Movie Review: “2010: The Year We Made Contact”

VULTURE’s Kevin Lincoln: So why CHiPs? Why make a ChiPs movie?

CHiPs writer-director Dax Shepard: A very good question. Because I’m always looking for something that will hold both comedy and motor sports. I’m looking for anything that I think I can combine those two things and that someone will make. So this movie’s got the safety net of being a global brand, a global property. I couldn’t have gone into any studio and said, “The movie’s called, uh, Eat My Dust”—well, that’s actually a title —“Burn Rubber, and it’s me and Michael Peña, and we’re on motorcycles.” They’d go, “No thank you.” It had to have a safety net, and the safety net I found was CHiPs

What does this interview snippet from 2017 have to do with 2010: The Year We Made Contact, a 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel willed into existence by an approximate total of zero people? Not much, though with all due respect to writer-director-producer Peter Hyams, I can’t help suspecting that to him, 2001 was nothing more than something to make money off of, a foolproof “safety net” of his very own.

Yeah, the very existence of a sequel to an abstract, un-sequel-friendly sci-fi-moodpiece like 2001 didn’t exactly thrill me, but the possibilities of expanding upon its still-startling future-shock universe are just endless enough to arouse an equal amount of excitement as well. That being said, the end product could have been bad no matter who was at the helm (Kubrick was too much of a perfectionist to ever screw up this badly, but on the other hand, the same Francis Ford Coppola who made The Godfather and The Godfather Part II did also make The Godfather Part III), but Hyams’ distinct lack of passion or effort is what really sets me off.

And yet, I patiently kept my tush on the couch, waiting for there to be something more to this installment than “A new crew heads over to the Discovery (which, as you may remember, was the ship used for 2001’s ill-fated voyage towards Jupiter) to see what went down there, and here’s enough nifty fanservice to make you Kubrick nerds happy!”, but that time never came. Even Hyams manages to unearth a few tantalizingly juicy shreds of potential here and there (hint: the starchild from 2001’s climax is decidedly not antisocial), though every single time the film threatens to actually latch onto one, he hastily sidesteps it for no reason.

Obviously, it didn’t take long for me to realize how clunky and clichèd the story would be, but something else seemed very “off” about it—something that, no matter what, I just could not put my finger on. Hours were spent pondering what this thing was to no avail, only for it to suddenly hit me like a speeding black monolith: tension. Or rather, the distinct lack thereof, to the point where even Earth-centered threats of the still-frosty Cold War (keep in mind that this is an alternate-reality 2010, as envisioned by the ‘80s) erupting into actual war are somehow presented with less urgency than an incident-free spacewalk to the Discovery.

Only one sequence of events could be appropriately called “suspenseful”: a climactic stretch involving HAL and Jupiter, in which there’s finally the sense that dangerous things could actually happen to these characters (needless to say, this is the only semi-engaging part of the entire movie). Suspense doesn’t necessarily make a film great just by being there, but with something like 2010, small—and seriously, I’m only wishing for small—pinches of it here and there could’ve worked wonders.

Most everything glides at a far brisker pace than 2001, but with not a single drop of its hypnotic stillness breaking up this sequel’s action, there’s no chance of ever becoming immersed in any of the half-baked concepts thrown in at random, or feeling anything but bored by the trite sequence of events. Every thin piece of the story’s lazily assembled puzzle, every little morsel of the sappy “character development”—and nauseatingly overexplanatory exposition (namely, that major pet peeve of mine known as *tries not to vomit* voiceover, which only really works if you know how to use i)—Kubrick did so well without, every single callback to the man’s masterwork just means…. nothing. 2001’s patient, languid pace certainly put me off the first time I managed to finish it (this review was written at the tail end of 2019, please forgive how much worse it is than my more recent content), but revisiting it with the right expectations, my mind was blown at how little time was actually wasted in any given scene. This just feels like a 116-minute-long trailer that you absentmindedly glance over once, then never think about again.

One of the prime defenses I’ve heard for this film goes something like (to quote the great Roger Ebert) “[O]nce we’ve made it absolutely clear that “2001” continues to stand absolutely alone as one of the greatest movies ever made, once we have freed “2010” of the comparisons with Kubrick’s masterpiece, what we are left with is a good-looking, sharp-edged, entertaining, exciting space opera — a superior film of the Star Trek genre.” To me, no matter which lens this sequel’s viewed through, there’s nothing elevating it above any other generic ‘80s sci-fi drama; in fact, I honestly can’t tell whether it would’ve been better or worse if 2001 never existed.

Sure, it’s painful to watch such the legacy of such an immaculate beauty get so gracelessly stomped on, but such beauty is the only reason 2010’s reintroductions of HAL, the monolith(s), and that starchild stirred up any sense of excited anticipation within me. Had there been nothing to call back to, there would have been just as much for me to hype myself up for.

All of the acting and dialogue ranges from “ehhh” to downright atrocious (try watching that satellite-set conversation at the beginning without shaking your head in embarrassment). The special effects are clunky at best, with sequences that are clearly intended to be magnificent and awe-inspiring just feeling goofy. At least Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” makes a couple reappearances—undeniably forced and poorly-done reappearances, but still reappearances all the same—at the very beginning and end, though “The Blue Danube” seems to have enough good sense to steer clear of this dreck’s orbit.

3/10

PERSONAL UPDATE: Well, it’s now been more than a month since school finished, and due to a very exhausted me prioritizing rest and relaxation over review-writing, this is all I have to show for it. I actually more-or-less completed this review a couple weeks ago, with the intention of publishing it after writing an analysis of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, that didn’t wind up happening, though it will after I buy the 4K Blu-Ray; the version seen by me on June 7 was the weirdly-presented DVD my family owns. (You’ll see what I mean by “weirdly-presented” once that analysis is out.) I hope to be publishing these at a more frequent rate than “maybe-one-review-a-month”, and to just be watching more movies in general. Peace.

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