by Mel Valentin
Peter Hyams began his career as a director more than thirty-five years ago with "Rolling Man," a made-for-television movie. More forgettable television work followed, but Hyams managed to make the jump to feature-filmmaking, most memorably for "Capricorn One," action/drama centered on government conspiracies and a faked landing on Mars. From there, Hyams next directed a romantic drama set during the Second World War in England, "Hanover Street." His next film, "Outland," a remake of "High Noon" set on an off-world mining colony, was, in hindsight, a trial run for a more ambitious science fiction film, "2010: The Year We Make Contact," the anticipated sequel to Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark’s "2001: A Space Odyssey." Unfortunately, Hyams was (and isn’t) no Kubrick and the result, "2010" is as far from the words “science-fiction classic” as the Earth is from Jupiter.2010, Earth. The former head of the National Aeronautics Administration, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), is still haunted by failed mission to Jupiter. After the discovery of an alien artifact, a black monolith, on the moon, the United States sent a manned spacecraft, the Discovery to Jupiter to investigate a second, much larger monolith. The crew of five, including Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), never returned, contact was lost, but the Discovery continued to orbit one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. Plans to send a second, manned mission to Jupiter have fallen behind due to bureaucratic resistance, the high costs involved in building a second Discovery-like spacecraft, and escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union (note: 2010 was made before the dissolution of the Soviet Union).
"A slapdash sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Strictly for completists."
Approached by a Russian scientist in contravention of government orders, Floyd learns that the Russians are just weeks away from launching their own mission to Jupiter. The U.S. effort, however, is months away. The Russian proposes that Floyd and two other Americans, Dr. R. Chandra (Bob Balaban), the computer scientist who programmed the Discovery’s sentient computer, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), and Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), an engineer who worked on the Discovery join the Russian mission. Despite objections from factions within the U.S. government, Floyd gets approval to join the Russians. Meanwhile, a naval blockade by the United States of Soviet ships in Central America threatens to turn the Cold War into a nuclear one.
After spending quality time with his wife, Caroline (Madolyn Smith Osborne), and son, Christopher (Taliesin Jaffe), Floyd joins the Alexei Leonov and goes into hibernation for the duration of the journey to Jupiter. More than a year later, the Russian captain, Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren), awakens first Floyd and then Chandra and Curnow. Along with her crew of six, Dimitri Moisevitch (Dana Elcar), Maxim Brajlovsky (Elya Baskin), Dr. Vladimir Rudenko (Saveli Kramarov), Dr. Vasili Orlov (Oleg Rudnik), and Irina Yakunina (Natasha Shneider), they dock with the rust-covered, depowered Discovery.
While Curnow works on getting the Discovery’s drives online, Chandra reawakens HAL 9000. When, however, they attempt to send a probe to the surface of Europa, a power surge from the moon disables the probe just as Floyd and the others spot signs of life. An attempt to send a manned probe to investigate the monolith floating in space between Jupiter and Io ends disastrously. Floyd sees or thinks he sees Dave Bowman. Bowman warns Floyd about the dangers of remaining, but promises that something wonderful will happen in two days.
Hyams is nothing if not a well-traveled Hollywood hack (in the worst and best senses of that word). In addition to directing, he produces, edits, and shoots his films. Hyams also wrote the screenplay for 2010: The Year We Make Contact, apparently with Arthur C. Clarke’s input. Hyams and Clark kept in almost constant contact during pre-production and production through a then revolutionarily new technology, e-mail. To add conflict missing from Clarke’s novel, Hyams took his cue from the decades long Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Of course, Hyams couldn’t have anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries it ruled through proxy only five years later. The Cold War background makes 2010 feel incredibly dated and irrelevant in a way 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t and probably won’t be.
Hyams' string of forgettable or near forgettable mediocrities include A Sound of Thunder, The Musketeer, End of Days, The Relic, Sudden Death, Timecop, Narrow Margin, The Presidio, Running Scared, and The Star Chamber. When Hyams’ films are best remembered, it’s certainly not because of his usually uninspired direction, but for the actors he’s worked with on them (e.g., Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days, Jean-Claude Van Damme in Sudden Death and Timecop, and Michael Douglas in The Star Chamber, four years before he won an Academy Award for Wall Street).Hyams’ shortcomings as a director are everywhere present in "2010: The Year We Make Contact:" slack packing, clichéd compositions, unengaging, one-dimensional characters, and a borderline dull storyline that manages to eliminate most of the wonder and awe that made "2001: A Space Odyssey" a science fiction classic. Contrary to what Hyams seemed to think, not even a sizable visual effects budget and then state-of-the-art technology (better then than it was in 1968) do much to make "2010" more than just minimally watchable. At best, "2010" is worth seeing for what it said about our attitudes and beliefs circa 1984 (in other words, as a cultural artifact) and to see how badly Hyams and his collaborators botched Clarke and Kubrick’s science-fiction classic.
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originally posted: 06/05/08 17:07:04