Sunday, December 27, 2009

461) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

461) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) Dir: Peter Hyams Date Released: December 1984 Date Seen: December 27, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

The memory of Stanley Kubrick's visionary adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey haunts Peter Hyams' faithful but slight adaptation of Clarke's sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Hyams is clearly not striving for the kind of slyly cynical and completely unfathomable speculation that made Kubrick's landmark film so astonishing and persistently beguiling. Instead, he aims much lower, seeking to translate the detail-oriented scientific procedural plot of the "Hard science fiction" movement Clarke pioneered to a narrative-based film during a time when outer space was the only place untouched by Cold War paranoia. The most frustrating part is with regard to that larger goal, Hyams succeeds: though it is mostly grounded in the process of exploration and deliberation that leads a new crew of astronauts back to the Monoliths' thrall, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is fitfully evocative and surprisingly brisk for a film that tries so hard to be "hard"er than its predecessor. But the serene ghost of Dave Bowman beckons: "I'm not sure. I remember Dave Bowman..."

2010: The Year We Make Contact falls short of its admirably insupportable goal to remain both literal-minded and awe-inspiring on two counts: the return of Dave Bowman and the humanization of HAL 9000. Both are key plot points that add very little in the way of compelling growth since either character was introduced in 2001: A Space Odyssey and both almost single-handedly ruin the fragile balance Hyams's screenplay, written with an ample amount of advice by Clarke himself, achieves. In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Bowman appears to Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) in just about every form that he transformed into over the course of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This not only robs his various transformations of their inscrutable luster by over-exposing them but also unnecessarily explains what Kubrick made a point of showing was unexplainable (God's motives, in space, on film and anywhere else, should be a Mystery). Likewise, the fact that the story makes a point of making a confused but sympathetic monster out of HAL, the homicidal computer, is a weak attempt to explain away the malicious intent of one of cinema's most memorable villains (HAL is immortal because he's so damn hard to read).

Understandably, both of these weaknesses are symptomatic of the film's greatest weakness: its Pollyannaish Cold War metaphor (apparently, faith can humanize and unite even our worst enemies; whoda thunk). But all of the macro-level weaknesses of 2010: The Year We Make Contact seem insignificant compared to its conspicuous points of departure from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In all likelihood, the project was doomed from the start. Hyams proves that he can breath life into the driest subgenre of science fiction but as long as he's toiling in the shadow of behemoths like Clarke and Kubrick, he's bound to look microscopic by comparison.

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