Monday, January 04, 2010

"2010" The Movie Explained

"2010" – the sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick film "2001" – is a long boring movie. I'm not saying it's a bad movie. But it's like if you took the snail's pace of the Kubrick film but minused Kubrick's genius.

Still, since it shares our New Year date, you might hear the movie being referenced now and again. So here is my CliffsNotes version of "2010."


The movie starts with a long boring talk between Dr. Floyd (played by Roy Scheider) and some Russian scientist. The gist is, the Russians want to find the ship that disappeared in "2001," and reactivate HAL. The ship/HAL is moored somewhere around Jupiter. The Russian scientist blames America for not sharing the Monolith with the rest of the world. Scheider's taut facial skin grimaces in sympathy.

Roy Scheider maintains this expression through the entire movie.

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."

Can you guess who the "world leaders" are on this magazine cover?

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 is a real stretch for him.

Now Dr. Floyd, Dr. Chandra, and a very low-key but still quite neurotic John Lithgow 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 60-year-old. The Russians don't trust the Americans and act robotic. It's up to the plucky Americans to get the Russians to smile.

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.


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.

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.

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:


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.

Some points to absorb that might or might not have relevance:

The Aliens are here to bring about a New Age of peace...right?

1. The film features the classic "Alien Saviors" plotline. Aliens contact earth and offer world peace. Sometimes they engineer some sort of "crisis" or grand event to get our attention and realize that we are all citizens on planet earth. Right before I watched "2010," I viewed the old "To Serve Man" episode of "Twilight Zone." Similar plot, very different outcome. Are the aliens here to truly offer world peace and facilitate our evolution, or do they in the end want to simply eat us? Many science-fiction films struggle with this question.

There are many similarities between "2010" and "Star Trek III"

2. Europa turns into some sort of "Genesis" planet, a new Eden: much like the "Genesis" planet featured in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" the same year. In both films, the war/tension between two groups/cultures (Russian/American, Klingon/Federation) is a main theme. In both films, there is 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 destruction of the famous ship from the previous/initial film (Discovery/Enterprise) – this destruction proceeds despite/to spite government officials back home. Lastly, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was very influenced by the work of "2001"/"2010" novel scribe Arthur C. Clarke.

3. The theme of "two suns" is also featured in "Star Wars" (the two suns of Tattoine).

"Star Wars"


4. To relate some of these themes with "real life":
  • The names of both the "2001"/"2010" ships (Discovery) and Star Trek's ship (Enterprise) were used as that of actual space shuttles. The Space Shuttle Discovery was launched the same year "2010" was released (1984).
  • Scientists believe that with the oxygen in its atmosphere and likely underground cache of liquid water, Europa is a very good candidate for containing/sustaining extraterrestrial life.
  • Scientists say that other Earth-like planets with two suns are likely.
  • There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the emergence of a second sun in our solar system, 2012, "The End of the World," Jupiter igniting and turning into a sun, the Mayans, the aliens, kitchen sink, etc. It would take more research on my end to determine whether those theories are directly/indirectly inspired by the movie "2010," have pre-existed "2010," or whether there are common streams that both the conspiracy theorists and Arthur C. Clarke have been influenced by.
  • There are also conspiracy theories floating around that this year (2010) will be the one where we are officially told that alien contact has been made with Earth ("disclosure"). This theory is linked with the movie's tagline "The Year We Make Contact."


  1. For the record: I think 2001 is an unparalleled work of cinema; I think there is not a single movie of its caliber; the only things close are things like Twin Peaks & The Prisoner.

  2. "For the record: I think 2001 is an unparalleled work of cinema"

    I agree; I try to set aside time each year to watch it straight through.

    Trying to get through "2010" was hard, though.

  3. As a twelve-year-old, I loved this movie dearly, if only for giving me a framework for watching 2001, which I hadn't been able to made heads nor tails of up until that point. 2010 may be a little a dry, but I have to confess, I still find it more watchable in spots than 2001.

  4. Wow... I completely disagree about 2010. No, it isn't 2001; 2010 leans more toward hard science fiction, and that's what i love about it.

  5. I will say that all of these early-to-mid 1980s sci-fi movies have a certain "look" or "feel" to them that I remember fondly.

  6. "The film features the classic "Alien Saviors" plotline."


    It's been a while since I watched the film (or read the book), but I thought it was clear that the "aliens" wanted no contact with Earth.

    "All these worlds are yours EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE."

    Or maybe that was explained more clearly the novel.

    "There are many similarities between "2010" and "Star Trek III" "

    The book was first published in early 1982, probably long before production on star trek 3 stated.

  7. "I thought it was clear that the "aliens" wanted no contact with Earth."

    The aliens/Monolith beings, realizing that humans were on the brink of nuclear war and on the verge of extinction, gave humans a clear sign (the second sun) to shock them into giving up their differences and choose peace. At the same time, perhaps hedging their bets, they decided to accelerate Europa's ability to sustain life. They contacted Earth, via HAL/Dave, to broadcast this message.

    There are similar plotlines in everything from "This Island Earth" to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Then there are the films in which aliens are indeed bad, and cause a crisis on Earth, forcing Earthlings to band together. "War of the Worlds", "Independence Day," etc. Lastly, there are films in which not an alien but a human decides to cause a crisis on Earth (perhaps blamed on an alien or other type threat) in order to bring about world peace, such as the case in "Watchmen."

  8. I haven't watched this film since I was in 14, but I also enjoyed it in the theater. And while 2001 may be the superior film, this film held my attention much more than 2001 did at that age.

  9. Yeah, I loved this movie when I was 16. It helped that the young Russian crewperson looked a lot like a girl I had a crush on in my high school. I still prefer its boring talky hard sci-fi to the space opera shoot-em-ups that pass for sci-fi for the most part these days. But it's not a very good movie... which, to me, condemns most space movies since 1985 even further down the toilet.

  10. I know everybody thinks 2001 is some sort of unquestionable classic film, but it's bloody boring. The human characters act more wooden and lifeless than Keanu Reeves ever could. They aren't humans, they are monotonous robots. I blame the director for this. Clarke's humans are human. Kubrick's are not.

    From that standpoint, 2010 is a far superior film. The human interaction is rife with uncertainty, paranoia, curiosity, distrust, tension and friendships building across national borders. It's a tale of human exploration and people having to disobey their superiors to survive.

    2001 may be an unparalleled film, if the definition of unparalleled is emotionless, disjointed and pretentious. It's unparalleled in the same way that Naked Lunch is unparalleled. It's bad storytelling. Good storytelling is a simple equation: believable characters encounter overwhelming obstacles to achieve a worthwhile goal. Can this be found in 2001? Not in any of the times I've watched it. 2010? Yer damn right they can!

    What has me most confused is; why are you taking whacks at a twenty-five year old movie? Aren't there enough recent -cough-avatar-cough- "sci-fi" films to bash?

  11. is Valerie 'taking whacks' at 2010? I thought this read as an attempt to examine and explain the film, not to rip it to shreds.

    And it does have something of a contemporary significance, as any glance at a current calendar will tell you.

    Personally I love 2001, right up until the stargate sequence drags on FOREVER and loses me.

    2010 was just kind of there - I neither loved it nor hated it.

  12. I always just called it Space Jaws. If you think of it along those lines it's way more entertaining.

  13. Agree on most points. Tons of similarities there, that I'd never considered until you drew them out.

    As some have said, my personal preference actually leans more towards 2010 because it's relentlessly rational. Unlike 2001, where we are given no reason for anything, 2010 seeks to tie up all the loose ends 2001 left lying behind.

    I also have something of a personal attachment to the story, as it is the first full length novel I read. It's been some time, though, and I should re-read. Particularly given the year!