Bold it may be to make a sequel to a feature helmed by one of the all-time greats, director Peter Hyams probably didn’t consider the influence of Stanley Kubrick when whirring away on his science-fiction project. Arthur C. Clarke developed sequel after sequel to the lightning in a bottle experimentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like any prolific science fiction writer from the 20th century, he churned out more and more. Eventually losing grasp on the pop culture that would surely adapt his works, Clarke petered out with 3001: The Final Odyssey, a lukewarm bow wrapped around a dead horse, beaten to a pulp years before with its second adaptation, the Roy Scheider-led 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
Props to Scheider and the ensemble on hand for trying, it was just never going to work. John Lithgow and Helen Mirren join him, with Douglas Rain and Keir Dullea returning to compose themselves once more in iconic roles. Even with that match-up of great talents, there is the natural stick in the mud behind the camera trying so hard to both replicate the fascinating constructs of Kubrick’s original genius and also trying to set himself apart from that. Straddling that is no enviable task and not one any director would ever get away with. Hyams is just another bit of cannon fodder, another bullet in the impenetrable nature of Kubrick’s work.
But Hyams tries his best to steer clear of the Kubrick influence not just on his own work but on the future of the Clarke-created series. His great failure in presenting a unique feature is making any of the original characters his own, while also failing to create visual suspense or the freedom of new ideas. Neither are present and instead 2010: The Year We Make Contact is a baffling piece that tries to connect with the intensity and terror found in the original, but never quite hurdles the rather obvious issues. It certainly doesn’t help that Clarke’s written work for this adaptation isn’t quite as up to scratch as the first feature, but there was still plenty of time and room for Hyams and his cast to flourish. A shame too, since Scheider puts in a solid performance drowned out by the same soundtrack, the same feeling of insufferable nothingness in the universe and the same implication that out there are ideas beyond our conception.
Unfortunately the ideas beyond our conception within 2010: The Year We Make Contact are both perceptible and just a bit dull. Nothing will be less impactful than that gorgeous score opening on a still, unmoving shot of the sun hidden behind two large radar dishes. Hyams’ direction and photography focus on the science-fiction heyday, the rows of radar dishes and the slow panning cameras that crawl up to reveal the protagonist. Even with interesting camera angles, Hyam is still only able to dress up the shot-reverse-shot attitudes. Even if Scheider is positioned up the top of a radar dish, the camera is still only pinging back and forth without anything of interest, character or variety to look at. It’s an issue that lingers on throughout all of 2010: The Year We Make Contact.