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2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

2010 (1984)

Starring: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain

Written By: Peter Hyams, Arthur C. Clarke (novel) Directed By: Peter Hyams

The Short Version

One of the untouchable classics of science fiction gets a largely unasked for sequel.

The difference between 2001 and 2010 is the difference between primacy of art and primacy of craft. 

Taken on its own merits, 2010 is a very solid sci fi flick.

This film is a snapshot of the thoughts and fears the early 80s.

Though it doesn’t recapture what came before, nothing could.  2010 works for what it is.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


When your blend of different things absolutely, positively has to be “good enough.”

Pairs Well With...


“Great stuff, this bourbon.  Comes from a land called Kentucky… Can’t beat the taste of alcohol and plastic.”

“My God… it’s full of stars!”

In the 1960s, master science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke and visionary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick teamed up to bring the world a modern, high end, grounded-in-actual-science science fiction movie in the form of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Though it was hailed by many as an instant classic, very few people who were not under the influence of controlled substances actually understood it.  But hey; it looked pretty far out.

In the 1980s, Clarke teamed up with much more straightforward filmmaker Peter Hyams to bring the world a decently budgeted sequel in the form of 2010.  Nobody called it any kind of classic, but most people who watched the movie understood it.  And hey; it looked pretty good.

Realistically speaking, no moviegoer was asking for a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  That movie stands alone, and the fact that the questions it asks are never overtly answered is a large part of its mystique and appeal.  The world of literature, however, is altogether different, and so dedicated sci fi readers were quite happy when Arthur C. Clarke published “2010: Odyssey Two” in 1982.  Then he made a joke about not wanting to be bothered about getting it made into a movie, one thing led to another, and boom.  Suddenly, 2010 was being made into a movie.

[The story of Clarke’s collaboration with Peter Hyams, by the way, is a small epic in its own right, and included the first ever use of email to correspond about making a Hollywood film.  If you’re interested, much of that correspondence was published in a book called “The Odyssey File.”]

All things considered, I think that if anyone was ever going to make a filmed sequel to 2001, 2010 really is the best outcome that could have been hoped for.  Kubrick’s work simply cannot be matched or even approached; attempting to do so would have been a losing proposition, and no one here tries.  Instead, Peter Hyams (himself a major Kubrick fan who only took on the project with Kubrick’s blessing) elects to make a technically solid, artistically sound, and utterly straightforward science fiction movie that plays everything straight up the middle.  A few carefully selected elements of weirdness are lifted from what came before out of necessity, but even these are watered down to fit into a no-nonsense mold.  Overall, the resulting story about unfathomable events in Jupiter orbit is taken squarely down to Earth.

Because of this, what could easily have been an automatic loser that no one would have been happy with (had Hyams tried to duplicate Kubrick) instead comes up as something that is decidedly “good enough.”  Given the weight of the previous material ready to pull it down, “good enough” is a pretty solid achievement.

So, what’s “good enough”?

“Good enough” is a screenplay that takes the material that came before along with Clarke’s new novel and digests them into something that’s tremendously accessible without dumbing things down past the point of no return.  It’s an adventure that doesn’t leave its brain at the door and that is reasonably judicious about what compromises it’s going to make.  Old school fans may feel more than a bit of rage when the script solves the mystery of what happened to HAL in just two sentences, but at least it knows better than to try explaining the monolith.

“Good enough” is a solid cast doing solid work.  Roy Scheider (The Peacekeeper) and John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) are rock steady in their roles, and Helen Mirren (Excalibur) puts all other Russian accents to shame.  (Bonus: you should be able to count backwards from three in Russian after watching this movie.)  The show stealers, though – as they should be – are Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain reprising their original roles as Dave Bowman and the voice of HAL 9000, respectively.  Their presence firmly grounds 2010 as a continuation of the original story, and grants it an air of legitimacy that it would not have had otherwise.  (Cameo fun: the voice of SAL 9000 is provided by Candice Bergen, and when you see the faces of the American President and the Soviet Premier on a magazine cover, they’re the faces of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.  Clarke can also be seen feeding the birds in front of the White House.)

“Good enough” is direction not out to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn’t just play by the numbers, either.  Instead, Peter Hyams just gets the best shot possible every time without going out on any limbs.  That simple, and that impressive.  Hyams is a dedicated and talented craftsman more than he is a wild, outside-the-box artist, and that sober approach is exactly what 2010 needs to work.  You won’t get any bones making beautiful jump cuts that turn them into spaceships, but you will get the kind of attention to detail that squeezes the most out of John Lithgow’s performance when his character’s freaking out during a spacewalk.

“Good enough” provides effects shots that look decent.  Yeah, a compromise is made for the sake of the common viewer and there’s once again sound in outer space, but hey, the ships and the planets look good, and that’s what counts for most science fiction fans.

So yes, even though the illustriousness of its predecessor sets an impossible bar for 2010, the fact that the production makes no major mistakes (and is indeed crafted well enough to be considered “very good” were it a standalone picture) allows it to reach the mantle of “good enough,” which makes it “better than just okay” and worth a spot in your rental queue, assuming you’re not one of those people who’s thoroughly disgusted by the fact that the movie even exists in the first place.

And then, if you’re like me, 2010 has one other interesting point in its favor: the point of the cultural snapshot.

The world of 2010 is a projection of the world as it was in the early 1980s, and especially as viewed through the lens of a science fiction writer like Arthur C. Clarke.  The early 80s marked one of the two coldest points in the Cold War; had you told someone walking out of the theatrical premiere of 2010 that the Berlin Wall would be down in less than five years and the Soviet Union gone in less than seven, he or she would certainly have thought you to be insane.  And so, as Clarke penned his tale and Hyams filmed it, the struggle between the US and USSR that had defined Earth politics since the end of World War II remain a centerpiece of Future Earth.  Like most sci fi writers, Clarke was concerned with the seeming likelihood that this enmity would lead to a nuclear war, and again, that fear takes the stage here.  Meanwhile, electric cars drive the streets, and a poster in a boy’s room remarkably predicts that the 2008 Olympics would be held in Beijing long before any such decision had been made.  To me, this anachronistic study – this look at a future that never was but which reflects the world as it used to be – is utterly fascinating.  Honestly, I can take or leave the movie overall at this point – having seen it several times already, I needn’t go out of my way to do so anymore – but that glimpse at what never was that we thought would be is the main reason that I’ll still watch it when it’s on.

Bottom line, no one really asked for 2010 to come to the screen, but the fact is that it did, and really, it’s not a bad movie.  As a straightforward, solidly crafted sci fi adventure, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and is worth a peek for science fiction fans.  But it’s no work of art.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012

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