Some time after the events of the previous film, Dr. Heywood Floyd (now played by Roy Scheider) has left the National Council on Astronautics, but is pulled back into things by the Russians. Seems Ivan and the United States want to unravel the mystery behind the black monolith that has appeared in Jupiter's orbit, as well as find out just went down on Discovery with its paranoid computer, the HAL 9000, and the meaning behind astronaut Dave Bowman's final transmission.
With the monstrous success of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 2010 had a lot riding on its shoulders. Could you really justify having a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's most famous film? Really, could you beat, let alone meet, what many critics called one of the greatest films of all time? Hell, 2001 was selected in 1991 for preservation in the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Predictably, and unfortunately for 2010 director Peter Hyams, you couldn't.
I don't mean for this review to start negative, because 2010 is directed quite well. Hyams creates several moments of suspense that really get your attention. Any time you have space walks that involve a lack of air, it's always cause for concern. Unlike the fantastic visuals and imaginative predictions of what life would be like in the year 2001 in 2001, 2010 plays it safer in the visuals and predictions, the latter staying closer to its era (1984), which ironically presents a more accurate portrayal of daily existence in the year 2010 (seriously, I don't think we'll be making that much of a leap in the next 6 months). It's this grounded view that makes the film seem more plausible and real now than 2001 was.
Hyams also pulled the writer duties on 2010, giving us a stronger emphasis on characters and their interactions than Kubrick. The scene involving Dr. Chandra and the SAL 9000, and later on Chandra's meeting with the HAL 9000, are great examples of Hyams' writing. That's not to take anything away from the cast, who also pull off some great performances. Besides Bob Balaban as Chandra, Keir Dullea never misses a beat in reprising his role as astronaut Bowman. And yes, Douglas Rain as HAL will never get old.
The problem with 2010, other than trying to live up to 2001 in terms of greatness, is the fact that the film lacks the surrealness that Kubrick had injected into the first film. Hyams' writing stays closer to adventure, but also staying closer to Arthur C. Clarke's novel than Kubrick. In doing so, you no longer get the artistic sense that 2001 had. As well, you have moments (namely Roy Scheider's narration) that scream for emotional expression that's visual, rather than verbal. Also, in a sign of the times, the Russians are primarily portrayed as jerks, whereas the Americans have the right solutions to everything.
It's not that 2010 is a bad film. Quite frankly, it's probably one of the better sci-fi films of 1984, just not as good as STAR TREK III or THE TERMINATOR (seriously, which of these films are still talked about today?). Really, had 2010 been released as a standalone, it probably would have fared better, without trying to step out of 2001's shadow. Lacking the scope and abstractness of its predecessor, 2010 is basically a more grounded and structural film that relies on character relationships to ferry it along, instead of the surreal imagery and ambiguousness of 2001. Watch it by itself, and you'll be treated to some good sci-fi fare. Watch it after 2001, and you'll be disappointed.
Video: Frustrated with the 4:3 Letterboxed version out on DVD? Worry no more, as the film is presented in its native format with this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Despite this upgrade, the film is at the mercy of the source material, which is consistent with Hyams' style: dark and grainy. The film looks flat and soft, the latter of which is due to the use of photographic filters. There's still a decent amount of detail to be seen, and no signs of Digital Noise Reduction or artificial sharpening. A good-looking transfer overall, this is probably as good as 2010 will look in HD.
Audio: Given the choice between the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian tracks or the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English track, which would you prefer? Regardless of the obvious choice in sound, both tracks show why 2010 was nominated for the 1985 Academy Award for Best Sound, though obviously far from state-of-the-art quality nowadays. Channel separation is good in the front and front-to-rear distinctions, though lacking in the rear channels. The dialogue is kind of flat, but the music has great body and rumbles where appropriate.
An example of the lack of love the film's received compared to the original: the supplements.
First is the 9-minute vintage promo Behind the Story: 2010 – The Odyssey Continues. Presented in standard definition, this is essentially the film's EPK, featuring interviews with various crew, director Hyams and Arthur C. Clarke. Nothing too exciting, although it was fun to hear about Hyams and Clarke communicating with one another by what was basically email in 1984.
The other extra comes in the form of the film's trailer in Pan & Scan standard definition, which from the looks of things, Warner just slapped it in with no restoration at all.
A good movie by itself that unfortunately will forever be dwarfed by the more successful 2001, 2010 avoids the ambiguity and imagination of the first film in favour of a more accessable adventure tale. While the upgrade to HD struts its stuff, the extras provided are just an indication that some film companies only love you for the money.