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2010 The Year We Make Contact – film review

December 13, 2013


My God, it’s full of fun!

2010 discovery and leonov

Produced, directed, photographed and written for the screen by Peter Hyams. Based on a book by Arthur C. Clarke. Starring: Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Elya Baskin and Bob Balaban. Year of release: 1984. Running time: 116 mins.

With the world on the verge of nuclear conflict; a joint Soviet-American space mission is launched to learn the fate of a previous United States expedition to Jupiter which mysteriously lost contact nine years before. What this new mission soon discovers will have such a profound effect on the world – it will change the course of human history.

2010 The Year We Make Contact is often considered a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey – although it is more correctly an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel novel 2010: Odyssey Two. Published in 1982 and penned at the height of Cold War tensions between the USSR and the US; Clarke’s story can be regarded as not only a terrific sci-fi adventure, but also as a plea for world peace and cooperation between the two superpowers; at a time when nuclear annihilation was a very real possibility.

Although Kubrick was naturally Clarke’s first choice as director to helm the screen adaptation, Clarke was more than happy with the studio’s lobbying for Peter Hyams – having enjoyed Hyams’ previous space-themed pictures: Outland and Capricorn One. With Hyams on board, the two men enjoyed a fruitfull collaboration via an early incarnation of email during Hyams’ writing of the screenplay, with the director (based in LA) communicating daily with Clarke across the globe in Sri Lanka via a specially arranged satellite link (a collection of these emails were published in book form as a promotional tie-in during the film’s initial release).

There is no doubting the epic scope and grandeur of Kubrick’s landmark film has never been equalled – not to mention the movie’s flawless visual effects (even to     this day). So following in the footsteps of Stanley Kubrick would of course seem a daunting and thankless task for any director brave enough to accept the challenge; knowing his work would forever be compared to the work of a bonafide master filmmaker. But then 2001: A Space Odyssey was never just the vision of one man – as Arthur C. Clarke had originally supplied the short story from which the movie was expanded from (The Sentinel) – as well as penning the novel which was written concurrently during the production of the film. With this in mind, Peter Hyams always felt with his own adaptation of Clarke’s sequel novel that he was answerable solely     to Clarke himself and Kubrick not so much (although Hyams sought and received Kubrick’s blessing prior to beginning production and was told by the master not to     be afraid and make the film his own vision). As Hyams stated one week before production began, “The sound you hear is my ventricles closing. No one can reproduce Kubrick and anybody who tries to copy him is making a terrible, terrible mistake. Because I’m making the film, by definition, it has to be very different. All you can do is tell the story, and tell it as best you can.”

Interestingly, this film adaptation of 2010 could also be viewed as the third installment in an unofficial trilogy of space-themed films from genre helmer Peter Hyams – begun with Capricorn One in 1978 and followed by Outland in 1981. Indeed, 2010 marks Hyams’ return journey to Jupiter and the volcanic moon Io in particular – the same setting for his Sean Connery-starring space western Outland. Hyams is unusual as a director in that he is also an accomplished cinematographer – both lighting his scenes and operating the camera. His workman-like direction could never be accused of being showy and self-indulgent – relying instead on his atmospheric cinematography and use of intricate sets to create a sense of place and gritty realism in order to immerse the viewer within the story. And with 2010, Hyams knew going in, that it is Clarke’s story which is the star: “I don’t think there is any more primal thought in almost every person, than the desire to make contact with something other than themselves,” Hyams says. “I think that’s the single most exalting aspect of the human race. This is a film about making contact – the actual, feasible notion of making contact. And it turns out that what we are making contact with, is wonderful. That’s the story I wanted to tell. Whether or not this film compares favorably with 2001, telling that story made it worth the chance.”

For anyone who felt 2001 to be a ponderous and boring experience – be rest assured; there are none of these issues here. This is a well-paced and fast-moving adventure; combining the authenticity of a scientific procedural with relatable characters in increasingly tense situations. Primarily known for staging well-choreographed action thrillers (two of my favorite action sequences ever are the extended foot chase through the mining colony in Outland and the climactic aerial sequence in Capricorn One) – Hyams employs his directorial strengths to some truly tense sequences here, including: the aerobraking manoeuvre (where the Soviet ship Leonov must traverse Jupiter’s upper atmosphere in order to slingshot around the planet) and an earlier scene where an unmanned probe is sent to the surface of Europa when signs of life are detected – with catastrophic results. Also spectacular is the sequence where Discovery designer Curnow (Lithgow) and his Soviet counterpart Max (Elya Baskin) attempt to board the wildly cartwheeling Discovery, left abandoned above the sulphuric surface of Io. The predominantly electronic score by David Shire, which features some haunting whale-like calls, does much to enhance the sense of isolation felt during this particular sequence.

2010 roy scheider

Performances are uniformly excellent in a cast peopled by much-loved character actors, authentic ex-pat Russian thesps and Helen Mirren sporting a very convincing Soviet accent. Genre fave Bob Balaban (Close Encounters, Altered States) is particularly memorable here as HAL’s creator Doctor Chandra; giving depth to what could easily have been an annoyingly one-note character. And Roy Scheider is his usual solid and understated self as Doctor Heywood Floyd – the person responsible for sending the original Discovery mission to Jupiter. The thawing of relations between the Russian and American scientists is nicely handled with Helen Mirren giving a credible and touching performance in this respect. Rounding out the cast are perhaps the two most iconic characters from Kubrick’s film: Dave Bowman and HAL (the latter again voiced by Douglas Rain) – and it is incredible just how little Keir Dullea had aged between movies.

While not nearly as seamless or convincing as the visual effects of its predecessor, the VFX for 2010 (supervised by Star Wars alumni Richard Edlund) where nonetheless recognized with an Academy Award nomination (along with Edlund’s work on Ghostbusters) – it was ILM’s work on Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom which ultimately took out the gong.

2010 leonov

Thanks to images and data gathered by the Voyager space probes in the late seventies, Hyams and his team were in a position to present the most accurate representation of Jupiter and her various moons yet put on film (their attention to detail even extending to the single ring which encircles the planet). Indeed, actual telemetry gathered by Voyager was used to program computers used to recreate the swirling clouds of Jupiter’s atmosphere especially for this movie.

Unfortunately for the production of 2010, after the completion of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick ordered all plans of the U.S.S. Discovery sets and miniatures be destroyed in order to stop them from being potentially reused in subsequent second-rate films and TV shows. As a result, Peter Hyams and his production designer, Albert Brenner, were required to use frame blow-ups from a 70mm print of Kubrick’s film as reference for rebuilding replicas of the interior sets and miniatures of the iconic ship (the sleek, bright austerity of Discovery’s sets contrast nicely with Syd Mead’s chunky, low-lit utilitarian design of her Soviet counterpart; the Leonov).

And here’s another piece of trivia for those with sharp eyes; Arthur C. Clarke appears twice in the movie in a couple of cameos. The first occurs during a wide shot in front of the White House (itself a major coup for the production – as it was normally off-limits for film crews to even be there). Clarke can be seen sitting by himself on a park bench to the left of frame, feeding pigeons.

2010 - white house arthur c, clarke cameo

The second cameo is a mocked-up cover of an issue of Time Magazine, which a nurse is reading in the hospital where Bowman’s seriously ill mother is being cared for. Again, Clarke is on the left, while the figure representing the Premier of the Soviet Union may also be recognizable to some as being Kubrick himself. In a nice touch, both figures are represenative of how the two men appeared back in 1968.

2010 - time magazine

Whilst it might be beneficial to those who haven’t seen 2001 (or perhaps haven’t seen it for a while) to view the original film prior to seeing 2010 – it wouldn’t be crucial – as just enough exposition and backstory is revealed in this film to allow enjoyment of it as its own stand-alone adventure.

And for those who might be reticent about watching 2010 for fear it might reveal too much and drain the mystery from Kubrick’s vision; there’s really nothing to worry about here. While Clarke wisely does little to explain away the origin of the mysterious black Monolith (and Bowman’s apparent final words “My God, it’s full of stars!” are also left unexplained) – he does reveal the reason for HAL’s homicidal behavior in a way which is supremely satisfying and respectful to a character who was (let’s face it) – the actual star of Kubrick’s film. In a way, aside from being a terrific human adventure, 2010 is also the story of one computer’s redemption.

Peter Hyams again, “This is a very optimistic, extremely sentimental and emotional movie. The fundamental concept is quite optimistic. It’s about human beings, and it’s about peace. If you leave the theater touched, actually touched, perhaps to the point of tears, well, that’s what I want. That really is the object of 2010.”

2010 is a well-paced and exciting space adventure with a message of hope and wonder, which continues to resonate as much today as it did in the year of its theatrical release. While I would hesitate to use the word ‘sentimental’ to describe     this movie (as sentimental implies the saccharine sensibility of a Spielberg film) – I would definitely say there is a sincerity to Hyams’ film – which works very well in its favor.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

  1. Nice review, Greg. I haven’t watched the movie for years – you’ve made me want to dust it off again. I always felt it promised more than it delivered … but still delivered a lot. I loved the spinning, disorientating ‘docking with the Discovery’ sequence – you really feel John Lithgow’s nausea. Great cast overall.


    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Graham! It’s amazing just how well it holds up. And it looks beautiful on Blu-ray too. 🙂


  2. You know what always bugged me about this film, even back in the day when I saw it at the cinema? The monitor screens on board Discovery. In 2001 they were flat panels, the images rear-projected onto them. Typically far-sighted of the film, considering it was shot in the ‘sixties, it predicted the LCD/LED screen we all have today.

    But in 2010 they were ordinary tube monitors. Stuck out like a sore thumb. They don’t at all match the original film and to me always betrayed a lack of dedication to the project. I know that’s wrong, it was evidently a budget thing, but I always thought if they could make the effort back when they shot the original, why not so many years later when they shot 2010?

    The films ok. But after how cold the 2001 characters were (dehumanised, ‘lost’ in the technological artifice around them) the ‘ordinary joes’ of 2010 grates on me. I remember back when I first saw it, I walked out of the cinema absolutely hating it.


    • gregory moss permalink

      Wow – I’m sorry to hear that it had such a negative impact on you! But I think the key to enjoying 2010 is setting aside its connection to Kubrick’s film and considering it as its own entity. As to disliking the ‘ordinary joe’ aspect of the characters – I don’t really understand what you mean by this. If you’re referring to John Lithgow’s character being freaked out by the whole experience – it makes perfect sense – as he’s never been in a situation like this – let alone gone into deep space. In a sense he is the audience’s ‘avatar’ – in terms of placing themselves in the story – and this can only be a good thing. 🙂


      • I think my problem with 2010 is just that- I can’t separate it from 2001. Imagine my horror if they ever make a sequel to BLADE RUNNER!

        I do like some things of 2010, Roy Scheider was always a pleasure to watch in a film. I think the music score is interesting, but even then, its got a ‘proper’ soundtrack score while 2001 went the Classical pieces route. 2010 is very mainstream, I guess that’s my whole problem with it. I can understand why they went that way, but still, it bugs me. I guess I wanted something as enigmatic as 2001, and we were hardly going to get that from Peter Hyams, or from a major studio in 1984.


      • gregory moss permalink

        Oh God – a sequel to Blade Runner?! – after the debacle of Prometheus? Will anyone really want this? As for 2010, I guess if it was marketed as ‘Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010’ it may have been enough to separate it from Kubrick’s film and placate the fans of the original. And as Hyams suggested in a quote in my review – if he were to attempt to mimic Kubrick, he’d be hauled over the coals for it – which is why he didn’t.


  3. Sash permalink

    LOL! I’m reading this in 2017, having just seen 2010 today, I must agree that 2001 is light years ahead of its time. 2010 sort of manages to get us interested in the mystery behind the monolith and HAL’s reason, but I felt it was all exposition rather than trying to dig deeper into the origin. I mean take a risk and see.

    As for the sequels today, Prometheus, wow! Made me leave the theater and soon after quit the movie industry as I realized even Ridley Scott had no balls to go back and really build on Alien’s origins and establish much needed connections to what he directed in that classic. Don’t even want to go there with Alien Covenant or Convent or whatever that was.

    As for Blade Runner, well guess what’s out now?!?! My wife wants to see it so will humor her, otherwise couldn’t bring myself to donate money to more garbage that Hollywood muppets continue to dish out.


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