Based on Arthur C. Clarke's "romp around the Solar System" ("2010: Odyssey Two"), it proposes a fact-finding mission by Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider in this one, rather then the original's William Sylvester) to attempt to discover precisely what happened to the Discovery Mission to Jupiter and its crew. By hitching a ride on a Soviet space-craft (commanded by er, Tanya Kirbuk*—Helen Mirren) that just happens to be passing by, Floyd and his crew—Discovery engineer Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) and Dr. R. Chandra (Bob Balaban), the computer scientist who developed the Hal 9000 and its twin in Urbana, Illinois—attempt to find out what went wrong with the mission that ended up with a dead crew and no information on where the signal sent by the un-mooned TMA-1 anomaly led. Where the first film revels in the leaps of evolution foisted on Man by "the Zarathustrians" (as I call them), Hyams' film is stuck with the earth-men and women merely trying to crack "what-done-it."
Frankly, they should have just re-played the first film.
Kirbuk...uh...Kubrick stayed away from the machinations, unless it was visually arresting or amusing—like the zero-gravity-walking up walls, or the gravity-making squirrel-cage aboard Discovery— but Hyams, like Clarke, is only too happy to show the nuts-and-bolts of dropping into orbit with ablating bags, the stress it has on the crew by shaking the camera, the spark-emitting panels (straight out of Irwin Allen shows), and the requisite astronaut who flies across the control center in zero-g. This is the stuff of sci-fi melodrama in all its cheapness, precisely what Kubrick was trying to avoid in his film.
While everybody is fussing about the flight-mechanics of the rendezvous' with the Jupiter system and the now-tumbling-in-orbit Discovery, the Zarathustrians choose that moment to pull off a Solar System-affecting gambit, using the missing-in-action Bowman (Keir Dullea returning to his earlier role) as a secret agent appearing everywhere (now?) to pull off something spectacular—one shouldn't call it terra-forming so much as solar-forming—gravity manipulation, while Bowman runs interference, squandering the mystery of that omnipotent-seeming Star-Child (the next leap in human evolution seen at the end of 2001), to serve as a planet-skipping/morphing errand-boy who, it would appear, is discarded as soon as he accomplishes his final mission.
It is eerie to hear the voice of HAL again (Douglas Rain) and to see Keir Dullea, through some artful make-up, look as young (and as old, unnecessarily) as he once was. And working from mere screen-captures, Hyams and his art department did a meticulous job recreating the Discovery sections—they can't keep the ships from looking like models in the FX sections, however, which is curious for a more late-model movie. So meticulous is their work that it seems bizarre that the Russian ship would look so different in its interior, than what the Americans had come up with by that time. Again, apples and concrete.
One wonders, ultimately, if it was worth doing: it was a toe-splash for M-G-M to explore the possibilities of one of its core properties, but its utter conventionality only points to the other film's complete unconventionality in terms of belaying cheap dramatic tricks and the standard "science fiction" obsession with mechanics (Kubrick turned all that rendezvousing into a dance). It is the only sense of wonder 2010 allows, where its progenitor was far more about wonder than the why's and wherefore's.
2010 serves as a Reader's Digest version of the original, a blunted, condensed presentation of a larger, more sophisticated work. It has highlights, sure, but there's nothing transcendent about it; it's a blue-print, a schematic of ideas, rather than a fully-formed work of art and expression. It's like a hack-magician, who can only keep an audience's interest by revealing how the tricks are done.
But, as Raymond Chandler noted with inferior movies made from his books, the originals are still there to be appreciated on their own. The creation of 2010 really doesn't diminish the work of 2001—it's still there to be seen and appreciated.
|The final message to Earth is in English...and reads like a Hallmark card.
A couple of in-jokey cameo's
|Pithy cover of Time: the U.S. President is Arthur C. Clarke/
The Russian Premier is Stanley Kubrick
|Arthur Clarke (left) sits on a park-bench outside the White House
(Wait a minute—isn't he the President?)