Retro Review: 2010, The Year We Make Contact

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“We’re going to need a bigger spacecraft”

2010: The Year We Make Contact is the 1984 sequel to the classic 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey (sans Kubrick) and answered such burning questions like: “whatever happened to Dave Bowman?” “whatever happened to that space fetus?” “what ever happened to those monoliths?” and “will HAL get his own Saturday morning cartoon show?”

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THE MOVIE

The film starts with a rather long boring talk between Dr. Floyd (played by Roy Scheider, who has traded sharks for space fetuses) and some Russian scientist. The gist is, the Russians want to find the ship that disappeared in the first movie, which is moored somewhere around Jupiter, and reactivate HAL. The Russian scientist blames America for not sharing the Monolith with the rest of the world. Scheider’s taut facial skin grimaces in sympathy.

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Your “2010” cast: John Lithgow, Keir Dullea, Helen Mirren, and that “Jaws” guy

The film was made in 1984, so you can expect a fair amount of Cold War tension in 2010; remember, this is the year Red Dawn came out. In fact, the film seems to be way more concerned with American/Russian relations than the Monolith, HAL, Dave Bowman, or space exploration. Throughout the film, you can almost hear Sting sing “Russians.”

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can u recognize this pair of clever cameos???

Meanwhile, the scientist who created HAL, Dr. Chandra, talks to his new computer, SAL (!), about bringing HAL back. SAL is voiced by Candice Bergen (!!) (sort of doing her version of Charlie McCarthy) and seems to share HAL’s passive-aggressive tendencies. Bob Balaban plays Dr. Chandra as a small nervous quiet man who successfully contains a great deal of unexpressed inner rage, which was a real stretch for him.

Now Dr. Floyd, Dr. Chandra, and a very low-key but still quite neurotic John Lithgow (who was perfecting his “crazy” earlier in the year in Buckaroo Banzai) join a Russian team of scientists on a mission to Jupiter. The leader of the Russian mission is played by Helen Mirren, back when she was young and not an unusually sexy 70-year-old. Reader’s Digest version: The Russians don’t trust the Americans and act robotic. It’s up to the plucky Americans to get the Russians to smile.

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Will Helen Mirren smile? Stay tuned!

At this point of the film, you might be wondering where the hell is HAL, Dave Bowman, the Monolith, the apes with their tools, the Starchild, and everything else. Instead, we are treated to verrrrry slow scenes onboard the ship going over procedure or the whole Americans trying to make the Russians smile thing. In one scene, you actually root for Lithgow’s character to die, just for something exciting to happen.

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Zzzzzz…

But lo! Dave Bowman mysteriously appears on his former wife’s TV screen and brushes his mother’s hair as a ghost. He talks of an exciting new thing happening that will change the world forever. Then: back to more space ship procedure and making the Russians smile. Mirren’s character finally smiles. Yay.

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“look ma i’m on tv”

Suddenly, Russia and America are at war. Dr. Floyd’s team is recalled from the Russian ship. Then Dr. Floyd is contacted by the mysterious Dave Bowman via the reactivated HAL. We discover that the real reason HAL went crazy in the first movie is Because It’s All The American Government’s Fault.

Bowman’s appearance is the best scene in the entire film, because you are so lulled into a semi-comatose state by this point that seeing Bowman as The Old Guy and The Really Old Guy and the Starchild really wakes you up. Dr Floyd is told by Bowman to clear out in two days, because something really Awesome is going to happen.

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the cover to every prog album ever

A whole bunch of Monoliths (!!!) fly to Jupiter and the planet starts to eat itself (!!!!). The Russian spaceship hightails it out of there, and HAL tragically sacrifices himself to save everyone. Jupiter turns into a small sun (!!!!!). A message beams out to all the people of Earth:

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE. USE THEM TOGETHER. USE THEM IN PEACE.

Jupiter’s moon Europa, meanwhile, is benefiting from the new heat source and is seen rapidly developing a lush rainforest-like landscape.

Now Earth has two suns (!!!!!!), and its inhabitants are joined together in peace. The Russians have learned how to smile. The End.

WHERE YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE

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2010 shares a lot of plot elements with another sci-fi movie that came out earlier that year, Star Trek III:

  • Both films feature a central iconic character who seemingly died in the previous movie but might be resurrected (Dave Bowman/Spock).
  • Both films feature a New Eden planet artificially created to jumpstart life (Europa/Genesis).
  • Both films feature the war/tension between two groups/cultures (Russian/American, Klingon/Federation) as a main theme.
  • Both films feature the destruction of the famous ship from the previous/initial film (Discovery/Enterprise)—this destruction proceeds despite/to spite government officials back home.

“Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry was very influenced by the work of 2001/2010 novel scribe Arthur C. Clarke, so perhaps this was a case of influence doubling-back around.

WHERE YOU ALSO MIGHT HAVE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE

If this shot from 2010 of the Earth’s new twin suns look familiar to you…

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It’s probably because you’ve seen something similar in this little-known movie:

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THE BOTTOM LINE

Obviously, nothing is going to replace the classic Stanley Kubrick movie. That said, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is entertaining enough, with a solid cast…and really does seem to take on more relevance as time goes on.

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