Dr Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) is busying himself at a radio telescope one day when he is interrupted by a Soviet representative who means to discuss something with him even if he is not interested. There have been great tensions between East and West recently, but here is a proposal that might bring them together: a space mission to Jupter. There had been such a project in the year 2001, but it had ended in mystery, with the crew apparently dead and the mission abandoned. Until now that is, because Floyd, an integral part of the first project, is invited to take part in an alliance to set out for Jupiter and find out precisely what is there...
If ever there was a film that didn't need a sequel it was 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the original author, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote one anyway and it duly turned up onscreen with some tweaking under the direction (and adaptation) of Peter Hyams. Retooled into an item of Cold War finger wagging, the result failed to catch on in the same way as its predecessor, perhaps because this time it became dated very quickly, but equally because they reduced the enigma of the concept into a banal, "Why can't we all just get along?" message.
The gigantic monolith in orbit around Jupiter is still there, but the last astronaut to survive, now presumed dead (Dave Bowman, played by a returning and remarkably well-preserved Keir Dullea), left a last record of his experience before he went: "My God, it's full of stars!" What does this mean, wonders Floyd as he breaks the news to his wife and young son that he will be going away for a long time, and so after a good twenty minutes of pussyfooting around we finally make it to space. At a point months later, Floyd is awoken from suspended animation as the Soviet spacecraft Leonov nears Jupiter.
And they have found something strange about one of the planet's moons, Europa, so send down a probe to investigate; a burst of signal erupts from a crater, one of many significant signals to be sent in the film. After that, it's on to the previous spacecraft, the Discovery, which is spinning in the void, apparently dead to the universe. In its favour, 2010 features some glorious special effects, matching 2001 to some extent, and the sequence where American engineer John Lithgow and Russian scientist Elya Baskin perform a spacewalk to the Discovery is one of the best in the movie. But the problems with this sequel can maybe be summed up by the fact that there's noise in space.
You wouldn't have got that in the Stanley Kubrick film, but this one is post-Star Wars so we get a lot of swooshes and atmospherics as as our explorers go about their business. You got the impression with 2001 that if you didn't like that attention to detail obsessively pored over then tough, this was the way Kubrick was doing it regardless, but here there's a lot of pandering to the audience. Humanity is on the brink of World War Three, and that's merely one of the eighties preoccupations you can tick off, along with computers. Yes, HAL 9000 is back, still impeccably voiced by Douglas Rain, but largely thrown away for a bit of suspense at the finale. Where a grand mystery might have enhanced the story, given it sense of the cosmic even, the monolith and its guardians here simply wave a magic wand to give us peace on Earth. It's this dilution that makes the whole production disappointingly corny. Music by David Shire.