2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

2001: A Space Odyssey evolved from Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Sentinel".  It was fleshed out quite a bit in partnership with director Stanley Kubrick to bring the classic movie to the screen.  There were some changes along the way, largely the fact that the novel takes place with Discovery going to Saturn and the Monolith that Dave Bowman enters being located on the moon of Iapetus.  It was 1968, so as grand as 2001's effects were, animating the ringed planet was going to be far beyond the abilities of Kubrick's effects crew.  So, instead, the Monolith is found to be orbiting Jupiter. 

In 1982 Clarke published a sequel to the original novel called 2010: Odyssey Two and, to fit the more famous narrative of the movie, relocated Discovery's location to between Jupiter and Io, with the Monolith still orbiting further out.  While it sought to explain a bit about what happened to Bowman, last seen as a giant fetus looking down upon the Earth after being evolved into a non-corporeal being by a strange intelligence, it still left a lot up to the imagination on who was behind the Monolith and their ultimate goals.  Personally, I have found when Clarke tries to deal with actual people instead of ideas he often runs into problems - often some of his collaborative books, like the later Rama series, work better when someone else is around to help with dialogue - but 2010 managed to do both well.  

Kubrick had no desire to go back and make a sequel.  All the sets from the original had been destroyed to make sure they didn't end up in later movies, and for all intents and purposes he had moved on.  Still, with the popularity of 2001 and the fact Clarke had written a quality sequel, it was inevitable that it would be made into a movie at some point.  That point was two years later, with Peter Hyams writing and directing, while regularly consulting Clarke on the project. 

Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) became the fall guy after HAL 9000 (Douglas Rains) malfunctioned, killing the crew of Discovery and leaving Dave Bowman's (Kier Dullea) location unknown.  Both the United States and the Soviet Union are building ships to return to find out what happened and explore the Monolith around Jupiter, but the need to return becomes more urgent once it appears that Discovery is being pulled toward Io.  Despite growing international tensions the President allows Floyd, HAL's designer Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) and engineer Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) to travel aboard the Russian spaceship Leonov.  

The tensions spill over to the crew, commanded by Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren).  However, once at their destination, it is found that something mysterious is happening on Europa, while Floyd is surprised to find out his directives accidentally led to HAL's homicidal behavior.  An attempt to explore the Monolith results in Bowman's disembodied form being released in time to warn the explorers that they have two days to leave the area around Jupiter.  Unaware of what will happen, other than a shadow growing rapidly on the giant planet, Floyd comes up with a desperate idea to get the crew to safety.

While the novel 2010 balances many of Clarke's futuristic and philosophical ideas with a good story it, like the original, is hard to transfer into a visual medium.  Stanley Kubrick did it by concentrating on the visuals over the story and immersing the viewer in the world of 2001.  Peter Hyams, on the other hand, sought to make a more normal, mainstream movie.  The problem is that, while there is some suspense when it comes to figuring out how to escape Jupiter's orbit and be able to have enough fuel to return to Earth, there is no villain to provide conflict.  That worked in the book; HAL was redeemed, what happened to Bowman was somewhat explained.  But, without an antagonist, there doesn't seem to be anything motivating the characters in the film until Bowman contacts Floyd. 

The other unfortunate thing is that the movie alters or ignores some of the more interesting parts of the book, or makes unnecessary changes.  One is hinting that whoever is behind the Monolith created life on Europa between the time Discovery arrived in the Jovian system and the arrival of the Leonov.  In the novel there is already life, as even back in the early 1980s, after seeing the pictures that the Voyager probes sent back of Europa, it was theorized that a liquid ocean existed beneath the ice, possibly powered by the moon's core or kept in a liquid state by pressure and tidal forces.  Although we have not found proof yet, it is taken for granted that there is at least some kind of life existing in Europa's ocean.  

The other major problem is that Bowman is underused.  He is important for a significant portion of the novel in making observations for the builders of the Monolith on human progress.  There is also a problem with the ending, which comes off a little too hippie-ish, where in the book it was a lot more ominous.  As Clarke's Odyssey books go on the Monolith aliens became much less a sign of hope and peace and more of a Lovecraftian force that humans could never hope to understand.  Of course the Cold War tensions in both the book and the movie vanished in the early 1990s, but that's hardly the worst thing that has aged badly - that, of course, being that we are probably a century or so away at this point from manned missions to the gas giants.  Also, the grand finale, which was a theory bandied about in the 1970s and 1980s, has largely been dismissed in recent years because of new scientific findings. 

Where the movie does work is in the performances.  Roy Scheider breathes some life into what was originally a dull character meant to give exposition in the first book and film, while Bob Balaban and John Lithgow are great as usual.  This was Helen Mirren's first major feature film, and perhaps because she is part Russian she was able to come off less as a stereotype.  I can say that about the rest of the actors playing the Russian crew as well, as they are not cartoon characters for once, but more a professional crew having to operate with three civilians in tow.

The effects are largely well-done, even though I personally think that those in 2001 have stood the test of time much better.  It is an interesting film, and it is good to have some answers about what happened without completely explaining everything.  Still, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is so rooted in the actual 1980s that, other than a curiosity, it doesn't connect with anyone over a decade past when the events were supposed to happen.  It is amazing the hope, with such primitive technology, authors and filmmakers had for the future, when we're only just starting things up again with what we have now. 

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Time: 116 minutes
Starring: Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban
Director: Peter Hyams



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