When speaking of 2001: A Space Odyssey, words like “classic,” “legendary” and “breathtaking” are thrown around. Ask about its direct sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and expressions dull. Smiles fade. “It’s all right,” you might hear. The 1984 film, based on the novel 2010: Odyssey Two, was also written by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s more of the same magic, though Stanley Kubrick didn’t have a hand in directing the film adaptation this time around. You’d think, then, that 2010 wouldn’t be met with such a lukewarm reception. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. People just don’t like 2010 as much as the untouchable film that came before it, and that’s just not fair.
At a glance, it’s simple to write 2010 off as just another cash grab, a weak attempt at mimicking the original film’s success. And what success it had. Though critics weren’t immediately receptive to the movie, it eventually went down in movie history in a big, big way. That’s because 2001: A Space Odyssey is an excellent, indelible film that absolutely deserves to be lauded at every opportunity.
Regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, it followed the United States spacecraft Discovery One on its mission to Jupiter. On board were scientists David Bowman and Frank Poole as well as other members of the crew suspended by way of cryogenic hibernation. On the way, some unexpected mishaps occur with the now-famous ship computer HAL 9000 that resulted in a few powerful and unexpected scenes that ultimately culminated in Poole’s death and Bowman’s discovery of the Monolith.
The most memorable scene of the movie found Bowman being pulled through time and space (“My god, it’s full of stars!”) and disoriented before being brought to a bizarre bedroom where he met an older version of himself and an old man. The film ended with a scene that drew more questions than it answered: a fetus enveloped in light, gazing at the Earth. He became the Star Child, it was revealed, but what exactly did all that mean? What did it entail for viewers? It was confusing, yet beautiful. You immediately wanted to know more upon finishing the film, of course you did. You had to know how things ended up, obviously.
Reading the original Clarke novel and its sequels offered additional clarity, but moviegoers wanted and deserved more. You can’t help but hope for another heaping helping of plot after experiencing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thus, 2010: The Year We Make Contact was brought to life. As the plot continued with Clarke’s novels, so too would the films — at least, for one more entry.
It begins nine years after the failed Discovery One mission lead by David Bowman, who’s presumed dead. This time around, however, the American spacecraft Discovery Two is planned to investigate what exactly happened to HAL 9000 and the crew of the original Discovery. When the Americans learn the Discovery Two won’t be ready to launch before the Discovery, floating out in space, they agree to join the Soviet mission underway to see what happened to the original crew. When it’s discovered that there are possible signs of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, the mission takes an even stranger turn, one that brings us back to Dave Bowman, who’s now a pure being of light who exists inside the Monolith from the original movie.
It’s from here we see what kind of man Dave Bowman really is. Who he really was. This movie adds a layer of humanity to an otherwise sterile narrative that could have felt as far away as Jupiter itself. It does this in several ways. We see Bowman’s interactions with his wife just before he must take control of the mission and share his knowledge with his fellow humans. His wife, who was left back home for a life of solitude in which she was left to mourn the loss of her husband. He’s able to visit his mother before she passes away. We see his love, his loss, the lives he touched and everything he gave up to become the being he now presents as.
Bowman has grown so much from when we last saw him in 2001: A Space Odyssey, having been transformed into someone entirely different, and that’s part of what makes this movie an even more curious and irresistible piece of media. Instead of showing you stylized depictions of what we perceive as madness and wonder the human mind can barely comprehend, we get reality. We see the results of what happens to a human who’s transcended the bounds of his physical form. It’s not pretty, and it’s not especially “fun.” It just is, and it’s beautiful in a very solemn way.
2010 gives us our first real glimpse at a version of immortality and a life beyond the stars. It doesn’t tease us with a monolith or a hallucinatory trip that we must decipher on our own. The end of the Soviet mission eventually ends with the warning to humanity to “stay away from Europa,” Jupiter’s moon, which Bowman and HAL work to accomplish (as they’ll later become one combined entity in Clarke’s novel series, interestingly enough) but the movie’s a whole lot more than that.
It’s less amorphous, more concentrated. It’s an emotional journey that perfectly imparts the longing and purpose we feel from Bowman, who has become beyond all human thought, perfectly juxtaposed with Roy Scheider’s Dr. Heywood Floyd and the rest of the crew who made it to Jupiter. One group is hard, logical, worried and even calculating. The other understand that they have become one with the universe and there’s a plan for humanity, even though we don’t know it yet. What comfort that is, knowing there’s a way out of this dying world, even if it’s going to take years for us to relocate to another planet.
2010: The Year We Make Contact is, in many ways, a more human film than 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as such it’s able to resonate with those of us who can appreciate the horrors, the beauty, the longing, the sadness, and the peace that must come with self-sacrifice and the knowledge that you’ve given yourself up for a greater good. It’s not flashy or trippy, but it’s something that must be done. It’s what Bowman had to do. It was the will of the First-Born. And, in defense of 2010, this film was the best way to communicate those feelings and then some.