Feb 20th: “2010: The Year We Make Contact” (1984)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
In the year 2001, I was very aware that the year represented more than just a number. Symbolically, it was the year that projected us into the future. A future where space travel was a commercial reality. I think I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey three or more times that year. Any other year, and you would have thought it a tad overindulgent.
In 2010, I saw the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, just once. I doubt that many fans of the genre marked the occasion with a viewing. It wasn’t the kind of film that needed to be celebrated. It has generally been ignored, as to having any association with its predecessor. But why? Is it a purist issue? Was it because Kubrick didn’t make it? That would have been nuts, as we all know, Kubrick is not in the business of making a sequel for anything.
Not for love, art or money. But Peter Hyams did, and before it even graced our screens, it was doomed to being nothing more, than second best. How can this film, and its association with the original be so easily dismissed?
The answer is two fold: The state of MGM in the 1980s, and the year, 1984: The Year that made sure that Big Brother wasn’t watching.
Peter Hyams probably wouldn’t have wanted to make the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey without getting the okay from Stanley Kubrick first. Since 2001 made waves back in 1968, its influence is that of greatness. There will never be a film like it ever again. There wasn’t even anything that came close before to compare. Kubrick’s masterpiece stands on its own merits. How daunting it must have been to say that you would follow the story after where 2001 left off. The offspring to 2001 would have a lot to prove. Its parent is already everything you could ever wish for. Anything that goes after that can only be a disappointment. The fact was: 2001: A Space Odyssey, already had a starchild. What more is there to find? The story of 2010 would have to be more internal, and perhaps more existential than the first. But never could it ever be more profound.
Luckily, 2010 wasn’t a sequel to Kubrick’s 2001, but more symbolically, it was like its offspring — an adaptation of the novel by Arthur C. Clarke, who took his and Kubrick’s baby on a path of his choosing. Clarke wanted to go back to the Discovery. Back to where Dave Bowman left off, more or less. These are a frequently visited tropes: The missing ship or vessel, and the recovery of a lost crew on a mission that was cut short thanks to a hidden threat or mystery that must be solved. Think the follow-up from Alien, the 1986 sequel, Aliens. Other films that encapsulated that vision within the single movie, Event Horizon and Solaris are the most notable, amongst countless others that appear in both television and cinema. This idea isn’t limited to science fiction. The movie Dead Calm did this with a boat. Apocalypse Now condensed the mystery in the human vessel of Colonel Kurtz. The mystery remains the same: The journey from the known, into the unknown. From sanity to insanity.
Naturally, these journeys must have a crew. The protagonist is usually the observer in this case, standing out of the way of what would be, a group of personalities with a clear sense of alliances, and often, droplets of antagonism sown in. The ones that are given families, and the ones who make plans, or downplay the threat, often oozing with positivity are often doomed before the goal is reached. This was never present in 2001, for the characters were somewhat absent of their humanity. Dave Bowman and Frank Poole were sterile versions of the kind of characters that came afterwards. Almost all characters in 2001 appear distant, and many background artists were more like mannequins, peppered within an art installation, surrendering to a vision that was all about presentation without reaction. But that is by no means a criticism of 2001. It wouldn’t be A Space Odyssey without that artistic distinction that distanced itself from the rabble of conventional cinema.
It’s impossible not to compare 2010’s vision without bringing up 2001 as a comparison. The Hyam’s future is very much grounded in reality. It comes with the typical dystopian look and feel established earlier with Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Outland (1981 also directed by Peter Hyams), and of course, the 1979 science fiction classic, Alien. 2010 is industrial; deeply cluttered and heavily stained with grease and sweat. It is never presented as, clean with the monumental scale and minimalism of what we came to know of Kubrick mese-en-scene. 2010 still remains strikingly stunning with the remarkable feats of state-of-the-art special effects. There is nothing conventional about the Discovery spinning in its geosynchronous orbit above Jupiter.
The other message in this movie is one of the humanity, getting along with one another. Once again, we are to be seen by a superior force as a race that still has a lot of growing up to do. To have a half Russian, half American crew set out on this mission allowed for interesting character developments. It seems that in space, humans are able to set aside differences and learn to work together. Unfortunately on Earth, the same problem of division continue, and it’s all down to the space baby in the monolith, aided by the transfiguration of Dave Bowman to set the record straight, and to provide the ultimate warning: if we carry on as we are, we will destroy ourselves. We know this all too much, and as the 80’s unfolded, the fears of WW3 and the escalation that gave fear its wings would be handed to us over and over. We are given a good telling off by underwater aliens in The Abyss for our hateful ways. The 1987 Star Trek The Next Generation pilot begins with a trial for humanity, with the accuser citing that we are a “dangerously savage race.”
It seems that the call for corrective behaviour is beyond us now. The messages are very much a sign of the times.
It’s not fair to dismiss 2010 simply because, tonally and aesthetically, it doesn’t match the vision that Kubrick made so iconic. This movie still follows the thoughts and ideas that were birthed by Arthur C. Clarke who worked side-by-side with Kubrick. Clarke’s writings remain some the most influential in both fiction and in the reality of space exploration as we know it.
2010 is no exception and should be allowed to be both associated and seen.
Side note: this essay would be released on 20/02/21. It’s title should really be, “2010 is not 2001 on the 20/02/21” simply because numbers can be fun.
Written by: Stephen Radford