“My God, it’s full of stars!”
With Doctor Sleep, the long-rumoured sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s This Shining, about to eventually open in cinemas, it feels like a good time to revisit that other sequel in the Kubrickiverse: 2010 – The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ 1984 sequel to Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey.
Despite the strength of acting talent in front of the camera – Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban – and a great visionary team behind it, it seems like the film has been unfairly forgotten over time. Auteur theory is alive and well, with director Hyams also writing the script, producing the film and operating behind the camera as the cinematographer, leaving no doubt that this is his vision on screen (by way of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, of course).
The music score, by David (brother of Talia) Shire is sublime, and the liner notes on the soundtrack LP go to great lengths to explain that it was recorded using the Synclavier II, the Yamaha DX-1 and the Roland Jupiter-8. It doesn’t sound too far from Matt Morton’s recent score to the fantastic Apollo 11 documentary; itself recorded entirely using synths only available in 1969.
We open in an extremely exposition-heavy (read: ‘talky’) first act of the film, with Roy Scheider still in his Aviators and short shorts from Jaws 2. Taking over the role from William Sylvester in 2001, Scheider plays Dr. Heywood Floyd, the head of the National Council for Astronautics, blamed for the failure of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter.
The Americans are in a race with the Russians to get a mission up to the abandoned Discovery spaceship, and Floyd is presented with the opportunity to get there first, onboard the Russian shuttle alongside two other Americans (played by Lithgow and Balaban). Scheider’s got such a great face, he should be immortalised on the side of Mount Rushmore.
The production design on the film is superb, and it looks more like a sci-fi film from the latter end of the 1980s, or possibly the very early 1990s. Thankfully we don’t see much of Earth in the opening act – only a field of telescopes in the desert, a ridiculous clandestine meeting in front of the White House, and the gloomy interior of Floyd’s house (complete with pet dolphins – tut tut).
The rainbow-light design of the Russian spaceship is refreshing – after the used-future of Alien and the Star Wars films – and surprisingly doesn’t look as much like Super Mario’s Rainbow Road as you might expect. The only really hokey segments of the film are the voice messages to and from the mission. They might serve a narrative purpose, of course, but the treatment of the voices, processed with a warm reverb, doesn’t sound right – and in retrospect should have been handled differently.
The return of Dave Bowman, the missing astronaut from the first film, who turns up on his wife’s TV set back on Earth, is deliciously creepy, and starts a chain of events that take us all the way through to the finale of the film. Once we hear HAL-9000 again, it feels like the old team are back. By the way, when Amazon figures out how to program the voice of the Alexa home assistant with HAL’s passive tones, count me in. ‘Open the garage doors, HAL…’.
Unlike a lot of modern-day sci-fi, the film doesn’t get bogged down in explaining the technology of the future it presents, and instead it successfully jettisons many of the usual problems and anxieties about space. The astronauts go from ship to ship with ease, and aside from one white-knuckle moment when their ship enters Jupiter’s orbit, everything else works like clockwork.
2001 – A Space Odyssey raised a lot of questions about humanity, mankind, our past and our future. 2010 doesn’t go out of its way to answer those questions, but it does give us a sense of closure with the film’s final moments serving as a fitting bookend to the story.
Hit: Nova / New Worlds / Also Sprach Zarathustra
Hidden Gem: Earth / Space