A sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey where a joint Soviet and US mission is launched to discover what happened to the Discovery. As the two nations cleave ever closer to war back on Earth, the crew make some startling discoveries of their own.
As foolish exercises go, trying to hitch a lift on Kubrick’s sublime stellar mysteries must count as one of the daftest ever. Still, author and Kubrick cohort Arthur C. Clarke (whose own explicatory tendencies were frustrated by the elusive director) had already penned the follow-up novel, so Hyams, at least, was equipped with a degree of credibility. And, if you manage to evade that looming shadow from the past, and take 2010 on its own sturdy merits, it turns out a half-decent, semi-considered sci-fi adventure.
Hyams was well aware what he was stepping into, citing it as an act of respect for Kubrick’s genius, but this a film on a quest to explain whereas the original emanated a vague science of possibility. The mission for the crew of the Leonov — Scheider, Mirren (in typically icy form) and computer geek Balaban — must rewire the recently unplugged HAL to discover what happened to Bowman and Poole. And while tensions rise between the political factions (a thematically consistent note of man’s tendency to war), wouldn’t you know a certain black monolith rears its ugly, well, shape. And, without you knowing it, the film has become pretty exciting. The effects have a canny realism, the actors wear dark frowns and spout suitable jargon in good accents, while their boss, Hyams, bottles up the sci-fi rather than spinning it across the starfields in awe-inspiring dances of technology, granting the film a taut claustrophobia
Only at the close do the wheels come flying off. Why did it need to conclude with a morass of mock-Kubrickian vagaries (the aliens behind the monolith are as elusive as ever)? It’s just a stark reminder of what this film is not. 2001 is a lustrous, dreamy work of mystery, 2010 a rusty but entertaining thriller. They’re not really from the same universe.
Not a masterpiece, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's pleasing to see a sequel strive so hard to reach the same heights. That it fails is through no fault of its own - the original simply raised the bar too high.