2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Friday, June 7 & Saturday, June 8; Midnight | Tickets
Making a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made must be a horrifying undertaking. Even if the followup turns out to be something great — or even just okay — more often than not, most people will dismiss the effort out of hand, either stewing about how this new movie somehow ruins the experience of the first, or they’ll just point towards the original and just kind of frown. “Why isn’t it as good as THAT one??”
That said, I feel a great amount of sympathy for director Peter Hyams, who, with 2010: The Year We Make Contact, took on the thankless and dangerous task of picking up where a mad genius left off. Based off of Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel to 2001, 2010: Odyssey Two, Hyams’ 2010 is, without question, an inferior film to Kubrick’s transcendent masterpiece, but — then again — the same can also be said for just about every other movie ever made.
Based on its own merits, 2010 is a handsome, smart piece of hard science fiction; one that attempts to answer many of the lingering questions left in the wake of 2001, and doing so varying degrees of success, but generally with a light enough touch so as to not spoil the mystery and the mysticism of the first film.
The special effects by Effects Entertainment Group are convincing and rich with detail, and Hyams put together a great cast for this second odyssey: Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban as well as Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain returning as Dave and HAL, respectively.
2010 picks up nine years after Dr. Dave Bowman disappeared into a massive, black monolith above Jupiter, leaving only a derelict ship, a disconnected supercomputer, and a single, cryptic message — “My God, it’s full of stars” — as clues to his fate.
Still hoping to crack the mystery of the monolith, a tense team of American and Soviet scientists — in this film, the Cold War has continued to escalate into the 21st century and now teeters on the brink of nuclear war — make their way towards Jupiter to investigate the alien relic as well as look into the death of Dave’s crew at the hands of demented super-computer HAL 9000.
At its core, 2010 treads much more traditional territory than 2001. There’s a hell of a lot more dialogue, for one, and much of what happens over the course of the film gets discussed and dissected to remove any chance for alternate interpretation. Hyams also re-introduces a political element that’s present in Clarke’s books, but was largely excised by Kubrick, which adds a layer of Earth-bound political tension to the mission.
If 2001 is about experiencing something baffling and wonderful, 2010 is more about figuring out just what the hell is going on. The result is something that’s more Star Trek than 2001. Replace the Soviets with Klingons — political tensions and all — and this film could have easily fit in with the other Original Series Star Trek films. Hell, it would have been better than a lot of them. Like the best Trek movies, 2010 attempts digest something inconceivably grand in a tidy two-hours, all while relating these future events back to contemporary political and social issues.
2010 isn’t without fault, though. Unfortunately, the world quickly outgrew its Cold War-era politics, making much of the conflict and the threat of nuclear war seem rather quaint and antiquated through modern eyes. Re-activating and redeeming HAL is another odd misstep for the film, de-fanging HAL’s eerie, logic-driven slaughter of his compatriots in the first film as a coding error caused by conflicting orders. With much of the movie’s attention going towards the monolith and Dave’s ultimate fate, dwelling on HAL for a portion of the film feels unnecessary, and the icy stare of his red eye never really amounts to much beyond a familiar nod to the original.
2010’s largest flaw, though, is fundamental to what separates it from 2001. The common reading of 2001 being that the monolith provides a kind of evolutionary stepping-stone for life around the galaxy, ushering civilizations to the next plane of existence and then starting the process again someplace else. The problem with dealing with a subject like this, is that talking it out makes it all sound kind of stupid — which is why, I suspect, Kubrick chose to breach the subject visually.
By fully explaining the mission of the monoliths and Dave’s role as a Star Child, the film does disarm some of the charm of Kubrick’s film — which is left open for a great deal of interpretation — and ultimately, the answer disappoints. It’s too simple, too easily expressed and explained — and, in the grand scheme of things, it serves as a reminder that these are just stories — hokum, really — without much weight or currency in the real world.
See? I’m already going on about how 2010 ruins the experience of 2001, which simply isn’t true. As far as sequels go, 2010 has an odd relationship with its spaced-out predecessor. It attempts to tackle many of the same feelings and thoughts on human existence, on evolution and life itself, but does so in a package that’s too tight and easily digestible.
Still, Hyams’ work with 2010 is still admirable. Roy Scheider is great as a pragmatic American scientist who must squash the tension created by the Earthly squabbles of governments that are millions of miles away; and Hyams loads the movie with some thrilling sequences that task these unpracticed scientists with remarkably horrifying assignments, like slowing down a ship by skirting through Jupiter’s atmosphere, or plummeting two of them through empty space to get to the Discovery, which is spinning like a pinwheel in Jovian orbit.
The differences between 2001 and 2010 are fundamental, but that doesn’t mean the latter is without merit. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a transcendent piece of poetry that’s about humanity, our place in the galaxy and where we are heading as a species. 2010 is more about people, and how a discovery on the magnitude of what happens in the space around Jupiter would change the way that we interact with each other.