explanation to why Hal malfunctioned and killed the rest of the crew aboard the Discovery, and the long-awaited appearance of David Bowman. The first is delivered with some explicit detail by Hal’s programmer, Dr. Chandra (played by Bob Balaban), who explains the reason HAL did what he did is because he was instructed not to reveal the true mission about the Monolith to the ship’s crew. This conflicted with HAL’s basic programming of his accurate and truthful processing of information. Basically, he was instructed to lie and he couldn’t handle the stress or the consequences of it. He became paranoid and had a computer mental breakdown, causing him to commit murder (that's quite a story). Who knew that computers could act this way, even in what was considered our future (at the time).
Tensions back on Earth are detailed. The United States and the Soviet Union are escalating their conflicts to the breaking point of what could become World War III. In space, American and Soviet astronauts can no longer occupy the same ship. But it's Bowman’s eventual arrival that creates the circumstances that get them working together again. His warning to Dr. Floyd is that they have to leave Jupiter in two days, despite the fact that “something wonderful” is going to happen. Unlike Dr. Chandra’s long-winded explanation, Bowman gives little information to help us understand things. He appears, he speaks, he transforms himself into the old man and Star Child we’ve seen in the first movie, and then he disappears. As everyone in space prepares for a mutual departure, Jupiter develops a growing black spot on the planet’s surface that turns out to be an enormous group of Monoliths that constantly multiply. As suspense and tensions mount, the Leonov escapes danger even as the Discovery is destroyed (along with HAL) and Jupiter explodes. This explosion creates a miraculous new star in space, and is accompanied by a final transmission of hopeful words to our planet meant to inspire the United States and the Soviet Union to seek peace with each other: All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.
In the end, though, not all is resolved and not all questions are answered. Much like the first movie, we're finally left with the shape of the Monolith standing alone in the swamp of Europa; an intelligent life form that will continue to evolve and raise questions for humanity.
I recall asking my friend what he thought of 2010 and I have to give the guy credit for doing his best to spare my feelings of enthusiasm by telling me that he thought it was a good movie, when what I’m sure he really wanted to say was, “Dude, I didn’t get any of it. I didn’t see any of 2001, so how could I possibly enjoy this?” I’ll never know for sure if that was the truth, but I’m still grateful for his movie companionship, nonetheless.
It’s taken some years of movie maturity to fully understand and appreciate this, but the first rule when judging 2010 is you’re required to put 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY aside to the point where it almost doesn’t exist. This is a sequel, to be sure, but to make unfair and unwarranted comparisons to Kubrick’s masterpiece is nothing short of futile. While 2010 can never achieve the poetic mystery or the sense of wonder its predecessor did, I cannot deny it effectively continues the story that Arthur C. Clarke put in print. This is still a fun and exciting space adventure in its own right, once you’ve accepted the fact that 2001 is meant to stand alone as one of the greatest motion pictures ever created. Still, I can’t be entirely kind to this film. Despite the fact that one of the central points of 2010 is to answer essential questions that have lingered for sixteen years between film releases, it’s the answers that I feel ultimately flaw the film. Keeping in mind that it’s the sense of inexplicable mystery that makes 2001 such an achievement, why would we even want answers? Yes, HAL went crazy. Yes, HAL killed the ship’s crew. Yes, Bowman entered an alternate dimension beyond the infinite, and yes, Bowman was reborn as the Star Child. Many of us didn’t get it. Some of us were infuriated by it. Some of us embraced the great mystery of the unknown and beyond. Some of us thought the ambiguity of unanswered questions made it all the more appealing. Bob Balaban breaking it down for us in logical and explicable terms, ultimately pointing to our own government doing what they do best, lying, serves no true purpose but to only ruin what many of us found so delicious in the first place.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Victor Milson: "So, here we are on your actual brink. My agency's gonna become a part of the military, I've got a president with his finger poised on the button, and you want me to walk across the park and tell him we want to hitch a ride with those very same Russians. Have I missed anything?"