Arthur C. Clarkes novel 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) proved to be a best-seller. In the heat of the big post-Star Wars (1977) science-fiction boom, the film rights became subject to a bidding war. Attempts were made to inveigle Stanley Kubrick back but the director eventually settled upon was Peter Hyams. Peter Hyams had achieved some distinction with his two previous science-fiction films Capricorn One (1978), a witty satire of the space mission by way of Watergate, and Outland (1981), an effective translation of High Noon (1952) into space. Some science-fiction critics (Harlan Ellison, John Brosnan) have unjustly ridiculed Peter Hyams for minor scientific errors, but on the whole these three films form a trilogy of intelligent science-fiction works, making Hyams for a time seem one of the genres most promising directors. Regrettably, Hyamss later ventures into sf/fantasy Stay Tuned (1992), Timecop (1994), The Relic (1997), End of Days (1999) and A Sound of Thunder (2005) slip into merely hired-gun formula film-making. Out of all of Peter Hyamss films, 2010 remains his finest work.
2001 did not need a sequel, but 2010 fits the bill surprisingly well. Arthur C. Clarkes 2010 novel was forgettable and this is one of the few examples of a story making a better film than it does a book. Certainly, on one level, 2010 lacks the epically transcendental reach of 2001 where 2001 covered the whole of human evolution, 2010 is merely an investigative mission to discover what happened to the previous expedition. 2010 does climax with a transcendentally grandiose vision of the transformation of Jupiter into a new sun, which comes near achieving some of the originals epic scope. Much more attention is paid to realistic science than probably any other film of the post-Star Wars boom, but there are certain other aspects such as a creeping case of the Spielbergain warm fuzzies. Peter Hyams has added a whole subtext of East-West tension that was not in Arthur C. Clarkes novel and the films one failing is in going out undercutting the grandiose beauty of Jupiters transformation with banal homilies about international cooperation and universal brotherhood.
Where 2010 does work is in exactly the places that 2001 is lacking. Essentially it is a warmer, much more accessible film. Where 2001 was slow and filled with a minimalism of movement, 2010 is dramatic and exciting. Where 2001 felt like it was several different stories that only overlapped on a grander thematic level but not dramatically and where what was going on was never clearly spelt out but left for viewers to make up their own minds, 2010 comes with a clear and linear plot. Where 2001s characters were blank and deliberately bled of life, Peter Hyams invests his characters with vitality and emotional depth. In particular, Roy Scheider gives another of his warm, effortlessly likable Everyman performances and brings enormous heart to the centre of the film. Standout also is Bob Balabans clever and dangerous voicing of the absent-minded professor role HAL 9000s end scenes hold something tragically affecting.
The best aspect of 2010 is actually the effects, which at the time would be counted among the two or three of the very best displays of special effects in a science-fiction film. I was lucky enough to see 2010 in its original release in widescreen the small screen, even letterbox format, robs the film of much of the impact and awe it has. The slingshot around Jupiter, the docking sequence with the twirling Discovery and the climax are genuinely stunning sequences. The film is a small masterpiece in its own right.