Monday, January 31, 2011

"2010" (1984)

Starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren
Written and directed by Peter Hyams

2010: The Year We Make Contact [Blu-ray]How exactly do you make a sequel to what was essentially an art film disguised as a sci-fi epic nearly twenty years later?  You just barrel straight forward, dismissing all but the most basic concepts necessary from the original (including one particularly famous musical cue retained as a main theme) and up the suspense quotient so you can market it as a thriller.

Nine years after the events of Stanley Kubrick's cerebral classic, "2001: A Space Odyssey," it is now the year 2010 and Doctor Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider, taking over for William Sylvester) has been drummed out of the space program in disgrace after the failure of the Discovery mission.  The HAL 9000 computer system malfunctioned, killing four astronauts.  The last survivor of Discovery, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) disappeared into a giant black alien monolith in space, leaving behind only a cryptic last transmission: "My God... it's full of stars!"

Floyd is approached by a representative of the Russian space program, who informs him that the Russians are closer to launching a mission to find Discovery than the United States.  The Russians propose a joint mission - an American crew will travel aboard the Russian ship Leonov.  Floyd recruits Dr. Curnhow (John Lithgow), designer of the Discovery, and Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), creator of HAL to journey with him to the moons of Jupiter and find the missing ship.

In the months during the ship's journey, tensions between the United States and Soviet Union begin to degenerate, and the two superpowers find themselves coming closer to open warfare every day.  This leads to tensions aboard the Leonov, as well, as the Russian and American crews distrust each other.  However, once they find the Discovery in orbit over Europa (a moon of Jupiter), politics give way to science and the two crews begin to develop respect and even friendship for each other. 

While Chandra attempts to rebuild HAL in order to pilot Discovery back to Earth, Floyd and the others try to determine the nature of the massive monolith that hangs, inscrutable, in space.  They also attempt to investigate possible signs of life on Europa.  What is the purpose of the monolith?  What happened to David Bowman?  Will there even be an Earth for the crew to return to?

"2010" is a decent sci-fi thriller.  While "2001" was very slow-moving, ponderous, "2010" is practically "Star Wars" by comparison.  It's also a much more literal movie, with lots of expository dialogue to explain how the characters are feeling and what the movie is trying to tell us.  The ultimate resolution is somewhat unsatisfying - it presents more questions than it answers, which seems antithetical to the style of the rest of the movie.  For much of its run time, however, "2010" is a perfectly enjoyable ride.  There are several suspense sequences that are well constructed and entertaining, and the caliber of the cast isn't in question. 

There's not a whole lot more to say about "2010", really.  It doesn't aspire to be as lofty or artistic as the original, presenting a very straight forward sequel that attempts to explain the more literal aspects of the original (generally, what I found to be the least intriguing aspects of that film).  We don't learn anything at all about the aliens, and the climax of the film really doesn't make all that much sense... it just sort of happens and we're expected to accept it as such.

The end of the film is supposedly a hopeful note, and yet, I can't help but think that if such a thing were to truly happen peace on Earth wouldn't exactly be where we'd end up.  Perhaps I'm just more cynical than Peter Hyams.  If you're a fan of "2001," "2010" is certainly worth checking out, but be wary.