56. 2010: The Year We Make Contact

2010_1I love movies about expeditions to space. Even the bad ones like Event Horizon, Prometheus, or Galaxy of Terror still maintain that central curiosity and wonder, and it’s fun what we discover at the edge of the universe. Is it space zombies? A planet of the vampires? Maybe in the more cerebral fare, it’s images of our loved ones, recently departed. Or it could be our destiny, transcendence to a higher plane.

But for what purpose?

2010 intelligently applies the artistic and avante-garde of 2001 to reality, brings it back to Earth, you might say. David Bowman, per Arthur C. Clarke fiction, is tapped for humanity’s next stage. Space exploration is enlightenment, will make children of us all. Good stuff, but Peter Hyams wants to push the HAL part of the equation further. Not just with the robot/character itself, but the problematic aspect to the human element.

We’re at war, and we’re an invasive species. David Bowman, space-baby entrepreneur, returns for a purpose this time, not an oblique expression of how the solar system was won. As a sequel to the original movie, the story is perfect, but where it extends is in theme and drama.

There are some touching moments here, between characters theoretically at odds, and this all relates to the key ideas behind the narrative. The great Monolith and the faceless alien gods of 2001 want only for a peaceful galaxy, and they make this known with specters haunting the halls of ships, and dazzling images like the flood of Monoliths.

It’s all so beautiful and gigantic in scope. If Star Wars III is my modern science-fiction epic, 2010 is the very same but without labels. We might be deconstructing mysteries here, but it’s doing so in order to learn a significant lesson, and to produce a vision of Clarke that’s much more intimate and corporeal.

On the broad level, I think it’s funny that the alien intelligence had to be so specific — I wonder if humans were just its most frustrating subject. “All these worlds are yours — except Europa, goddamn it,” but while this and the rest of the movie can dip sometimes into sentimentality, the story is so good and overall delivers that heartwarming message of peace, between Americans and 2010-era Soviets.

That it does so on the edge of the known, in the darkness of space… it’s basically my favorite formula for science-fiction film.

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