At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 2010: The Year We Make Contact “84”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 2010: The Year We Make Contact “84”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Sci-Fi/Stars: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Madolyn Smith, Dana Elcar, Taliesin Jaffe, James McEachin, Natasha Shneider, Vladimir Skomarovsky, Mary Jo Deschanel, Elya Baskin, Savely Kramarov, Oleg Rudnik, Victor Steinbach, Jan Triska, Herta Ware; Voice of: Douglas Rain/ Runtime: 116 minutes

I think it should be said before I go any further in this review that the close to 2 decades that exist between when the sci-fi masterpiece that is 2001: A Space Odyssey first graced movie theaters and the release in 1984 of the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2010: The Year We Make Contact or 2010 for short, is by no means the longest period of time to exist between an original cinematic property and its direct follow-up. Even with that in mind though, it is most assuredly worth mentioning that had it been one year or sixteen in this case the wait was not only quite lengthy, but also warranted since I’m pretty sure audiences probably never felt that 2001: A Space Odyssey would be a slice of cinema to even get a sequel and so probably had steep reservations about this film in the first place. Thus before even one shot on this slice of cinema was filmed, I think it can safely be said that film helmer Peter Hyams along with his cast and crew had chosen to take on a decent-size challenge in the form of making a movie that could continue from where a master filmmaker had left off in such a manner that it both provided some but not all of the answers left by the first film whilst also making sure not to insult the original masterpiece in any way. It’s also worth noting that, much like the original had Kubrick’s fingerprints all over it, so too did this one with Hyams who, in addition to helming it, also wrote the script, produced, and led the cinematography department. Unfortunately comparisons between the two movies are going to be made even though I really wish they wouldn’t. Yet even with that in mind, props must be given to this slice of cinema’s helmer for being very much familiar with the possible trap he was walking into. I say this because this is a man whose clear respect for what Kubrick had created that he wasn’t set on just making a cheap follow-up that felt extraneous or even worse unnecessary. Rather, he had a strong desire to make a sequel that did justice to the masterpiece Kubrick made. Of course, one question I have gotten is if you should see 2001 before this film. Now normally I would say yes, but this is not the case with this. I say this because yes you might have some questions related to the story, but by the same token you will not have issues with this slice of cinema’s style and tone that it operates with. At any rate, there is no denying that although this slice of cinema does struggle to leave the monolith-size shadow of its predecessor, the helmsmanship is not too bad, the work done behind the camera is actually pretty good, and the truly talented cast all do dependably good work with the material they are given. As a result, what we are given is a slice of cinema that is nowhere on the level of its iconic predecessor, but is also by no means a slap in the face either.

The plot is as follows: Picking up a solid nine years after the events we saw in 2001, 2010 reveals that in the time since not a whole lot has really changed. Indeed not only is the Discovery still in the cosmos near a moon of Jupiter’s known as Europa, but it is still afloat and HAL is still aboard albeit gathering dust like the rest of the ship due to being disconnected by Dave Bowman shortly before his historic voyage. One thing that has changed however is that the monolith that we last saw on the Moon has in the time since been brought to Earth where teams of scientists have looked over every possible inch of it and yet are still no closer to figuring anything out about it than they were when it was first discovered nine years ago. Oh and there is one other thing I guess I should mention. That being that both the USSR and the USA are both trying to get a manned missions back out to Jupiter in the hope of both investigating the monolith that is there as well as seeing what went wrong with the Discovery mission. However we soon see that, in a moment of incredible diplomatic skill, politicians from both countries are able to come to an agreement that will permit a trinity of American scientists consisting of Dr. Heywood Floyd who is the former top dog at the American space agency and who puts a lot of the blame for why the Discovery mission went south on himself, an engineer named Walter Curnow who was one of the primary designers of the Discovery, and a Dr. Chandra who was the main genius behind the infamous AI that we know as HAL to board a Russian vessel known as the Leonov to head out to investigate and help to access Discovery’s data banks alongside the commander of the ship, a Tanya Kirbuk, and her crew. Yet despite the rocket-high tension between their two countries that currently exists on Earth, it isn’t long before a series of surreal events and circumstances start to occur. Events that if the two crews wish to make it through in one piece will see them trying to learn how to work together as well as see the tenuous bonds of trust and friendship that form as a result prove to be potentially impactful not just on a global level, but also a universal level as well.

Now right off the bat, it should be noted that whilst this slice of cinema does resolve a few lingering questions you may have had from 2001 it does not go around and solve every single one of them. Indeed not only do we not get a clear answer on just what the heck the star child is, but it also still isn’t made clear just how responsible Floyd may be for HAL going wacko. With that in mind, it should be noted that this slice of cinema also doesn’t really try to pose any new questions and it also concludes with a message of peace that proves to be quite the odd contradiction from the first film showing that the monolith’s influence led to primitive man first engaging in violent behaviors. It is with that in mind that perhaps the biggest flaw found in this slice of cinema from a creative perspective is to utilize the Cold War in the background of the narrative. Yes I suppose this was hinted at in the first film and yes it might have been an attempt to make this relatable for 80s movie goers, but this subplot that runs pretty consistently throughout the film now seems a bit unnecessary. No the film’s director can hardly be faulted for not knowing what the future would hold. Nevertheless the fact still remains that by putting a focus on what were “current events” manages to make this slice of cinema seem sadly antiquated in comparison to the timeless quality of the original. Fortunately, in terms of work being done behind the camera it’s not all doom and gloom. For starters, a lot of the sequences in this slice of cinema that take place in outer space are actually not terrible by any means. Along with that, we see that even though Kubrick’s slow and steady pace has been switched out with a more kinetic pace, this slice of cinema is by no means a mile a minute. Indeed there is quite a bit in the way of exposition which must be delivered and in that regard there are quite a few moments of dialogue that I thought were actually quite clever. Along with that, it should be noted that the work from the visual effects department might not be on the level as the work from 2001, but is by no means sloppy either with perhaps the best example being how phenomenally well this film’s visual effects crew was able to recreate the Discovery even in the face of Kubrick destroying all the models and whatnot of it from the first film. Finally, when looking at this film in regards to the work done by the sound and music departments, I can safely say that Hyams’ take is a complete 180 from what Kubrick did. Indeed in this film space is no longer a place where no one can hear you scream, but a place you sometimes wish noises would just cease every once in a while. Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that, with the exception of the iconic “Also Spoke Zarathustra”, Hyams makes the brilliant choice to give this slice of cinema an original score instead of doing what Kubrick did and incorporate classic music which was honestly the best choice possible since any other options would have just felt like they were trying to fruitlessly emulate the first film.

Now in terms of the performances in this slice of cinema, I do feel that a few of the casting choices are worth going into further detail on. This of course starts with the returning Keir Dullea and the voice talents of Douglas Rain and it was a delight to have them back since this dynamic duo really do help make this slice of cinema feel familiar in key ways rather than all-around alien. With that in mind though whilst I do take issue with the explanation given for why HAL decided to go all homicidal and loonier than a looney tune in the last film I also felt that since his shut down in that film was a surprisingly pathos-driven moment, it was a delight to see the murderous A.I. actually get treated to a chance to make amends. As for whether he does or not I shan’t spoil that here. As for Keir Dullea’s return in this as Dave Bowman I should warn you that it is not the biggest role in the movie. Rather, it’s more like an extended cameo of sorts and whilst yes it was wonderful seeing Dullea come back to the role after all that time, I do also concede that in many aspects it does feel like he is in this only to provide this film with some fairly dependable plot connectivity to the first one. Yes I suppose there is a reason he is in this one, but that reason is one that could be handled in another way rather than bringing Bowman back in the flesh (in a manner of speaking) to interact with some of the people in this one. As for the new kids on the monolith-size block they do fine with their respective roles. Indeed in the role of the returning Dr. Floyd we get Roy Scheider who yes I love his work and who yes does a good job in this, but who also doesn’t really seem like he is playing the same guy we saw in the first one portrayed by William Sylvester. Thus it’s not a bad performance by any means, but don’t really go into this expecting to see much connective tissue between the two takes on the character. I also really loved the work done in this by John Lithgow who, as the Discovery’s main engineer, really does bring a wonderful degree of humanity to a room that seems frozen in a varying amount of political tension. As for Bob Balaban he was fine in his role of Dr. Chandra, but I was also strongly reminded of his role as the interpreter in Close Encounters and as a result wish the character was fleshed out just a bit more. Now I love Helen Mirren and I love the performances she has given during her career including this one, but this could easily have been a genuinely great one had they done one thing. That being they should not have made her play this character with a truly absurd Russian accent that makes her sound a lot more in the vein of a villainess from a Roger Moore Bond film than a hardened yet still human when she needs to be Soviet space ship captain. Suffice it to say that even though there are a few issues with the casting, by and large the cast do manage to acquit themselves quite well and give fairly good performances all the same.

All in all I think it can be safely said that with the amount of time that has come and gone since 2010 came out, I am of the belief that with this slice of cinema there might not be a completely understandable reason from a creative perspective for this sequel to exist, but by no means does that mean that this is a bad slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed this is a film that, alongside its predecessor, manages to be the same narrative, but from two distinct avenues. By that I mean whilst Kubrick utilized sci-fi as a way to take on some pretty hefty metaphysical concepts, Hyams utilized it in a way that was significantly more grounded and conventionally. It is in that respect that each of these two films can be watched on its own even if the majority of people who choose to view 2010 are probably doing so because they’ve seen 2001 rather than on its own merits. On the other hand, if you are engaging in a double feature then you will be happy to know this is one continuation that doesn’t bring down its predecessor in any negative way. Indeed one of the biggest potential perils that a filmmaker who chooses to make a film that is a sequel is that if it turns out to be bad it will leave an irremovable stain on the previous movie(s). In that respect, I can thankfully say that is not something that we see occur with this film in practically every department from the helm all the way to the performances from the game cast. Indeed in one of the more delightful contradictions I have been able to witness, 2010: The Year We Make Contact might not be a necessary film, but it is still one that is worth a watch. On a scale of 1-5 I give 2010: The Year We Make Contact a solid 3.5 out of 5.