Yes, this is what you think it is. The official sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space Odyssey (1968). The story of 2010 is written by the same author as 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, but the film is not directed by Stanley Kubrick this time. Also note that 2010 is from 1984, a full 16 years after 2001: A space Odyssey. And it entered the theatres in the Netherlands on the day I was born, so that must mean something. Maybe I am that freaky space baby.
2010 got nominated for 5 Oscars (art, costume, sound, effects & makeup) and was generally favorably regarded by critics and general audience. Looking at those Oscar categories, it is no surprise that 2010 is still ok to look at with quality set design. Nowadays the film has sunk into obscurity. It had a lot to live up to, after all, and that may have given many people a ‘meh’ impression.
2010 begins with a mission log that doubles as a “what happened before…” to refresh our minds. The sense of mystery and wonder is right back. This time though, the cold war apparently continued for two more decades. Back in 1984 it was still a long way off to the real year 2010, and 2001 for that matter, so the events could still occur in those respective future years with some imagination. However, the mysterious monolith at Jupiter is an opportunity for the Americans and the Russians to work together. With some friction, especially because the stereotypes in this movie are very present. The astronauts are all scientists, though, and both the American and the Russian governments are not regarded favorably but obstructing these missions. The paranoia of the Cold War apparently infected HAL 9000 as well.
If this film was made today, Matthew McConaughey and Morgan Freeman would be starring in it in a way that would almost be cliche, and you will see their equivalents in 2010. The film is large in setup, scope and visuals. The special effects of 2010 are actually not better than those of 2001, in fact, they are worse. But that means that 2001 was simply shockingly innovative for its time. Nowadays it is hard to understand how the special effects technology could change so little in 16 years, but we live in an extraordinary time of fast change.
When it comes to story and audience expectations, 2010 wrestles with the same challenges that 2001 did. It is a philosophical film and not a space action romp, leaving some viewers to say that it is boring, and others that they liked the food for thought. There are some clear lapses in quality though, compared to 2001. The acting isn’t very good, and the characterization is very basic, almost clumsy. It feels like a Star Trek movie from the 80s, like Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. It definitely doesn’t have the same gravity and significance as 2001 had.
The story is rather straightforward without jarring plot convolutions. Compared to today’s movies, that feels pleasantly simple. Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Schneider) joins the Russians on their ship to go back to do some more space archeology and “unearth” more secrets. The crew flies to Jupiter to investigate what happened to HAL 9000 and what the deal is with this monolith. Step by step, the film moves forward. We investigate and discover more.
The way this whole thing ties into the Cold War scare and paranoia seems cheesy now and overly dramatic. Of course, the climax all revolves around trusting in each other. In typical Arthur C. Clarke fashion, a great cosmic event makes everyone on Earth shake hands and embrace each other in peace, while two hours ago the world was on the brink of the 3rd world war. There is a lot of wishful thinking in this movie. Still, it is worth checking out once.