2010: A space sequel that's not as bad as you thought
By Daniel Kraus

Somebody, somewhere, dropped the ball last year and did not give Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a major re-release in the year 2001. Aside from that monumental blunder, the film did receive the expected amount of re-analysis and praise, most of which added up to the same conclusion we’ve always had about the film: it is one of those few works that elevate filmmaking to level of the novel or the painting. It’s a true work of art that, like those older art forms, will forever exist in our minds as something much more than what we simply saw and heard on-screen.

One has to wonder: when the year 2010 rolls around, will the underachieving little brother of 2001 get even a fraction of the same respect? Writer/Director Peter Hyams collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke (author of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequel 2010: Odyssey II) and the film was released in 1984 to much fanfare and the inevitable comparisons to the incomparable original. But it was truly a case of apples and oranges; 2010 was a good film, maybe even a great one, and as a great film it had little interest in how another director did things—even if that director was Stanley Kubrick.

Hyams’s movie is 180-degrees different than 2001, but utilizes the now-famous symbols that Kubrick birthed—the monolith, the fetus, the astronaut David Bowman, and the spaceship Discovery (which had to be re-created from scratch after Kubrick had all of the original plans and models destroyed for fear of it ever showing up in some other science-fiction film).

Many would suggest that this very concept was an outrage, that Kubrick’s symbols were somehow holy and should exist only as he left them, as wonderfully rich enigmas. Hyams and Clarke took a different view; 2001 was a film that demanded an intellectual and spiritual response from anyone who saw it; 2010 was their response. That doesn’t mean their interpretation is correct. Nor does it mean Salvador Dali’s "Last Supper" painting is more correct than Da Vinci’s is. Art is response to the world around us, and Hyams was out to provide his interpretation of what 2001 meant to him.

Therefore, 2010 is full of answers (too many answers for many critics). It begins with Haywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), the man who had been held responsible for the failed Discovery mission, finally getting a chance to find out what happened. As America and the Soviet Union inch closer to nuclear war (this was made in 1984, remember), they also both inch closer to having the technology to reach the empty, orbiting Discovery craft which houses the dead HAL-9000 computers and, possibly, an answer to the mysterious monolith that floats outside of Jupiter.

Bob Balaban

The Soviets are way ahead in the space race and are ready to launch a reconnaissance craft, but have no insight to HAL’s programming. So, three Americans are allowed to come with them— Floyd and computer scientists Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) and Walter Curnow (John Lithgow). Suffice to say, there is more talking in the first two minutes of 2010 than there are the entire 139 minutes of 2001.

They reach the ship and re-start HAL, who they learn had NOT gone crazy but had simply been given a directive from the U.S. government to dispose of Bowman if he got in the way of the mission. Meanwhile, the Soviet ship gets too close to the Jupiter monolith, and another astronaut is lost into space, just like Bowman was.

Unfortunately, the war on Earth escalates and the astronauts are ordered to come home. Ignoring for the time being a strange, life-like sign from Jupiter’s moon Europa, the astronauts prepare to leave in two weeks when the Earth’s rotation is correct. But Floyd is visited by the specter of Dave Bowman, who randomly shifts from fetus to middle age to old man as they speak. Dave tells Floyd that they must use American/Russian teamwork to take off for Earth immediately because "something wonderful" is going to happen. "It’s all very clear to me now," says Dave, making him the envy of everyone who’s ever seen 2001 or 2010.

What happens is this: zillions of monoliths swarm across Jupiter, consuming it and turning it into a second sun; while a repeated message is beamed to Earth, reading: "All These Worlds Are Yours Except Europa. Attempt No Landing There. Use Them Together. Use Them in Peace." The war on Earth ends.

There is an undeniable elegance and beauty about what happens in 2010, which seems to be a story about God’s Creation. A new sun is created, new planets are offered up, and an entire new chance is given to mankind. The only stipulation is the mysterious moon Europa, which is perhaps the new Forbidden Fruit in the galactic Garden of Eden.

2010 sort of lets HAL off of the hook, telling us that HAL did not know how to lie until we taught him. This is rather simplistic and disappointing, given the natural progression of intelligence/evil that Kubrick had so carefully built up in 2001. However, at the end, there is an interesting scene: the astronauts returning home have abandoned HAL in space, and HAL is visited once again by Dave. It is clear that HAL was aware all along of his destiny here with Dave, and is somehow integral to what is happening cosmically. As Jupiter is in the final stages of being swallowed by the monoliths, it looks just like HAL—a black circle surrounded by a larger red one. Considering that one of the first images in 2001 (the sky in "The Dawn of Man") ALSO looks just like HAL, Hyams has created a rather elegant bookend, placing HAL as a presence that is as timeless as the monolith, a quiet, rational, intelligent force that has no ego, pride, or anger, but CAN be used for evil, should humankind instigate it.

Unlike 2001, Hyams’s film focuses on human emotions: fear, sadness, hope. In doing this, 2010 is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which angered many by treating Jesus like a flawed, flesh-and-blood man. 2010 is similarly "blasphemous" by taking HAL and the monolith and subjecting them to expansive human scrutiny (the scientists discuss the dimensions of the monolith and how they have been unable to penetrate it with lasers, etc.). But the message is the same as in Last Temptation: the strongest faith is that which has been challenged, tested, and still survives. And despite the trials 2010 puts us through, 2001 emerges unscathed; in fact, stronger for having survived.