2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) — The forgotten sequel

“All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.”

Justin’s rating: It also could be full of popcorn chicken. You never know with space monoliths.

Justin’s review: With all of the amazing scifi that emerged from ’80s cinema, it was bound that even some big efforts would’ve gotten brushed under the rug of time. And so, despite being a pretty big deal when it came out, 2010: The Year We Made Contact has all but disappeared from the collective memories of the world.

Well, not my memory. You see, as a scifi junkie always looking for a hit, I grew up watching this quite often on home VHS. Sure, it was a little slow and boring, but I put up with it for the spaceships and deep space adventures. And I definitely liked it more than 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I’ve always thought was a total snoozefest. Yeah, go ahead and revoke my critic card — I don’t like 2001.

Based on Arthur C. Clark’s second novel of the series and taking place just nine years after the original (but filmed nearly two decades after), 2010 picks up the thread of the Discovery’s bizarre mission and subsequent absence. As Cold War tensions between Russia and the US heats up, a joint mission to return to the Discovery is launched — with a time frame. If the ship isn’t reached and the secrets discovered in time, the ship will fall into Io and be destroyed.

Joining the Russian crew led by Helen Mirren is HAL-9000’s creator (Bob Balaban), the designer of the Discovery (John Lithgow), and Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), the man who got unfairly blamed by Discovery’s failure. Also along for the ride is SAL-9000, another AI who surely won’t go full murderbot this time around. Surely.

After a rather abrupt transition from the pre-mission drama on Earth to the Leonov almost being at its destination and Floyd waking up from hibernation, the movie can get to the brass tacks of solving a mystery. In addition to the time limit, USA-Russia tensions at home have gotten so bad that it’s started to effect the joint crew. Oh, and did I mention that they find out that something is moving down on the surface of Europa?

2010 may not be quite as slow as 2001, but it’s still not a fast-paced or even that exciting of a trip. It’s like watching the crew of the Nostromo carry out a scientific mission instead of hunting down a giant space cockroach. In fact, a lot of the sets have a distinctly Alien vibe to them, especially the Russian ship’s briefing room.

Honestly, I watched it mostly for the eye candy — this is still a very beautiful space film — and the one Russian cosmonaut (Natasha Shneider, who passed in 2008) on whom I had a crush on as a teen. When Floyd got to cuddle with her during the aerobraking sequence, I always felt a twinge of jealousy.

It’s a movie that’s both forgotten and perhaps underrated today, but it’s not like this is some incredible gem floating out by Jupiter. It’s a methodical, cerebral scifi flick that does a good job making space foreboding — but not much more than that. Scheider’s periodic voice journals made me think that we visiting a Star Trek set, and John Lithgow’s hat makes me think he’s about to break into a musical number about newspaper boys going on strike.

The problem is that the plot lacks that “one thing” that everything hinges on. Instead, it’s merely “people go to Jupiter, check some stuff out, become generally confused, and come home.” There are a lot of mild crises, a little bit of doubt about HAL-9000, and a far away political conflict that this picture never sells as particularly dire.

2010 is ultimately about wrapping up some unanswered questions and plot threads from a movie 16 years removed. I just wish that all of these fine actors and special effects were expended on a story that I actually cared about. And I wish that I had gotten that snuggle with a cosmonaut back in the ’80s. Ah well.

Didja notice?

  • Nothing like reading an expository report to start off your movie
  • Paul Winfield in another ’80s scifi epic
  • Who doesn’t have a dolphin pool in their dining room?
  • Wow, that is a cute tiny laptop. Why would you take that to a beach?
  • “We are going to send a probe down.” “Goooood.” That got a laugh from me.
  • Aerobrake cuddling!
  • They really like replaying that “My God, it’s full of stars” line
  • The spacewalk scene is pretty tense
  • HAL powering on is terrifying
  • …but not as terrifying as when it says “look behind you”

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