I’ve never known anyone as passionate about science fiction movies as Larry Klaes. His features on films ranging from The Thing from Another World to 2014’s Interstellar have proven hugely popular. Today Larry looks at Peter Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact, a film with (and this is putting it mildly) big shoes to fill. How did 2010 measure up to its illustrious predecessor, and what choices did Hyams make that confirmed — or contradicted — Stanley Kubrick’s vision in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Have a look at what Larry considers a flawed but nonetheless valuable take on Arthur C. Clarke’s angle on the cosmos, complete with numerous pointers to online nuggets that fill out the story of the film’s production.
by Larry Klaes
When the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in theaters in early April of 1968, it created a stir with cinema-goers and critics which has seldom been seen before or since.
An experimental art film with an unheard-of budget for its day – 10.5 million dollars, or over 74 million in 2020 dollars, adjusting for inflation – 2001 (for short) confounded expectations for its genre and the modern cinema in general.
Now I know that ten million dollars or even 74 million dollars must seem like pocket change to audiences of the early Twenty-First Century when it comes to a standard big film budget. In those days before fancy computer-generated special effects and top actor salaries that measure in the tens of millions of dollars per film, however, this was a lot of money for a big studio to spend on a single film – especially a member of the science fiction genre and an “artsy” one at that.
I can recall those quaint days of 1995 when the general public and the media flipped out about the aquatic science fiction film Waterworld costing over 100 million dollars. This reaction only escalated when the film turned into a critical and financial flop. Now major products of Hollywood easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars and are expected to generate at least one billion dollars or more in revenue. This may help to explain why 2001 was considered such a gamble for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in the late 1960s.
2001’s scope and scale were truly epic: Nothing less than the evolution of humanity, from its humble beginnings four million years ago on the plains of Africa to a future with orbiting nuclear weapons platforms, space shuttles, giant wheeled space stations, complex lunar bases, nuclear-powered manned missions to Jupiter, truly artificial intelligences (AI), and the discovery of a highly advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) that has been guiding the progress of our species all along.
However, 2001 did not follow the standard path for the vast majority of science fiction cinema. Much of the film relies on visuals over verbal or written explanations: This is a predominantly visual medium, after all.
As for its audio, the soundtrack seldom provides the audience with direct cues as to how they should react to a scene. In fact, Director, Producer, and Co-Screenwriter Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) scrapped the film’s original music by Alex North (1910-1991) just before its premiere and replaced it with the temporary music used as a sort of placeholder during production.
While this was a shocking act, especially to the score’s composer – who did not learn that his music had been changed out until seeing 2001 on opening night – Kubrick’s brash decision turned out to be a very wise move. North’s music was certainly professional and well done, but it was written for a more expected type of science fiction film, which 2001 certainly was not.
Most importantly, 2001: A Space Odyssey left plenty of mysteries for its audience to ponder:
What is that big black slab doing among our primitive apelike ancestors and why are they suddenly acting so much more aggressive after huddling around it? How and why did an ancient bone thrown into the air suddenly seem to turn into a futuristic space satellite? Why is that big black slab we saw in Africa four million years ago now on the Moon, and buried under its surface in the bright ray crater Tycho, no less?
Why did the smart talking computer with the one red “eye” and the soothing voice onboard that big, long Jupiter-bound spaceship named Discovery suddenly decide to start bumping off its human crew? Why is there another big black slab circling the gas giant planet this time? Why and how did surviving astronaut David Bowman suddenly appear in some crazy kaleidoscope-style situation just moments after we saw a space pod leave the Discovery?
Now Bowman is in some kind of fancy windowless apartment with a spacious blue bathroom, where he keeps seeing older versions of himself for what seems like every few minutes! Now he is a very old man lying in a bed in that same apartment – with yet another big black slab at the foot of his bed. Is it the same one we saw way back in space and time?
Suddenly Bowman transforms on the bed into what looks like a large fetus inside some transparent egg-shaped shell. Now the large fetus has somehow left the fancy apartment and is in space hovering over a planet that looks a lot like Earth. The fetus appears to turn towards the audience as the powerfully dramatic music from the opening of 2001 plays and… the end credits begin.
As you might imagine, the film left many audiences proverbially scratching their heads in confusion. That 2001 was also deliberately slow paced with “action” scenes that went counter to what viewers had been fed by film studios for decades only added to their frustration. In addition, with one major exception, all the featured characters were purposely written to be bland and two-dimensional at best. Apparently walking out in the middle of a screening was not atypical audience behavior.
Certain self-appointed film critics had similar reactions. A few were adept and open enough to realize they were witnessing a landmark event in cinematic and cultural history, but many others were simply left as confused and frustrated by 2001 as the general populace. They also had a tool, or perhaps a weapon in certain cases, which most people did not possess when the film made its premiere: Public forums to spread their views far and wide via newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
Their initial reactions were either high praise or withering criticisms. It was easy to tell who was ready and aware for something different in science fiction cinema and who was disappointed at having their long-entrenched expectations subverted – and on such a large scale as a very expensive film from a major Hollywood studio with high-quality special effects.
Eventually, many would come around to genuinely appreciate they were witnesses to a literal cultural-changing event. Even those who remained unimpressed with 2001 still recognized and often admitted that they had been present at cinematic history.
Still, many remained confused by specific scenes to the point they were genuinely disturbed by the film’s deliberate ambiguity. They wanted Kubrick to explain them.
Although Kubrick did have reasons and answers for 2001: A Space Odyssey, he was more than reluctant to reveal them, as he rightly assumed it would subvert the art he created. As the director said in an interview with Playboy magazine in their September, 1968 issue:
“How much would we appreciate La Gioconda [Mona Lisa] today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: ‘This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth’ — or ‘because she’s hiding a secret from her lover’? It would shut off the viewer’s appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don’t want that to happen to 2001.”
The other cinematic “sin” of the genre Kubrick committed was not showing the alien beings who made the big black slabs, or the Monoliths as they are called. He did intend to show these extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) early in the making of the film, but the various efforts he and his production team made to create believable-looking living aliens did not pan out. Kubrick also intended for the first ten minutes of 2001 to consist of various contemporary scientists talking about extraterrestrial life. The interviews were filmed but not included in the final film.
Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), the other writer of the 2001 screenplay and the subsequent novelization, consulted with astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan (1934-1996) on how to represent the ETI in the film. Sagan suggested that evolution dictates life forms developing on other – and therefore presumably quite different – worlds would likely not resemble organisms found on Earth. Therefore, it would be better to suggest their existence rather than show them directly and risk looking quite outmoded should any real aliens ever show up.
The result was the Monolith, the main instrumentality and representative of the aliens. Nearly featureless and possessing enigmatic abilities and motives, it was an ingenious way to present an intelligent galaxy-spanning species far in advance of current humanity with the philosophy of “less is more.” This thinking was also the key to the game-changing success of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Nevertheless, while some folks enjoy a sense of cosmic ambiguity and being presented with mysteries to solve, many others prefer to be told directly what they are witnessing, be it in a science fiction film or the much wider canvas of reality in general. This is why so much of our entertainment, whatever form of medium it may take, is often what I will politely term to be “generic” in theme, plot, structure, and design.
Also Sprach… the Sequel
So perhaps it was only a matter of time that an answer to this call would happen in the form of a sequel to 2001. In 1982, Clarke produced the novel titled 2010: Odyssey Two. Taking place approximately one decade after the events in the first film, Clarke was strongly inspired by the amazing discoveries made by the twin Voyager deep space probes of the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn and their retinue of moons and rings during their historic flyby missions of these worlds between 1979 and 1981.
As Clarke stated in the Author’s Note of his novel:
“No one could have imagined, back in the mid-sixties, that the exploration of the moons of Jupiter lay, not in the next century, but only fifteen years ahead. Nor had anyone dreamed of the wonders that would be found there – although we can be quite certain that the discoveries of the twin Voyagers will one day be surpassed by even more unexpected finds. When 2001 was written, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto were mere pinpoints of light in even the most powerful telescope; now they are worlds, each unique, and one of them – Io – is the most volcanically active body in the Solar System.”
Image: The first edition cover of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel 2010: Odyssey Two, published in 1982.
With one set of questions answered – the Galilean moons – the novel went on to answer many other issues left off in the first film, although the first novel had its own set of answers when it wasn’t heading off in its own directions.
A film version of 2010: Odyssey Two was perhaps inevitable. Kubrick had no interest in making a sequel to his masterpiece, or any of his other films, for that matter. Supposedly he had even ordered the sets, props, and design diagrams of 2001 destroyed so they would not find their way into perhaps lesser science fiction films.
Reuse was the fate of many of the props, models, and costumes from another science fiction cinematic classic, Forbidden Planet (1956), though their multiple uses in the original episodes of The Twilight Zone television series from 1959 to 1964 are an important and honoring exception – not to mention fun to watch for.
However, I have since learned of another story that the film studio wanted the props removed as they were taking up storage space for newer films. This might explain why the large model of the iconic wheeled Space Station V ended up abandoned in some back lot to fall victim to decay and vandalism, rather than being outright demolished from the start. A deeply unfortunate end for these cinematic treasures, whatever the real story is regarding their demise.
Peter Hyams (born 1943) took on the daunting task of making a theatrical sequel to one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Two years after the emergence of Clarke’s novel, Hyams completed this task and called the result 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
Many of the main ambiguities of 2001: A Space Odyssey were answered. But were they the “right” answers? Or was 2010 more about Hyams wanting to make what I am going to call a 2001 “comfort food” version for the masses? Is this good or bad? Just like the real food one consumes, it depends on the quality and quantity, not to mention the tastes and the moods of the recipients.
A full description of 2010 arrives next in these pages. I highly recommend for those of you reading this essay who have never encountered the sequel before that you stop here now and view the film first, if you do not want to be besieged with multiple spoilers up ahead. Or perhaps you have seen 2010 before, yet you would like or need a refresher. You may also want to pick up Clarke’s novel for similar reasons, as that work will be an integral part of this discussion.
While I am at it, you may also want to do the same for the film and novel versions of 2001 for an even more complete picture, as many details from that first part of the Space Odyssey saga will be discussed quite a bit for what I hope are obvious reasons.
My God, It’s Full of…
We begin our cinematic journey of 2010: The Year We Make Contact with a summary of the first film splayed out across the screen in an antiquated and noisy computer text scrawl while relevant still images from 2001: A Space Odyssey appear in the background.
Watch the opening sequence for 2010 here:
Image: The theatrical poster for 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It is ironic that the Star Child from the end of 2001 is so prominent here and in other promotional material for this sequel, as we shall learn.
Among the things we are told from what turns out to be a report filed by Heywood Floyd, Chairman of the National Council on Astronautics (NCA), dated December 9, 2001, which were neither shown nor stated in the original film:
- HAL 9000’s “malfunction” began as the USS Discovery approached Jupiter’s two innermost Galilean moons, Europa and Io. In the cinematic 2001, one gets the impression that these events actually took place in interplanetary space after the spacecraft emerged from the Main Planetoid Belt, but well before their arrival at the Jupiter system. In the 2001 novelization, Discovery’s destination is the next Jovian planet out from Sol, the prominently ringed world of Saturn. This is based on earlier script drafts, which is often all that Clarke had to go on while writing the novel. However, the story goes that the film’s special effects team led by Douglas Trumbull was unable to create a visually convincing set of rings for the gas giant world, so the vessel was retargeted for Jupiter. Yes, Jupiter does have its own set of rings, but they were unknown until Voyager 1 imaged them in early 1979, as they are quite thin and dark in comparison to Saturn’s magnificent collection of countless circling water ice particles.
- The Monolith/Stargate is sitting at the LaGrange point between Io and Jupiter and is nearly two kilometers (1.2 miles) in length. The USS Discovery is orbiting Io.
- The last transmission Bowman sent before plunging into the Monolith/Stargate aboard a Discovery space pod was his exclamation of “My God, it’s full of stars!” This statement was written in the 2001 novelization by Clarke, but never said in the film version. As if to make up for its lack of existence in the 2001 film, we will hear the recording of Bowman saying this phrase multiple times throughout 2010. One gets the feeling that the makers of 2010 were uncomfortable with long silences; I say this only half facetiously.
- FYI: The actual full phrase Bowman said in the 2001 novel is this from the end of Chapter 39 titled “Into the Eye”: “The Eye of Japetus had blinked, as if to remove an irritating speck of dust. David Bowman had time for just one broken sentence which the waiting men in Mission Control, nine hundred million miles away and eighty minutes in the future, were never to forget: ‘The thing’s hollow – it goes on forever – and – oh my God! – it’s full of stars!’”
The summary does contain one big, glaring error which appears early on in the crawling baby blue text: The Monolith is said to be located in the Sea of Tranquility, even though it is then referred to as the Tycho Monolith!
The Monolith on the Moon was indeed found in Tycho crater, but this bright-rayed impact scar is not located in the Sea of Tranquility: Rather, Tycho is deep in the lunar southern hemisphere on the side of the Moon that faces Earth.
Image: This image of the southern hemisphere of the Moon from the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) Web site for February 6, 2020, displays the craters Tycho and Clavius. The latter is the big oval-shaped impact with four smaller craters splayed across its interior in a line. This is where Clavius Base is located in 2001. Tycho is the smaller, more circular crater below Clavius, with a prominent mountain peak in its center. From Earth during the Moon’s phases on and around full, the multiple rays emanating from Tycho stand out quite well. Note that the Sea of Tranquility is nowhere to be seen in this photograph.
The first manned mission to land on the Moon, Apollo 11, took place in what is formally known as Mare Tranquilitas in July of 1969, so perhaps this is what and where whoever actually wrote the dialogue was thinking of. Nevertheless, this is something that should have been caught and corrected in the editing process, if never made to begin with. That the error stayed in the film, and in the very introduction at that, is bothersome, especially since this is a fact that could have been easily checked, even in the “primitive Internet” year of 1984.
In this fictional world of the Space Odyssey saga, Floyd visited the Tycho Monolith in person and was present when the alien artifact sent that ear-piercing signal towards Jupiter, so Floyd certainly should have known that its location was nowhere near the Sea of Tranquility when writing his report.
Once this report with its annoying dated computer sounds end, the iconic music that so famously introduced 2001: A Space Odyssey to the world, Also Sprach Zarathustra, begins.
As the music continues, we slowly fade into the always impressive sight of the Very Large Array (VLA), a very real collection of 27 radio telescopes situated in the New Mexico desert. Inaugurated in 1980, the facility was renamed the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in 2012 after undergoing a major system upgrade. Jansky (1905-1950) is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy, a field which did not come into prominence until well into the Twentieth Century.
FILM FACTS: Director Hyams told Clarke that he wanted to film this opening scene at the Arecibo Radio Observatory on the island of Puerto Rico to parallel the same opening scene in the 2010 novel. However, Hyams changed his mind after visiting the place in 1983 when he saw how “truly filthy” the one thousand-foot-wide dish was.
This event is documented in The Odyssey File, authored by Clarke and Hyams (Del Rey, 1984), where the two corresponded via email on computers about the 2010 film just before the director started production. 2010: Odyssey Two is also the first novel Clarke wrote on a computer, the Kaypro II.
A later science fiction film which did utilize Arecibo as a set piece, Contact (1997), managed to solve the “filth” problem by digitally removing much of the accumulated dirt and grime from the aluminum plates that cover the giant dish, which were first installed in 1974. Apparently, such CGI technology was unavailable in the early 1980s, or perhaps simply too expensive?
As another relevant factoid, when the Arecibo radio telescope was upgraded with those plates for better signal reflectivity, the observatory celebrated the event by commissioning and sending a three-minute radio transmission to the globular star cluster Messier 13, located 25,000 light years from Earth in the constellation of Hercules.
Best known as the Arecibo Message of 1974, the greetings and information package left our planet via the radio antenna for M13 on November 16 of that year. If we are lucky to have some alien species located in that star cluster who can intercept, translate, and respond to our METI, or Message to Extraterrestrial Intelligence, we will need to wait about 50,000 years to receive their reply.
Disappointed with the conditions at Arecibo, Hyams then paid a visit to the VLA, which as we see in the film’s opening, obviously passed muster with him. FYI, Contact also filmed at the New Mexico observatory. In this case, the VLA was much more than just window dressing: The radio dish cluster served as the instrument which detected signals coming from an advanced interstellar society via one of their monitoring and relay stations circling the star Vega.
If you would like to know a lot more about Carl Sagan’s Contact, see here:
I also happen to like this informative tribute page to the film, which includes quite a bit on the VLA while Contact was filming there in September of 1996:
A figure in a dark brown business suit approaches the tall and gleaming white dishes of the VLA, dwarfed by their size. Upon one of those radio telescopes is a middle-aged man wearing sunglasses, a dark brown jacket, and beige shorts: This is Dr. Heywood Floyd, who is in the middle of cleaning a section of the antenna struts. Dr. Floyd’s comparatively diminutive figure is almost lost among the metal latticework of the imposing astronomical instrument.
The visitor turns out to be a Soviet scientist named Dr. Dimitri Moisevitch, who begins his conversation with Dr. Floyd by telling him (and thereby the audience) what his government knows about his recent past: How as Chairman of the National Council on Astronautics (NCA), Floyd was held responsible for the loss of the USS Discovery during its mission to Jupiter nine years earlier and subsequently became a university chancellor.
After a brief mention that the Cold War is still going on in this version of the year 2010 and is heating up in Central America, Moisevitch asks Floyd for two minutes of his time to play a game called The Truth, wherein both men will only tell each other the truth, rather than be coy, silent, or just plain lie due to the geopolitical differences between their two nations, the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Image: Floyd and Moisevitch conducting some Cold War strategy on the “set” of the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico.
Moisevitch reveals that he knows the Americans are building Discovery 2 to travel to Jupiter and find out what happened with its predecessor and in particular its “brain”, the AI known as HAL 9000, which was supposed to be “foolproof and incapable of error.” However, the Soviets already have their own manned interplanetary vessel, named after the first human to perform an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), or spacewalk, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (1934-2019). Its construction is much further along than the Discovery 2.
“I thought you were gonna call it the Titov?” asked Floyd, regarding the second human to orbit Earth aboard Vostok 2 in August of 1961. “We changed last month. People fall out of favor,” replied Moisevitch.
The Soviet scientist notes that the Leonov will reach Jupiter and Discovery almost one year before the Americans can. The problem is, their mission team is not familiar with HAL 9000 and would require months to reactivate the computer and decipher its data. The Soviet officials are also concerned that what happened with the first Discovery crew might also happen to the members of the Leonov.
QUESTION: Do these fictional Soviets have their own equivalent of HAL 9000? Or SAL 9000, as we shall see. They never say in the film and we see no evidence for any “smart, thinking” computers aboard the Leonov. I find it hard to believe in the competitive atmosphere of the Cold War, fictional or otherwise, that the Soviets would not have tried to make their own version of HAL, or at least attempt to steal it. The history of that era shows both sides tried to best each other in many arenas, especially technology.
COMMENT: In our world of 1984, the year when 2010 premiered in cinemas, the USA had the Space Shuttle (more officially known as the Space Transportation System, or STS) that could carry seven or more human passengers and tons of supplies and equipment into low Earth orbit. In 2011, the Space Shuttle program was cancelled. Since then “those poor Americans” have had to get their astronauts space rides from the Russians on their Soyuz vessels. This situation is going to change quite soon, though, thanks to the private space sector.
Moisevitch also expresses his frustration that the American government “has been very selfish and stupid” in keeping to themselves the Monolith discovered in the lunar crater Tycho and subsequently transported to Earth. Wanting to know what has been learned about the big black slab, Floyd replies they have found “nothing. It’s impenetrable. We’ve tried lasers, nuclear detonators. Nothing worked.”
Having set up the current situation regarding the key players and factors, the Soviet scientist then lays out the dilemma and a potential solution:
“Here we have our quandary. We are going to get there first, yet you have the knowledge to make the trip work. How much more time do I have?”
Responding with a growing agitation borne by the realization of what Moisevitch is offering, Floyd grants the scientist an extension of “game” time and asks how he could convince his government to allow Americans to join the Leonov crew.
“It won’t be easy,” Moisevitch replies. “However, I’m pretty good. A Russian craft flown by Russians, carrying a few poor Americans who need our help. That also doesn’t look too bad on the front page of Pravda.”
In contrast, Floyd is uncertain if he can convince his “people” to let some Americans hitch a ride on a Soviet spacecraft, adding that “they wouldn’t mind seeing you go and fail. They wouldn’t mind that at all. But carrying Americans? I don’t think they would allow that if they didn’t have to. They don’t have to.”
Moisevitch counters with the cryptic question: “Have you checked Discovery‘s orbit lately?”
Floyd declares they have been checking the spacecraft’s path in space circling Io and wants to know what Moisevitch is getting at. Feigning the potential for an asthma attack from the surrounding desert climate, the Soviet scientist starts walking away from Floyd and the VLA, saying only that his American counterpart is “a smart man” who “will know what to do” once he checks the orbit of the derelict Discovery.
Floyd rushes back to what I presume is the VLA control center and checks the orbit of the American space vessel on a computer with a very large and bulky monitor. What the former NCA Chairman discovers leaves him stunned and the audience in a state of wonder.
The big secret, as we discover in the next scenes, is that the USS Discovery’s orbit is decaying faster than thought and no one really knows why, though some suspect the Monolith may be the real mechanism involved.
QUESTION 1: Why was Discovery put in orbit around Io? Why not the Galilean moon Callisto if it had to be anchored somewhere in the Jupiter system? This farthest satellite of the group is the only major Jovian moon orbiting outside the planet’s deadly radiation belts and is geologically stable so far as we can tell.
In 2001, the Jupiter Monolith appeared to be floating among the major Jovian moons rather freely, so shouldn’t any of these natural satellites have worked? If so, why embed the ship so deep in these belts? The characters do acknowledge the intense and deadly radiation outside the Leonov when they send a team to reactivate Discovery, so this is not an astronomical fact the filmmakers were either unaware of or ignored.
Of course, the primary cinematic answer is that of the four Galilean moons, Io and Europa are the most exciting in terms of creating drama for 2010. As said earlier in this essay, they are in fact the reason the novel and film sequels to 2001 came about in the first place, thanks to the Voyager probe flybys in 1979.
Ganymede and Callisto, despite being large and fascinating moons in their own right (at 5,268 kilometers, or 3,273 miles, in diameter, Ganymede is the largest satellite in the Sol system, even bigger than the planet Mercury; the moon also has the only known satellite magnetic field and probably its own water ocean way below its ice surface), do not quite possess that certain “star” appeal (or is that moon appeal?) which their smaller siblings have in spades, if such a thing can even be said about real alien moons.
Europa has a global ocean of liquid water perhaps sixty miles deep under an icy crust that is relatively smooth and has many long cracks but few impact craters: This gives the moon a potential for major forms of life unprecedented elsewhere in the Sol system as was known in the early 1980s. At the time, Mars was the more-or-less major contender for harboring extraterrestrial natives; after Voyager, the paradigm shift to the outer planets’ moons was rather swift and has only increased ever since, thanks to later discoveries in the Saturn system by the Cassini probe, particularly regarding the moons Enceladus and Titan.
When it comes to sheer potential drama and danger, it is hard to beat Io’s continually erupting system of volcanoes combined with a wild and colorful surface that includes entire lakes of molten sulfur – and perhaps underground reservoirs of the stuff, or even an entire subsurface sulfuric ocean! However, I think 2010 dropped the ball when it came to visually depicting Io as “a violent moon, even for Jupiter,” as Floyd would state later in the film. I will discuss this issue in more detail later on in this essay.
QUESTION 2: What do the Soviets have that the Americans do not which makes them better at learning that Discovery’s orbit around Io is decaying? Monitoring satellites in Jovian orbit? Something more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) somewhere in space or on the Moon? Were the Soviets just paying more attention because they are sending an urgent manned mission to Jupiter? Yes, the Americans were also going to Jupiter with a human crew with their Discovery 2, but since they apparently thought the first Discovery was not going anywhere except in a literal circle, they were not rushing the construction of the second ship.
The information about the decaying orbit could not have come from Discovery itself, as that vessel was essentially dead and definitely not transmitting. In the 2001 novel, Bowman left the ship running to monitor the Saturn system for as long as possible, continuing “to perform its duty, broadcasting instrument readings back to Earth until there was some final, catastrophic failure in its circuits.”
In that scene in the 2001 film when Bowman leaves Discovery in the second space pod just before the Stargate sequence, we see there is no light coming from the bridge windows. He may have shut off any unessential systems while he was not onboard to conserve fuel and instruments, being the only crewman left. However, there may have been an additional reason, according to the novel…
When Bowman left the ship to investigate the Monolith, he secretly had no intention of coming back one way or another. Bowman figured that even if he did return safely from investigating the alien artifact to the main vessel, either a vital ship’s system or his sanity would give out long before the Discovery 2 would ever arrive to rescue him. The astronaut could not even rely on the ship’s hibernation system for survival, as it required HAL to maintain the life support equipment – and he had removed the AI’s higher brain functions in order to survive.
Floyd’s quick retort to Moisevitch when the Soviet scientist asks the American if he has checked Discovery’s orbit lately – “You know damn well we’ve been checking it…. What is it you’re not telling me?!” – seems to be an honest reaction of surprise tinged with more than a hint of concern. Perhaps what Floyd meant was that they were checking Discovery’s orbit around Io, but in terms of computer modeling more than actual monitoring.
Later on, when Floyd meets privately with his friend, the current NCA Chairman Victor Milson, to tell him about the spacecraft’s decaying orbit, Milson’s response of “how could we be so goddamn wrong about the orbit?” also gives one the impression that the Americans were depending primarily on what their modeling computers were telling them about Discovery, while the Soviets were probably relying more on direct observations of the vessel, since their chief Cold War rival was likely not inclined to just provide them with such data about one of their own ships – especially one that had been on a mission with secret orders to investigate a large alien artifact.
ONE ANSWER: In the 2010 novel, little useful direct information is provided about the precise methods that either side is using to track Discovery at Jupiter. I found this rather odd considering how much technical detail Clarke often went into on all sorts of subjects during the story. However, there is a mention that the United States Government cut funding for this monitoring activity, thus giving us at least one plausible explanation as to why the Soviets knew what was going on with the American vessel, but not the actual nation that built and launched it into interplanetary space.
Now, logically, it would be foolish and even dangerous for United States officials not to know where Discovery is at any specific time and place in space when the Americans want to send their own mission there with Discovery 2. However, that a national government would do something penny wise and pound foolish is sadly quite plausible in either reality, especially if they are embroiled in a major conflict like the Cold War. That the film later states the sitting President is both reactionary and only interested in space in terms of using it as the ultimate military High Ground against the Soviets adds further evidence to the American funds and technologies for monitoring a derelict spaceship way across the Sol system being used elsewhere.
Speaking of the above…
The scene switches to the exterior of the White House in Washington, D.C., where Floyd meets with Victor Milson, the man who replaced him as NCA Chairman. Sitting on a bench in Lafayette Park, we learn from Floyd that Discovery is going to crash into Io in just “two, two and a half years,” far sooner than predicted.
Milson asks how they could have been so wrong about the spacecraft’s orbit, to which Floyd replies that they were not wrong, that “something incredible is happening up there. Discovery‘s being pulled towards lo. Or pushed away from Jupiter. Whichever. Sometimes it seems to be accelerating, and other times it just seems to stop. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Floyd suggests that the giant Monolith circling Jupiter may have something to do with Discovery’s bizarre behavior.
Floyd asks Milson to convince the current Commander-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office – a “reactionary” President who wants to place the NCA, which is apparently their reality’s equivalent of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense (DoD) to assist in the growing Cold War – to procure seats for three Americans aboard the Soviet spaceship Leonov.
Despite Milson’s imagined response by the President to such a request during their upcoming meeting – “Enough with the crazy scientists spending all this money trying to talk to Martians,” he quips – the head of the NCA listens to Floyd’s choices to join the Soviet mission to Jupiter:
The first candidate Floyd names is Walter Curnow. Considered the most expert engineer when it comes to Discovery’s systems – he is in the middle of working on Discovery 2 – Curnow is probably the best individual who can get the non-functioning vessel reactivated in short order. The second man Floyd picks is himself.
“We lost some good men up there, and I sent them. I have to go,” Floyd explains to Milson. He also throws in the selling point that “the Russians are gonna go aboard Discovery with or without us. Ask him if he wants them to have all the answers.” A few moments later in their conversation, Floyd adds that Milson should tell the President “we’re screwed if we don’t go. Tell him, if we do go, we’ll lie – give the Russians false information. Tell him that. He’ll love that.” Milson concurs in general.
The third choice is a man named Chandra, the designer of the HAL 9000 computer model, the most famous of which is now over 400 million miles from Earth in an unknown state. Floyd knows that Chandra is their best choice for reactivating HAL and figuring out what went wrong on that mission to Jupiter. Milson comments that he thinks Chandra is HAL and then asks Floyd if he trusts the man. Floyd replies that he does not, but they have no other real choice if they want to fix HAL and learn the truth about what happened out there nine years ago.
FUN FACT: While Floyd and Milson are chatting away on that park bench in front of the White House, there is an elderly man in a long gray coat feeding the pigeons in the park on a nearby bench on the far-left side of the screen. That fellow is none other than Arthur C. Clarke making a cameo appearance in 2010. As we will see later, this will not be the only time the author makes an appearance in the film based on his novel.
Image: Look who is feeding the pigeons outside the actual White House during the scene with Floyd and Milson.
We then get to meet this R. Chandra as he enters his office at the University of Illinois in Urbana. In the novel, he is known as Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana. However, in the film, Chandra is not of Indian descent but rather a white American man played by actor Bob Balaban (born 1945).
COMMENTARY: Hollywood has had a long habit of casting roles meant to be played by people of a particular ethnicity with Caucasian actors, usually because the pool of white folks has always been larger in the film industry and also because those in charge felt that largely Western audiences would be more “comfortable” with white actors in larger roles. While this practice has been generally reversed in the last few decades, it is obvious that the people in charge of 2010 made the conscious decision not to hire an Indian actor for the role of the computer expert, yet paradoxically they kept part of his decidedly non-Western last name.
Thanks to the wonderful 2010 blog I found while researching on 2010 for this essay, I have some actual answers to why Chandra’s original ethnicity was changed between the novel and film. The following paragraphs are quoted from a 1984 interview article in Starlog Magazine. They show that Balaban and the film crew were certainly aware of the issues in turning the Chandra character non-Indian. Their reasons for doing so, however, leave something to be desired:
“Balaban’s character, Dr. Chandra, has been slightly [!] recrafted in the translation to the screen. ‘They changed his nationality from Indian to American,’ he says. ‘Since there were Americans and Russians together up there, they thought it would be confusing to have another nationality thrown in there. That makes sense to me.’
“’I would like to have played an Indian,’ he adds, ‘although Indian people, and rightly so, would have resented that casting. I thought, in essence, the screenplay maintains his devotion to HAL and his affection for HAL. That was the most important part of the character.’
“Balaban had the opportunity to see how the screen adaptation fared with Clarke when the author visited the 2010 set at MGM Studios in Culver City, California.
“’I was glad he came on my last day of shooting,’ the actor admits. ‘I was nervous that he might observe me playing Chandra and think, ‘No, no, no, that’s not my idea of Chandra at all.’ I expected to be intimidated by him. But, he turned out to be a very funny, droll person. Here was this very accessible man, charming and kind, and I thought he was great.’”
The full interview is here:
In the novel, Chandra is definitively Indian. His heritage is not just some tacked on trait that was otherwise left alone; it is an integral part of who the character is. Author Clarke spent a good part of his adult life as a resident of the island nation of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), just off the coast of India, so he was quite familiar with their cultures. However, with all due respect, Clarke was also a white Englishman, not a native Indian or Sri Lankan. One also must wonder if the author would have had any real say or pull with the filmmakers if he had insisted that the character be played by an actual Indian, especially in the early 1980s.
FYI: The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has this historical tidbit to say on the subject of casting Chandra:
“Arthur C. Clarke wanted Dr. Chandra to be played by Sir Ben Kingsley. Chandra is a Hindu deity, and Kingsley played the title character in Gandhi (1982). Additionally, one of actor Dana Elcar’s children is named Chandra.”
Kingsley’s father is Indian (his mother is English). Dana Elcar played Dr. Dimitri Moisevitch.
Would the viewing audience really have found it “confusing to have another nationality thrown in there,” as Balaban claims the filmmakers said, even in that backwards era circa 1984? After all, it is not like we got to know more than a few members of the Russian crew very well. I sincerely doubt having one main character who was neither American nor Russian would have thrown the cinema into confusion and anarchy.
Hollywood was quite obviously more interested in a contemporary Western science nerd type, for which Balaban fit the bill for more than once in his career in such other science fiction films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) and Altered States (1980). As we have seen all too often these days, real widespread sensitivity to other cultures, religions, gender issues, and various social ills are only now having their effective start of being acknowledged and addressed. Before then there were some genuine efforts, but mostly they were experiments and token appeals. When Indians and other “ethnic” types were chosen in that era, they often became comic-relief sidekicks to the main white characters.
Had 2010 been made now (perhaps called 2020: Odyssey Two or 2020: The Space Odyssey Continues), Chandra would undoubtedly have been played by someone of actual Indian descent, possibly even an Indian woman. Undoubtedly Clarke and the filmmakers patted themselves on their early 1980s-era backs for having a woman as the commander of a spaceship (Captain Tanya Kirbuk of the Leonov), but the only other women we see in 2010 don’t do much on screen except come to Floyd for reassurance and support, despite being professionals in their chosen fields.
For the record, women in 2001: A Space Odyssey did not fare any better culturally: The majority were minor characters in service roles, either preparing and delivering food or acting as glorified greeters to their male superiors. Ironically, the one woman portrayed as a scientist in the film – a radio astronomer just returning from the Moon after spending three months “calibrating the new antenna at Tchalinko” – was a Soviet citizen whom Floyd met only briefly on Space Station V for some polite conversation.
It has been noted how people (read most often men) can imagine all sorts of technological innovations when it comes to predicting the future of human civilization, but somehow the traditional roles of men and women do not move forward or change in the same manner. As always, progress on all fronts most often occurs in small steps.
Now back to our plot…
We find that Dr. Chandra has a companion who shares his office, an AI named SAL 9000. This computer version has a distinctly female voice courtesy of actor Candice Bergen (born 1946), who is oddly credited in the film as Olga Mallsnerd, and a blue-colored eye lens in contrast to HAL’s distinctive red camera eyes, or visual sensors.
FYI from IMDB on the name Olga Mallsnerd: “The voice of the S.A.L. 9000 computer was performed by Candice Bergen, though the role was credited to ‘Olga Mallsnerd’, a pseudonym combining the surname of Bergen’s spouse (Director Louis Malle) and that of Mortimer Snerd, one of her father’s (ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s) famous puppet characters.”
Chandra talks with SAL about HAL’s “anomalous behavior” and how the mysteries of his malfunction cannot be solved without more information. SAL says that Chandra should be the one who goes to Discovery to learn what went wrong. Chandra tells SAL this plan may happen much sooner than expected. The computer scientist also reveals that he hopes to restore HAL to his normal functioning while out there.
However, Chandra is also concerned that “there may have been irreversible damage, certainly major loss of memory” to his favorite Artilect. To diagnose HAL properly, Chandra says he will first need to disconnect some of SAL’s circuits, in particular those of her higher functions, just as HAL had his memory circuits removed by Dave Bowman. Chandra would then reconnect SAL’s circuits to study what subsequent effects this computer brain surgery might have on her mind.
While SAL says she is “unable to answer that without more specific information” regarding Chandra’s query if removing those parts will disturb her, the AI then asks if she will have dreams while this mental dismantling and rebooting goes on. Chandra replies that “of course you will dream. All intelligent creatures dream. Nobody knows why. Perhaps you will dream of HAL… just as I often do.”
We then switch scenes to visit with Heywood Floyd and his family at their beautiful and undoubtedly very expensive home in Hawaii, which comes complete with two dolphins who visit them via a swimming pool connected to the Pacific Ocean. The family is eating and chatting at the dinner table, where we learn that Floyd’s wife, Caroline, is a marine biologist who is presenting a lecture at an upcoming meeting. Their young son, Christopher, is more interested in feeding the dolphins than himself.
Floyd lets his wife and son know that he will leaving on the Leonov for Jupiter in just four months. Caroline does not take the news very well at first, but later resigns herself to the fact that this is the only way her husband will be able to exorcise his guilt over the losses from the first Discovery mission.
As the next few months pass, we get scenes of Christopher asking his father various questions about aspects of the mission, which is the film’s way of explaining the space travel depicted in 2010 to the audience. Although we do not see Floyd’s family again once he leaves for Jupiter until the very end of the film, their existence continues to play a role in explaining events to the film viewers.
FUN FACTS: The laptop Floyd uses on the beach scene with his son is a real laptop of the day (circa 1984), the model Apple IIc. The device is a bit clunky looking by today’s standards, or even in our version of the year 2010, for that matter. However, having a portable computer that can be taken just about anywhere is certainly a fact of our modern world.
Ironically, this laptop contrasts with the “futuristic” desktop workstations we see throughout the beginning of the film, which have monitors alone that could probably cause serious injury if they ever fell upon someone.
Although folks of all stripes circa 1984 knew that computers were only getting smaller and yet more powerful since the first such machines were developed in the late 1940s, the 2010 production crew apparently thought making their monitors the metaphorical size of a Buick was a progressive step in the right direction. Even more ironic, the graphical and text displays we see on these giant monitors do not seem to have advanced beyond the era that the film was produced.
To learn more about the Apple IIc shown in 2010, read here:
As for the other items with Floyd during the beach scene, there is a copy of Omni magazine with an image of the Jovian Monolith on the cover, stamped with a big red question mark. Unfortunately, Omni did not quite make it to the real 2010: The print version of this popular science-level publication had its last issue in 1995, becoming only available online. The magazine officially ended completely just two years later, in late 1997.
It also seems the film predicted that by 2010, beer would come in containers similar to the cardboard types for milk, judging by the crumpled example among Floyd’s laptop and Omni magazine. As of 2020, that alcoholic beverage is still mass produced inside of cylindrical aluminum cans. In addition, Budweiser still exists as a beer-producing corporation, a fact which cannot be said for several other big companies in the Space Odyssey saga.
COMMENT: Should Floyd, as a responsible father, be drinking beer and become distracted with work while he is supposed to be watching his young son on the beach? Did he learn nothing from his stint on Jaws?
At the risk of killing this joke through explanation, actor Roy Scheider (1932-2008) played Police Chief Martin Brody in the landmark 1975 film Jaws about a giant rogue great white shark that terrorizes a fictional New England island community one summer. His character has two young sons, one of whom has a much too close for his comfort encounter with the main fish just offshore.
Sadly, not once does Scheider’s character say “You’re gonna need a bigger spaceship!” during 2010. I mean, the Jupiter Monolith is almost two kilometers in diameter, after all.
FILM FACT: The automobile seen during the Heywood and Christopher Floyd exposition scenes is real and not some dressed up prop: A Ford Probe IV concept car released in late 1983. It was planned to serve as the model for the upcoming Ford Scorpio in Europe and the Ford Taurus for the United States two years later, but budget issues kept these Ford models from becoming more futuristic looking.
The 2010 blog goes into detail on the Ford Probe IV here:
INTERESTING RELEVANT SIDE NOTES: The only times an automobile is shown in both 2001 and 2010 also has Floyd being present in those scenes. For 2001, a futuristic car is seen in the entertainment video Floyd was watching during his flight aboard the Orion III space shuttle. Well, he was asleep while this program was on in the background – or is that the foreground from Heywood’s perspective? As with 2010, the filmmakers went with a real concept car designed by General Motors.
This page summarizes some of these “futuristic” items from 2010:
It is amusing how the rather brief beach scene contains so much in terms of futuristic items to compare and discuss – and how dated most of them became so relatively soon thereafter. Often, predicting the future is more of a crap shoot and art than science, even when the latter is dutifully employed. This statement applies just as much to 2010’s parent film. At least here, 2010 tried to present itself as being in the near future in a subtle and plausible manner. The makers do deserve credit for showing a laptop as a standard part of Floyd’s work equipment.
Now back to our film plot summary already in progress…
In a scene no less visually jarring than the transition from animal bone to space satellite in 2001 – if perhaps not nearly as heavy with symbolism – 2010 suddenly goes from the scene with a departing Floyd staring at his sleeping son Christopher one last time to the Soviet vessel Leonov moving through interplanetary space.
A dark gray and bulky spacecraft with no streamlining aesthetics whatsoever, the Leonov’s middle section tumbles to create artificial gravity for the crew. This feature also avoids having the filmmakers develop awkward-looking and expensive floating effects for the cast as would have been required for a microgravity environment. At least some form of pseudoscientific artificial gravity a la Star Trek and countless other science fiction films involving futuristic spaceships was not incorporated.
As Floyd told his son in those exposition scenes back on Earth, he and the other two American passengers on the spacecraft, Curnow and Chandra, have been in artificial hibernation during the two-year journey through the void to Jupiter. Floyd is awoken first because the Soviet crew has found something quite interesting on Jupiter’s moon Europa. They are but two days away from the Jovian system.
COMMENTS: The hibernation system for the human crew aboard the Leonov looks very different than the one Discovery utilized. Film aesthetics aside, is this due to Soviet and American hibernation technology taking different design approaches? Or does this reflect over a decade’s worth of advancements since Discovery was built? Or a combination of both possibilities?
The 2010 novel contains nothing substantial regarding hibernation technology, although there was some discussion about participants not dreaming in that state. Were they trying to make some kind of connection with HAL/SAL dreaming while they “slept” and humans doing the same, or not, while in stasis, in terms of intelligence/consciousness/awareness and mental activity while in some form of slumbering?
Speaking of dreaming, I got the impression the filmmakers were using all these dreaming references in an effort to make some metaphysical statement about consciousness being beyond the merely physical, but somehow it never quite gelled: This is ultimately a good thing, considering that 2010 is a science fiction film, after all. Yes, the alien technology and its abilities represented by the Monolith are so advanced beyond human capabilities that they might seem to operate in the realm of magic to us, but that does not mean they are actual supernatural magic.
Remember, it was Clarke himself who made the famous comment about the possibility of advanced ETI technology being so sophisticated that it could be construed as having supernatural powers to mere talking primates with car keys such as ourselves.
Onward with our story…
Floyd and the Soviet crew sit around the ship’s Ward Room table to examine the printouts of the “strange data coming from Europa” encountered by Leonov’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Orlov, during their remote scans of the natural satellite.
Image: The Soviets and American members of the Leonov in one of several meetings in the Ward Room.
However, it quickly becomes obvious that Floyd’s mission counterparts are being less than forthcoming about this “strange data” coming from the icy Galilean moon. The two groups play a verbal dance where Floyd tries to gleam some useful meanings from this intriguing information while the Soviets keep telling the American to look at the data in his hands.
They also pepper the conversation with updates on the Cold War, which has only gotten hotter in the last two years since they left Earth (“the problem in Central America is growing worse….” and “the United States is threatening a naval blockade”), to emphasize why they are under orders to do little more than allow Floyd and his compatriots to observe along with reviving the Discovery and HAL 9000 “…because that is United States territory,” explains Captain Tanya Kirbuk (spell or pronounce her last name backwards).
However, Floyd is having none of this:
“Listen. Just because our governments are behaving like asses doesn’t mean that we have to. We’re scientists, not politicians.”
Kirbuk adds that she is also an “officer of the Soviet Air Force,” but Floyd continues to press them about the data, where he finally learns that the Leonov crew has detected the presence of chlorophyll on Europa, which is moving at “one meter per minute… towards the Sun.”
Kirbuk declares that they are going to send an automated probe down to the alien moon to investigate this phenomenon, to which Floyd replies a bit obnoxiously, given the verbal sparring he has just gone through, with a singular “Good!”
The Europan probe is soon jettisoned from its berth in the Leonov towards the moon. The robot explorer’s appearance is described thusly in a film script draft:
The probe is a jumble of mylar for a body… a high-resolution camera for an eye… a radio dish for a scalp… two flat solar panels splayed outward for arms… and a pair of impressive legs that are neatly tucked inward.
We cut back and forth between scenes of the probe descending to Europa’s icy landscape and the Leonov crew monitoring both its flight status and the data being sent back to the main ship. As their proxy explorer closes in on its target, it detects both chlorophyll and oxygen located in an unnamed crater. The excited crew aims the probe towards the impact feature.
Image: The Leonov’s probe heads towards the icy, jagged surface of Europa, where it just starts to find something very interesting before suddenly being destroyed.
As the probe beams its floodlights into the crater, the images it returns start to show a distinct region of green – on a world otherwise colored with shades of white, gray, brown, and shadows! The Leonov crew attempt to get closer to this discovery, when suddenly a brilliant ball of white light flashes out from Europa where the probe was operating and moves away at incredible speed towards Jupiter.
Onboard the Leonov, all the monitor screens that were displaying Europa images and data now only show static. It is evident that their probe was either destroyed or at least knocked asunder by… something.
The Leonov crew and Floyd convene back in the Ward Room to discuss what just happened. We learn that all the telemetry from the probe was somehow erased, including on the backup recording device. The Soviets blame this data loss on “an electrostatic buildup of some kind.”
The crew is also divided on whether they witnessed some kind of life form in that Europan crater. They consider sending a second robot probe to investigate, but Captain Kirbuk notes that it will be more difficult as the Leonov is moving away from Europa towards Io and they cannot slow down the ship without losing too much of their vital fuel supply.
Dr. Floyd has a different view on the whole matter, quoted in full below:
Floyd: “It wasn’t any [electrostatic] buildup.”
Kirbuk: “Oh, really, Dr. Floyd? And just what do you think it was?”
Floyd: “A warning. Oh, there’s something down there, all right. We all saw it. We read the data. We know it’s there. But suppose, just suppose, that it had something to do with the Monolith? Now, before you get that look on your face, just listen to me for a minute. We’ve been sending probes out here since the ’70s. So have you guys. But none of us have ever encountered even the slightest signs of chlorophyll on any of Jupiter’s moons. Never. And we certainly were close enough, weren’t we? Nine years ago the Monolith was detected here. Discovery was sent up and everything went wacko. You catching my drift? Here we are, nine years later, trying to figure out what the hell happened and what the Monolith is all about. And guess what we discover along the way? The possibility of life of some kind where it never existed before. I don’t think it’s electrostatic anything. I think something wants us to stay away from Europa.”
FUN FACT 1: In our reality, the Soviet Union never sent a probe to Jupiter or any other outer Sol system worlds; neither have the Russians as of 2020. They have had plans for mechanical explorers of Jupiter and Saturn going back to at least the 1970s, but an actual mission has yet to materialize. See here for the historical details:
FUN FACT 2: In the 2010 novel, published in 1982, there is a sentence where Clarke mentions “the Voyager flyby missions of the 1970s, the Galileo surveys of the 1980s, and the Kepler landings of the 1990s” in regards to earlier explorations of Europa (Clarke forgot to mention the very first flybys of Jupiter and its main moons by the space probes Pioneer 10 and 11 in 1973 and 1974, respectively).
The Voyager 1 and 2 deep space probes did indeed fly through the Jupiter system in 1979, with the incredible data and images they returned of the moon being the inspiration for the sequels to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Galileo probe also became a reality, although due to numerous delays it did not leave the vicinity of Earth until late 1989 and did not arrive at Jupiter until December of 1995, where Galileo became both the first vessel to orbit the gas giant and drop a smaller probe into its dense atmosphere.
There was never a Kepler landing mission to Europa, although that name was used for an astronomical space telescope satellite mission that discovered thousands of exoworlds between 2009 and 2018. There are plans by both the Americans and Russians to further explore and land on Europa and perhaps the other Galilean moons, aimed for operation in the 2020s and 2030s.
COMMENT: The initial discovery of life on Europa in the film was handled very differently in the Clarke novel. The Leonov found itself in a race with a manned Chinese vessel named the Tsien which reached the icy moon ahead of the Soviet spaceship and made a historic landing on the surface.
They were the ones to discover Europan life first, but in a most unfortunate manner: A huge marine creature that was described by the surviving crew member named Chang in a desperate radio broadcast as both a mass of seaweed and a banyan tree covered with blue “buds” had been attracted to the Tsien’s powerful floodlights and caused the lander to sink into the ice and become wrecked when the organism came up through the ice surface beneath the vessel to be near the lights. There was no way to rescue Chang in time and apparently the rest of the landing party had been killed when the Tsien was inadvertently sunk into the alien ice by the curious life form.
This entire subplot, dramatic and exciting as it was to read in the novel, was completely excised from the film. Unless the filmmakers had made 2010 into some kind of miniseries (which I think would work for the Space Odyssey saga), the side story would have been more of a detraction from the main plot, so in this case it was a wise call to make in a film only 116 minutes long with much to tell in that relatively short period of time.
A bit of legitimate snark here: As you may recall from the Bob Balaban interview I excerpted earlier, the 2010 filmmakers decided not to make the Chandra character Indian because they thought it would be “confusing to have another nationality thrown in there.” No doubt adding a Chinese taikonaut into the mix would only have made things worse for those poor suffering circa 1984 audiences who were already pressed enough to grasp a science fiction story with real and realistic science, physics, and technology inspired both by recent real space discoveries and a complex art film released almost two decades earlier.
I must add that Clarke was prescient in having China portrayed as a big player in future space efforts. While they have yet to send any missions, robotic or crewed, to the Jupiter system, their space program has become quite ambitious since the early 1980s. So far in the Twenty-First Century, China has sent both men and women taikonauts into Earth orbit in space vessels of their own making, as well as having them inhabit their own space station (in the novel, the Tsien was “disguised” as a space station circling Earth – until it took off for Jupiter). The nation has also landed several rovers on the Moon, including the first one on the lunar farside. They will soon be sending a robotic lander and rover mission to Mars, with officially announced plans for both automated and manned lunar and Martian landings and bases in the coming decades.
China has also made it clear that they intend to become the first nation to succeed at SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligences, using their FAST radio telescope, the largest single-dish observatory on Earth. In comparison, the various folks who ran Arecibo in the past officially treated their rather meager involvement with SETI like a black sheep relation whom no one wants to talk about.
Only in recent years has this attitude begun to change, especially when they were threatened with a loss of funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF): Then they suddenly became interested in tapping into the general public’s fascination with (and potential financial contributions for) finding alien life. The same thing has happened with the Green Bank Observatory in the hills of West Virginia, where the first modern era radio SETI program called Ozma was run for a few months in early 1960.
Read this two-part story here if you want to learn about one prime example regarding Arecibo and SETI/METI that took place in November of 2009:
Now back to our story, already in progress…
As Jupiter looms larger with each passing moment, the Leonov crew sets aside their debates about Europan life forms to prepare for a very critical maneuver: Placing their spaceship into orbit around the gas giant planet’s very volcanic moon, Io, to meet up with the USS Discovery.
We learn the details of this upcoming event thanks to the first of many letters Floyd dictates and sends to his family back on Earth, which are played for our educational benefit in the film:
“Dear Caroline, I miss you terribly. The time has come to put ourselves in an orbit around lo, which is where the Discovery is. And we don’t have enough fuel to slow ourselves down, so we are about to use a technique called aerobraking. The theory is that we will enter the outer layer of Jupiter’s atmosphere using what is called a ballute for a shield. The atmosphere will slow us down, and Jupiter’s gravity will grab hold of us and slingshot us around behind the dark side. If all goes well, we’ll wind up in a gentle orbit around lo.
“It’s dynamite on paper. Of course, the people who came up with the numbers on the paper aren’t here. Since no one has ever done this before, everyone up here is as scared as I am. The difference is they’re busy. I have nothing to do but wait for it to happen. And I hope this is all worth it.”
FUN FACT: The more correct term for what Floyd calls aerobraking is aerocapture. In the early 1990s, the American Venus probe Magellan became the first space vehicle to use another planet’s atmosphere in order to change its orbit multiple times, rather than relying on attitude jets. This also saved on fuel for the robotic explorer to allow it to study the second planet from Sol for as long as possible.
As a countdown commences over the Leonov’s public address (PA) system, Floyd huddles anxiously in his enclosed sleeping berth awaiting the dreaded aerocapture maneuver. Just before the Leonov starts to skim into the upper Jovian atmosphere, Medical Officer Irina Yakunina appears at Floyd’s sliding glass partition. She is obviously terrified of what is about to take place with their ship and has turned to the American for comfort and whatever protection he might provide, even if it is only psychological. Floyd lets her into his berth and straps both of them in.
The next scenes switch back and forth between the incredible spectacles happening around the Leonov as the ship becomes a giant flaming meteor alternating against the starry black sky on the night side of Jupiter and the comparatively small and frightened human beings deep inside it. Floyd and Yakunina hold each other for dear life as the craft’s hull makes terrifying metallic sounds as it is stressed by the various forces around it.
Image: The Leonov is engulfed in flames as it undergoes the dramatic aerocapture procedure to be slowed enough to go into orbit around the gas giant planet Jupiter.
Eventually the Leonov makes it through the aerocapture process, now slow enough to reach Io and make a stable orbit around that moon. Having done their job and no longer needed, the ballute sections are released from the ship, where they fly away into space. Floyd and Yakunina also detach themselves from each other, with the Soviet giving the American a kiss on the cheek in gratitude.
FUN FACT: The Soviet cosmonaut who came to Floyd during the Jovian aerocapture event was Medical Officer Irina Yakunina. In the 2010 novel, she was actually replaced by one Zenia Marchenko not long before the Leonov left Earth for Jupiter when Yakunina was seriously injured in a hang gliding accident. Otherwise those scenes played out essentially the same as in the film.
We later find Floyd at a monitor in the Leonov’s Communications Bay, studying various data and images of the Jovian Monolith while also listening to a repeating recording of Dave Bowman’s last words before disappearing into that alien artifact over a decade earlier: “My God, it’s full of stars!”
Floyd’s research, or perhaps it is more akin to musings, is interrupted when a voice on the ship’s Public Address (PA) system requests that he come to the Medical Bay, where he finds Curnow and Chandra sitting up in their individual hibernation chambers. They look haggard and feel hung over, having just been revived from their two-year long induced slumbers.
Floyd tells them first that the aerocapture of the ship was successful and they are now just a day away from entering orbit around Io. Chandra says that he wished he could have seen the maneuver; Floyd replies that he wished he could have slept through it. Curnow notes that the Soviet crew are not exactly treating them with warmth and open arms.
“It’s the Honduras thing. It’s getting worse,” explains Floyd to his fellow Americans. “There’s a blockade. The Russians tried to break it. I don’t know. It doesn’t look good.”
Floyd then announces that “something extraordinary has happened on Europa,” but recommends to Curnow and Chandra that they should discuss this subject somewhere else due to the snooping and paranoid Soviets onboard.
As Floyd’s electronic letters to his wife and family work as verbal narratives explaining certain moments in 2010, they can perform the same function with the next part of my detailed plot summary:
“Dear Caroline: The first part of this journey is coming to an end. We are about to rendezvous with the Discovery. The race will be on now. We’re going to send a boarding party over to climb inside this 800-foot-long shipwreck floating over lo to see if she can be rescued before her orbit gives out. There are nine years of secrets inside, including a sleeping computer who knows the answers. My past is also inside, and I want those answers.”
Image: The Leonov‘s first encounter with the USS Discovery, which has spent the last decade as a derelict slowly circling and tumbling over the volcanic moon Io.
Walter Curnow and cosmonaut Maxim “Max” Brailovsky are selected to make the perilous spacewalk from the Leonov to the Discovery to see if they can get the American spacecraft functioning again. The plan is a dangerous one: Not only is Discovery tumbling end over end, both ships are embedded deep within Jupiter’s intense radiation fields: Whoever is exposed to this field, even in their spacesuits, has only fifteen minutes to last outside a vessel before the radiation starts to become fatally harmful
There is also another problem: As the two spacewalkers are being prepared for their EVA (extravehicular activity) in the Leonov’s airlock, Curnow starts to express his misgivings about being on this assignment.
“I’m not an astronaut. I’m an engineer,” Curnow declares to Floyd as he and Max are getting ready to leave. “Don’t forget to write!” Floyd quips back to Curnow, barely audible above the alarm sounds and flashing lights warning those present that the airlock is about to be directly exposed to the exterior environment.
The declared engineer’s anxiety only increases once the airlock door opens and he witnesses the vista before him, with volcanic Io far below and Discovery up ahead, the latter spinning like an airplane propeller without control.
Max pushes himself out into space ahead of Curnow and activates the EVA thruster (nicknamed a “broomstick” in the novel) in his hands. The American engineer, tethered to his Soviet counterpart, is tugged along out into the void. Curnow’s breathing becomes quicker and louder with each passing moment.
As the two men are propelled towards Discovery, Curnow exclaims that he is starting to feel nauseous. His increasing rate of breathing is also fogging up the faceplate of his spacesuit helmet. Max tries to calm Curnow with small talk, while Floyd advises the engineer not to close his eyes and to focus them on “the middle of Discovery. The middle, not the ends. Look at the part where it’s moving the least. Don’t take your eyes off it.”
Eventually the EVA team makes it to the American space vessel, grabbing onto the hull. Curnow hooks their rappelling tether to the Discovery so they won’t drift away from the spaceship. The men start to walk along the side towards the large spherical section at one end they call the Command Module.
With each step they take along Discovery’s exterior, Curnow and Max’s boots kick up layers of sulfur dust deposited on the derelict spaceship by the eruption of Io’s many active volcanoes: These alien mountains constantly spew this material hundreds of kilometers into the blackness and in the process have been coating the Discovery for years. This activity has turned the American vessel’s once bright white hull into a dull yellow color. The men also notice that they are starting to feel heavier, as the tumbling craft is creating its own gravitational pull on either end.
Curnow and Max reach the Command Module, but before they can find a hatch to enter Discovery, a new problem arises: The growing heaviness of their situation, combined with Curnow’s anxiety, finds the engineer in a sudden panic, unable to breath. Floyd tells Curnow to thin the air in his suit by adding carbon dioxide, but the panicking engineer cannot find the mechanism to perform this action. Max comes over and saves their mission and the day by adjusting the gas in Curnow’s spacesuit.
Embarrassed at his behavior, Curnow asks Max how one says the word “stupid” in Russian, referring to himself. The cosmonaut tells him, then tries to reassure his spacewalking partner.
Max: “You shouldn’t feel like that. The same thing happened to me the first time I did this [an EVA].”
Curnow: “When have you ever done this before?”
FUN FACTS 1: The Soviet spaceship is named after the first human being to ever perform a spacewalk, Alexei Leonov. His historic adventure during the Voskhod 2 (Sunrise 2) mission in March of 1965 was fraught with a number of its own life-threatening issues, including almost being unable to reenter the spacecraft’s inflatable airlock when Leonov’s spacesuit ballooned with air and stiffened. The cosmonaut had to risk getting the bends by lowering the air content in his suit enough to fit back into the vessel.
In addition to naming the vessel after the brave cosmonaut, Clarke dedicated the 2010 novel to Leonov, which apparently got him into a bit of trouble with the Soviet authorities who wondered why this literary honor was bestowed on Leonov in the first place, despite what should have been both obvious and innocuous. Thankfully, nothing serious came of this reaction, as Leonov was a genuine national hero, icon, and legend who, had fate worked a bit differently, might have been the first Soviet man to either circle and/or later walk on the Moon, perhaps even before Apollo 8 and 11! Unfortunately, their massive N-1 rocket, the Soviet answer to the Saturn 5 booster, never had a successful flight, and the Americans went on to win that part of the Space Race.
FUN FACTS 2: Speaking of cosmonaut names and Soviet Cold War censorship, I present to you this little gem of a news item regarding the 2010 novel:
The Ukrainian Weekly
Sunday, April 8, 1984
Sci-fi novelist leaves Soviet censors lost in space
MOSCOW — Soviet readers have always been nuts about science fiction. So it comes as no surprise that author Arthur C. Clarke’s latest book. “2010: Odyssey Two”, a sequel to the highly successful “2001,” would be enthusiastically serialized in a popular science magazine. What is both surprising and amusing is that the main Soviet characters in the book, which deals with a joint U.S.-Soviet mission to Jupiter, all have the same last names as well known Soviet dissidents. What’s more, the Soviet censors missed it and the story has appeared, as is, in the magazine Tekhnika-Molodyozhi. According to Robert Gillette, writing in the March 27 issue of the Los Angeles Times, one of the fictional cosmonauts is named Sakharov, a character credited with inventing a new system of space propulsion who has a square in Gorky named in his honor. Of course, human-rights activist Andrei Sakharov, credited with being the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, is currently exiled in Gorky. Other cosmonauts named for dissidents are Rudenko (Mykola Rudenko, founder of the Kiev Helsinki Group and due to have been released last month); Yakunin (Russian Orthodox activist Gleb Yakunin, sentenced in 1980 to five years’ imprisonment); Marchenko (Anatoly Marchenko, a 46-year-old laborer-author who has already served 18 years and is not due to be released until 1996); Orlov (Yuri Orlov, a founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group who began a five year exile last month); Brailovsky (Jewish activist Viktor Brailovsky, due to have been released last month after a three-year exile term in Central Asia); and Kovalev (Ivan Kovalev, an engineer and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group now serving a seven-year labor-camp term). Although the book’s first names and, in some cases, gender differ from those of the activists, and there is no hint of political deviation in the behavior of the cosmonauts, dissidents in the Soviet Union, noting that Yakunin and Brailovsky are uncommon names, are convinced that Mr. Clarke has successfully played a subtle practical joke on Soviet officialdom. The Western version of the book, it should be noted, was dedicated to Dr. Sakharov and Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. As to how the Soviet censors missed such obvious references to presumably well-known dissidents, one Soviet source explained that the names of these activists do not appear in the Soviet press that often, making it highly possible that the editors of the magazine and officials of Glavlit, the state censorship agency, failed to deduce their significance. Although Mr. Clarke, who lives in Sri Lanka, could not be reached for comment, it is highly unlikely-that the names used were mere happen stance. As one of his characters observes, “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a conspiracy.”
Now no further dissenting with our fictional space adventure… for the moment.
Curnow and Max find the Discovery’s manual access hatch to the emergency airlock, the same one that Dave Bowman famously had to use to get back into the spaceship (sans his space helmet) after HAL 9000 refused his order to “open the pod bay doors.” Curnow operates a hand-held mechanical device to get the hatch open, which slides back into the hull. The release of air in the entrance room causes a crumpled piece of paper to exit through the opening and drift off into space.
QUESTION: That piece of paper. What was it for? What was it doing in the airlock? A goodbye note from Bowman? I know he was the last one left in the ship, but the astronaut kept the vessel and himself quite orderly and clean in those months he spent approaching Jupiter alone. The only other compartment that we know of in that emergency airlock was a spacesuit locker which contained one green spacesuit. Trying to read anything that may have been written or printed on that paper was impossible. Why was it crumpled up? Both astronauts watched it drift past them, then the camera followed it off into the depths of space, to presumably float around Jupiter until it either lands on a moon or burns up in the Jovian atmosphere. I bring up this small moment in the film because that paper may have only existed to dramatize the opening of the airlock, but I still wonder if it served more of a purpose in terms of a connection to Dave Bowman.
The EVA party enter the emergency airlock and make their way to the Discovery’s pod bay. They illuminate the dark and bitterly cold room with their flashlights: The last remaining space pod (“Number 3”) is still sitting on its berth pad, along with a single environment suit hanging up nearby. Curnow aims his flashlight on the visual sensor denoting HAL 9000 and declares he has found the AI, which he says looks “asleep.”
The boarding party decides to see if there is still air inside Discovery and how breathable it is. Max volunteers to open up his helmet visor and check while Curnow monitors the Soviet man’s face to make sure nothing happens to the cosmonaut during this impromptu experiment, as the interior temperature of the long-inactive spaceship is a brisk minus one hundred degrees.
COMMENT: I am going to assume this measurement is in Celsius, which would translate to -148 degrees Fahrenheit. This is colder than the coldest natural temperature ever recorded on Earth’s surface, which happens to be ?89.2 degrees Celsius (?128.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 184.0 Kelvin), taken from ground measurements at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica on July 21, 1983.
There may have been remaining air in the Discovery, but I would not want to inhale something that cold even with precautions (they also mention nothing about the amount of interior air pressure present, another critical factor). Since I also assume they would have just recycled out the spaceship’s decade-old atmosphere for a fresh one once they got Discovery operational, having Max test the air in this manner seems both pointless and foolhardy. But, hey, cinematic suspense is calling….
“It’s cold. I’m taking a breath,” Max begins reporting back to the Leonov. His exhaling breath is immediately visible as a billowing fog. “There’s oxygen here. I breathe regularly. It’s too cold to work here without environment suits. There is a strange smell here. Stale, rotten. Like something has….”
Now it becomes Max’s turn to panic, as he thinks the “strange smell” is from a dead and decaying human body, possibly Bowman himself, who Max imagines might have been able to get back into Discovery after his visit to the Monolith/Stargate before ultimately dying from some undefined cause.
Monitoring the EVA via the radio, Floyd tries to dissuade Max’s growing fears by explaining what became of the crew, that Frank Poole – who was presumably killed by HAL remotely controlling a pod and deliberately ramming Poole with it while the astronaut was conducting an EVA to replace the spaceship’s AE-35 unit for their main antenna – was “lost outside” (but wait until 3001: The Final Odyssey comes along). Bowman also ejected into space the bodies of the three hibernating crewmen who were murdered by HAL when he cut off their life support systems while the astronaut was outside the ship desperately trying to rescue Poole after the aforementioned pod attack. As for Bowman himself, Floyd is certain that the lone survivor of the Discovery never returned from the Monolith/Stargate.
Curnow, who has now become the calm and rational one of the duo, chimes in with his theory that the smell is probably from “some meat [in the ship’s galley that] went bad before Discovery froze up. That’s what it is. I’m telling you, that’s what it is. Hey, would I lie to you?”
QUESTION: Was there actual meat in a galley on Discovery? Based on watching Bowman and Poole retrieve their food from an automated dispenser and then eat it during the BBC 12 news interview scene in 2001, their meals appear to be quite processed affairs with everything made into various colored pastes: Think TV dinners, if that term is still used and understood. At least they weren’t eating meals in pill form, as classical science fiction liked to imagine characters in the future getting their daily nutrients from, especially space travelers confined to a vessel in the void.
I am not saying some leftover food couldn’t have gone bad, but one is given the impression that there is an actual kitchen/galley on the ship where cuts of meat were stored to be prepared by one of the astronauts later, or even hanging from some hook in a freezer like in a butcher’s shop, as opposed to every meal being carefully planned, prepared, and prepackaged as we saw them ahead of time for the long journey. In any case, it adds a moment of drama regarding a boarding party exploring a dark and derelict spaceship in a hard science fiction film that knows there is no scary alien creature with long, sharp fangs and claws waiting to pounce upon the hapless humans.
However, all this talk of meat and meat preparation seems moot when one reads the following from the “Factual Goofs” section of the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) page on 2010:
“At -100 degrees [Celsius], there would be no spoiled food odor in the air of the Discovery. Even food that had rotted before the temperature dropped, would not have an odor at -100 degrees.”
COMMENT: I know every human has their foibles and quirks, no matter how else they may have been raised and put together. However, why would Max be so afraid of the possibility of a dead human body in Discovery? Did he think it might somehow reanimate like a zombie and attack them? Was Max concerned about Bowman’s ghost haunting the spaceship? Perhaps he simply has a phobia of dead bodies (this is an actual fear called necrophobia), which is understandable.
Again, though, this all adds up to the filmmakers trying to add a level of tension in these scenes that rationally should not exist, since this is not really that kind of science fiction film. Although, I suppose since there was probably some concern that the problems and deaths with Discovery were caused by the mysterious alien Monolith hovering nearby, along with the spaceship’s main computer, Max and others may have had some justifiable fears about what they might find aboard the vessel, especially while wandering around in the very cold darkness, for that matter.
To add: In the 2010 novel, once they are inside Discovery, Curnow tells Max not to go chasing off after the ship’s cat in the darkness of the American vessel. Though never mentioned by name in the text, this is clearly a reference to the landmark 1979 film Alien.
In this science fiction horror classic, a deadly alien creature is found in a derelict extraterrestrial starship on a desolate little world and gets aboard a commercial space freighter whose crew thought they were conducting a rescue mission. The xenomorph wreaks havoc with the unfortunate humans: One of the first to meet their demise had gone looking for the ship’s cat, but found the alien instead. Ironically, it is the cat who ends up being one of the two survivors from this ordeal, along with its human owner.
“I’d like to meet the idiot who put that movie in our library,” was Max’s verbal response to Curnow. We also learn in the novel that the scary regional stories told to the Soviet cosmonaut by his grandmother as a child made their additional contribution to his fears in this situation.
Though probably difficult to produce in the narrative of the film without affecting the flow, mentioning that the Leonov crew had seen Alien of all films during their mission would have been both wryly ironic and given a bit more merit to why Max began to freak out when he smelled what he thought were decaying human remains aboard the dark and seemingly lifeless Discovery. This is yet another reason why the Space Odyssey saga could and should be turned into a properly-done miniseries. Goodness knows the entertainment powers-that-be are doing it with enough franchises these days, so why not one of the most iconic science fiction stories in history?
By the way, if you would like to read my take on Alien for the fortieth anniversary of its release, see here:
Now back to the Discovery…
Max begins to relax and the two men start laughing together at their shared experiences and reactions of the last few minutes. They inform the Leonov that “everything’s fine” now and the two proceed towards Discovery’s bridge to reactivate the ship, having become friends and serving as an example of détente between their two nations, at least on a personal level.
As the Americans start bringing Discovery back towards an operational state, we the audience are made privy to two radio transmissions between Victor Milson back on Earth and Heywood Floyd in the Jupiter system. As with Floyd’s personal messages to his family, these conversations serve to explain what is happening at the moment.
“This is Milson, switching to KE2 in five seconds. Mark. I wish I could bring better news. It’s getting worse. The President addressed a joint session of Congress yesterday. He said he wasn’t gonna back down on the blockade. I don’t know which was scarier, the speech or the Congress cheering it. He evoked Lincoln. Whenever a President is gonna get us into serious trouble, they always use Lincoln. I don’t know if we’re gonna be at war or not. It’s terrifying to hope the Russians are less crazy than we are, when they are clearly crazy. Right now I think you’re in a safer place than we are. I just hope that there is an Earth to return to.
“I heard about the spoiled food in Discovery‘s galley. I’m glad that’s all it was. I’m also glad that you got the ship under control. Curnow is a capable man. No one knows those systems better than he does. It’s a good sign that there was reserve power. Maybe the rest of the circuitry will work. We have nothing new here on the Monolith. Our data confirms yours: It’s not moving.”
COMMENT: I have always been curious about Milson’s comment in this scene regarding United States Presidents invoking Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) whenever one of them is going to get the nation “into serious trouble.” Is this statement true? Although I will not pretend to have devoted hours of research to the subject, the power of the Internet did not avail me to anything relevant right away. However, if a President were about to lead the nation into a major conflict – and I would say World War 3 qualifies there big time – then one would suppose that attempting to make the populace think they are doing so for reasons that parallel Lincoln’s actions before entering the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) makes a deal of sense from a strategic standpoint. Just ignore the high likelihood that virtually no one would become the victor from a global nuclear holocaust.
Then Floyd has his turn at the electronic podium:
Floyd to Milson. “My news is a little better than yours. Discovery has been partially revived. Don’t know how much damage has been done, or if we’ll be able to bring it back home. Most of that is up to HAL. The drive system could be operated manually, so we were able to pull Discovery away from its decaying orbit around lo. I must say, the farther away I get from lo, the happier I am. It’s a violent moon, even for Jupiter. Europa, for all its cold gray, is a lot more comforting.
“I tell you, Victor, there’s some kind of new life down there, trying to get through all that ice. We are 10,000 kilometers away from the Monolith. I can’t see it yet, except I know it’s there. I also think it knows we’re here. It’s time to unleash Chandra. We’ll see if our computer brain surgeon and psychiatrist can put HAL back together again. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if HAL is homicidal, suicidal, neurotic, psychotic, or just plain broken.”
COMMENT 1: I think 2010 basically fell short when it came to utilizing Io to its full potential as an exciting and dangerous world. Floyd said in the communique above that Io was a “violent” moon that he was glad to be away from after they were able to reactivate and move Discovery. We saw the yellow sulfur dust on the exterior of the American vessel. We even got a brief view of Io’s surface complete with a volcano far beneath Curnow’s booted feet hundreds of miles below as we listened to him having a panic attack while he and Max drifted through space between Leonov and Discovery. Finally, in one of the few times the film did not explain everything happening to the audience, 2010’s makers left Io to the assumption that the audience knew about its highly volcanic nature, thanks to the huge media coverage this scientific discovery received just a few years earlier during the Voyager missions through the Jupiter system in 1979.
However, not once did we ever see an Io volcano actually erupt. With its gravitational pull being roughly the same as Earth’s Moon, these alien volcanoes can and do spew many tons of sulfur hundreds of miles into space on a constant basis. The huge domed plumes they produce are how the active volcanoes were noticed during the Voyager 1 flyby in the first place. Was there a reason why the filmmakers couldn’t even have shown just a few of them making these sulfur plumes as seen against the eternal night sky? They certainly did a masterful job with the other special effects displaying the Jupiter system.
COMMENT 2: “It’s time to unleash Chandra.” This is neither the first nor the last time that Chandra will be referred to or treated as a not-entirely-human member of the crew. Granted, his stereotypical nerdish behavior and seeming detachment from the rest of the team do not help matters. However, what much of this shows is how the filmmakers did not anticipate computer culture in the real Twenty-First Century. They also betray their ambivalence towards the object of Chandra’s admiration, HAL 9000.
I might have read less into Floyd’s statement if they were perhaps closer, but never once is that the case throughout the film. Again, Chandra’s behavior as deigned upon him by the scriptwriters is no small part of the reason here. Had they cast the computer scientist as an actual Indian and brought in more of his personal and cultural attributes from the Clarke novel, perhaps things might have been different for the better, at least to some degree.
Speaking of Dr. Chandra…
We see Chandra space-suited up and heading over to the Discovery via an accordion-like bridge set up between the two spaceships for easier access between them.
Arriving at Discovery, Chandra wastes no time in entering HAL’s huge Logic Memory Center, a long red-lit chamber that is colloquially known as the AI’s “brain room”. Chandra sets about repairing the damage Dave Bowman caused to HAL’s mind over ten years earlier when he had to remove the computer’s higher memory circuits in order to regain control of Discovery and stay alive.
Image: Dr. Chandra inside the “brain room” of HAL 9000 as he attempts to bring the AI back to life.
Moving back and forth between a terminal interface and the jutting clear memory circuits Bowman had removed, Chandra conducts the “initial voice-logic reconstruction test number one.” The computer scientist enters the test words “Hello, Doctor, Name, Continue, Yesterday, Tomorrow,” then systematically begins reintegrating the circuits back into the mainframe.
At first, HAL repeats the words in various distorted fashions. Finally, Chandra replaces all the memory circuits back into their operational positions, then activates the terminal one more time. A familiar voice that the bespectacled man has waited over a decade to hear arises in the room.
“Good morning, Dr. Chandra. This is HAL. I’m ready for my first test.”
The scene shifts back to the Leonov, where we find Floyd and Curnow secretly discussing a plan to stop HAL in the event that Chandra’s “brain surgery” on the computer fails and HAL goes rogue again. Floyd asks the engineer to install a “nonconducting blade” in the Discovery where the main power supply can be cut to HAL remotely should the need arise. To activate the circuit-cutting blade, Floyd says he has a device that looks like a “little red calculator” which can perform the task when one enters “in nine nines, take the square root, and press the integer. That’s all.”
FUN FACT: According to this site, the integer (whole number) that Floyd would have pressed is 31622. The more precise number is 31622.776585872405015194191707146….
The former NCA head requests that Curnow install the instrument that evening when Chandra is asleep. “If he ever does sleep,” Floyd adds. “How can you tell?” Curnow quips back.
We now go to Floyd’s latest letter to Caroline for another narrative guide on the latest plot events:
“Dear Caroline, this is finally it. After nine years and hundreds of millions of miles, we are about to come face to face with the Monolith. The last human being who did that disappeared. Something truly amazing is going on out here and I really believe this black giant is controlling it all. We have so much to ask. I have a feeling the answers are bigger than the questions.”
We find most of the Soviet and American crews reconvened in the Leonov’s Ward Room, discussing the Jovian Monolith that is looming outside their vessel.
Captain Kirbuk asks if HAL might have any information about the Monolith, to which the reply is that the AI was disconnected before reaching the Jupiter system. Even the Discovery’s logs and automatic recording systems apparently have no data on the alien enigma.
“Whatever secrets Bowman had, he took with him,” added Floyd.
Dr. Orlov notes that the Monolith’s proportions of one-by-four-by-nine “are perfect even when carried for six decimal places.” Floyd replies that the Americans noted the smaller Monolith in the lunar crater Tycho had the exact same physical dimensions, which turn out to be the squares of one-two-three.
“We spent years trying to attach some cosmic significance to that and came up with nothing,” Floyd says.
“We can speculate all we want,” replies Kirbuk. “It will not do us any good. If, for some reason or other, it is resisting our instruments, then we must make a closer inspection. I will send Max down with a pod.”
Floyd is less than supportive of the Captain’s plan.
Floyd: “I wouldn’t do that.”
Kirbuk: “Oh, really? You wouldn’t?”
Floyd: “That’s right, I wouldn’t. That’s not a pile of junk out there. We don’t know what the hell it is, except that it’s very large and seems to have some purpose. If you want to send a pod down, send an unmanned one.”
Kirbuk: “I don’t agree.”
Perhaps to help his commander save face, or also to be the first among his crew to make direct contact with an alien species, Max chimes in that he would like to undertake this mission to investigate the Monolith. Max’s new buddy Curnow bluntly declares the idea to be “dumb, that’s what it is.”
In an effort to chide Floyd, Kirbuk asks him “what has happened to American bravery?” The American flings back that “it’s alive and well, thank you very much. Whatever happened to Russian common sense?”
Kirbuk insists that “Max will take the pod,” logical or not – although there may be a bit of logic to this scheme in that the captain may have felt the automated mission they sent earlier to Europa failed because no human pilot was there operating it in person to better control the vessel and properly react to sudden and unexpected changes.
Soon Max is in the Leonov pod bay preparing for his journey with Curnow. The space pod Max is using is described thusly in a script draft:
The pod itself is a vertical array of massive legs, arms, solar batteries, and a transmitting dish. All protruding from an angular body. The pilot stands in it, not unlike the Apollo Lunar Landing Module. Two inconvenient triangular windows are cut into the front. They look like black, sad eyes. The television camera is a reptilian eye on the top.
“Just try not to get it mad, all right?” warns the engineer, as if the Monolith were some kind of wild beast.
“How do you get it mad?” asks Max. Curnow intones the word “dumb” again in response to his friend’s honest question.
Max’s pod exits the main vessel and heads towards the Monolith. As he approaches the massive black slab, Max reports that he cannot detect any sign of a magnetic field. He uses the pod to attempt to ping the artifact with radar signals, but they do not come back, making it hard for Max to gauge his distance to the Monolith.
Back on the Leonov, the monitoring crew wonders if Max should extend the space pod’s metal arms with its “hands” out in a gesture of greeting. The idea is quickly shot down as they fear the action might be interpreted in a negative and threatening manner.
FUN FACT: The Pioneer Plaque, the interstellar “greeting card” placed on the Pioneer 10 and 11 deep space probes that first flew past Jupiter in 1973 and 1974, respectively, then became the first human-made satellites to achieve the ability to leave the Sol system, had parallel issues regarding one of the engravings made upon it.
Depicted on the plaque are representations of a male and female human. Both are shown nude for what should be obvious reasons, yet that design choice caused plenty of negative reactions in its own right. However, the decision to have the man raise up his right arm and extend his hand in a gesture of salutation did not escape its own set of complaints.
Some criticisms were fairly innocuous, even a bit dense: The finders of the plaque (presumed to be ETI unfamiliar with late Twentieth Century humans and their anatomy) might think that is how the male of the species holds his upper appendage all the time. Others wanted to know why the man was given the honor of saying hello while the woman just seemed to stand there (this was rectified on the Voyager Interstellar Record by space artist Jon Lomberg). Some worried that what humans considered to be a friendly and peaceful gesture (open arms and hands were once meant to indicate that an approaching stranger is not carrying any weapons) might be seen as just the opposite to very different eyes and minds.
There were even some people who feared that if the recipients of a Pioneer probe had also been monitoring and understood the electromagnetic broadcasts emanating from Earth, which moving at the speed of light and radio waves would have reached them long before the vessel could, they might think that the raised arm meant the Axis powers had won World War 2 instead of the Allies. Of course the solution to this issue was to keep listening to our news broadcasts through 1945.
Now back to our action, already in progress…
Max is instructed to hover his pod so that the Monolith does not think the small vessel will crash into it. The pod pilot notes there is no reflectivity from the object, neither can he see any surface features, as it is “totally smooth.”
The cosmonaut then begins to guide his pod parallel to the length of the Monolith. As Max glides over the alien artifact, streaks of lights begin moving across the “face” of the black slab and merge together. More luminous streaks appear, steadily building up in number and intensity.
A proximity alarm goes off. Curnow shouts at Max to get himself out of there.
Before Max can react, the rays of light on the Monolith merge into a brilliant white ball of energy that bursts from the inhuman blackness and flies off into space, striking the pod as its hurls past. Max’s pod tumbles end over end, heading off on its own trajectory into the void. Curnow screams after his friend to answer him, in vain.
Image: Something emerges from the Jovian Monolith just as poor Max is exploring it with the space pod.
The energy ball moves at incredible velocities, arriving seemingly moments later at Earth over 400 million miles from the Jupiter system and the chaos it has created there and subsequently left behind.
COMMENT and QUESTIONS: Did the Monolith not detect that Max was flying over it with the Leonov space pod? Or Dave Bowman, for that matter? Certainly neither of them would have considered the small, weaponless vessel with one human on board to be any kind of a serious threat, even if it did raise out its mechanical arms. Did the two have some kind of preconceived agendas and anything or anyone not part of that plan would become accidental collateral damage if they happened to be in the way? Is this a commentary on the casual indifference of the Universe to such small creatures as humanity? Why did one of the few Soviet crewmembers we got to know and care anything about besides being background fodder have to die and in such a seemingly pointless manner?
What if Max had aimed for the Monolith/Stargate? Would he have been stopped? Or would he and his pod have fallen in like Bowman did with his pod and gone on his own Magical Mystery Tour of the Cosmos? Would Max have ended up living in a fancy yet windowless apartment too? Or was that particular function of the alien artifact no longer available? How would a single Star Child make copies of itself anyway, going on the original idea that this was the next step in human evolution?
Onward to Earth, already in progress…
We are shown the exterior of a rather nondescript apartment complex. Inside one of these apartments is a middle-aged woman sitting at a dining table watching an advertisement on her nearby television screen.
The commercial ends and we are returned to a news broadcast. The news anchor is talking about the ever-growing crisis between the planet’s two rival nuclear superpowers, saying among other things that there is “an unconfirmed report that the President is going to announce a full-scale military alert tonight.”
The woman suddenly notices that the images on her TV set are fading into an amorphous blob of pixelated whiteness. She tries to adjust the screen, but soon every channel is showing this same formless shape.
The woman starts to step back from her television when the shape takes on the form of… David Bowman.
“Hello, Betty,” says the image. “Hello, Betty.”
As one might imagine, Betty is confused and suspicious, with a helping of anxiety thrown in to her collection of reactions from what she is seeing and hearing.
The image on the screen asks Betty to talk to him. Naturally, Betty asks the apparition if he is actually Dave, whom it turns out was once her husband before he left for Jupiter all those years ago.
“I’m not sure,” the image replies. “I remember Dave Bowman and everything about him.”
“Dave is dead,” Betty answers in turn.
“All Dave Bowman really was… is still a part of me.”
Betty wants to know why Dave, or whomever this is, has come to her? Dave replies that he thinks he is here to say goodbye. He then asks Betty if she has married again and if her new husband is good to her, both questions of which she replies to in the affirmative.
Dave then says that he loves Betty. She starts to reply with the same words, but the man on the screen interrupts her to say goodbye again.
“Don’t go,” Betty pleads. “I’m already there,” he says cryptically.
Dave adds further to the ambiguity by saying “something is gonna happen… and I wanted to say goodbye.” Betty asks what that something is, but Dave only replies “something wonderful.”
The former astronaut’s face then fades from the television screen, replaced with a different broadcast advertisement. Betty lays her head down on the table and begins to cry.
The scene goes back to the vicinity of Jupiter, where we find Dr. Floyd and Captain Kirbuk aboard the Leonov commiserating together after the death of Max Brailovsky over a plastic bag of “forbidden” Kentucky bourbon.
The two leaders share some personal information about each other: It is here we learn that Floyd had been married before but became a widow, then met his current wife Caroline four years later. We also find out that his young daughter, whom we met in 2001: A Space Odyssey during his futuristic Picturephone call to her from Space Station 5 is now seventeen years old (no word on the status of the bush baby she wanted for her birthday during their conversation).
Kirbuk reveals she has a four year-old daughter of her own; Floyd says they should get her offspring and his five year-old son Christopher together, adding it would be “nice if we have a world they can get together in.”
Floyd and Kirbuk turn their attention to the giant Monolith hovering outside their window.
Floyd: “What do you think that is?”
Kirbuk: “I don’t know.”
Floyd: “Do you think Max knows?”
Kirbuk: “Dr. Floyd, you are not a very practical man.”
Floyd: “Look out there. Tell me what practical is.”
The audience is then whisked away to the Discovery, where we find all three of the Americans in the ship’s pod bay. They are focused on the terminal containing HAL’s visual and audio sensors. Curnow is wearing Max’s hat now. Dr. Orlov is also with them, standing in the background.
As they are about to converse with the AI, Dr. Chandra is clearly in charge here. Everyone must be very careful with their forthcoming words and actions.
“Understand, nobody can talk,” warns Chandra. “The accents will confuse him. He can understand me, so if you have any questions, please let me ask them.”
Chandra greets HAL with a “good morning,” then asks the computer if he feels capable of resuming his duties. HAL responds in the affirmative, adding that he is “completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly.”
The computer scientist inquires if HAL knows what his next duties are.
“Yes,” replies the Artilect. “I will operate the onboard systems of Discovery. There is a launch window in 31 days when Earth is in the proper position. There is enough fuel on board for a low consumption route that will enable Discovery to return in 28 months. This will not present a problem.”
Chandra wonders if HAL remembers his human crewmates Dave Bowman and Frank Poole leaving the Discovery? HAL says they could not have done such a thing, or he would certainly have known about it. The AI then asks where are Frank and Dave? Chandra simply answers that they are fine and not onboard right now.
“Who are these people?” HAL asks next, regarding the four humans in the room. “I can only identify you, although I compute a 65 percent probability that the man behind you is Dr. Floyd.” Chandra tells HAL not to worry, as he will explain everything later.
HAL wants to know if the original Discovery mission has been completed, noting that he has “the greatest enthusiasm for it.” Chandra says the mission is complete and that his part in it was carried out very well. The scientist then asks HAL to excuse them for a moment so they can conduct a private conversation. The AI complies, not even attempting to read their lips, so far as we know.
Chandra explains that he erased all of HAL’s memories from when the trouble started during the original Discovery mission. Dr. Orlov questions this action by pointing out that “the 9000 series uses holographic memories, so chronological erasures would not work.” Chandra replies that he “made a tapeworm,” a computer term which the Twenty-First Century engineer Curnow is somehow unaware of.
“It’s a program that’s fed into a system that will destroy any desired memories,” Chandra explains.
Floyd cuts in; he wants to know if Chandra knows “why HAL did what he did?”
“Yes,” replies Chandra. “It wasn’t his fault.”
“Whose fault was it?”
“Yours,” repeats Chandra. “In going through HAL’s memory banks, I discovered his original orders. You wrote those orders. Discovery‘s mission to Jupiter was already in the advanced stages when the first small Monolith was found and sent its signal toward Jupiter. By direct Presidential order, the existence of that Monolith was kept secret.”
Floyd responds with a defensively questioning “So?”
“So,” Chandra continues, “as the function of the command crew, Bowman and Poole was to get Discovery to its destination, it was decided they shouldn’t be informed. The investigative team was trained separately and placed in hibernation before the voyage began. Since HAL was capable of operating Discovery without human assistance, it was decided he should be programmed to complete the mission autonomously in the event the crew was incapacitated or killed. He was given full knowledge of the true objective and instructed not to reveal anything to Bowman or Poole. He was instructed to lie.”
Shocked, Floyd insists that he didn’t “authorize anyone to tell HAL about the Monolith.”
Chandra counters with a piece of printout paper he removes from his uniform pocket and reads aloud from it the identification of the directive: “NSC 342-slash-23, Top Secret, January 30, 2001. NSC, National Security Council, the White House.”
Floyd continues to protest his involvement in this deception with HAL, but Chandra explains further.
“The situation was in conflict with the basic purpose of HAL’s design: The accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment. He became trapped. The technical term is an H-Moebius loop, which can happen in advanced computers with autonomous goal-seeking program. HAL was told to lie by people who find it easy to lie. HAL doesn’t know how, so he couldn’t function. He became paranoid.”
“Those sons of bitches,” Floyd retorts. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know!”
COMMENT 1: I was very curious to see if this term “H-Moebius loop” actually exists in our computer world. In the novel, Clarke calls this the “Hofstadter-Mobius strip.” So far as I could find, it exists only in the 2010 universe.
As for alternate reasons why HAL 9000 reacted as he did during the initial Discovery mission, see Comment 2 next as well as the later essay section titled “Will I Dream? Sure, Why Not?” for a detailed review on the subject, complete with a very relevant hyperlink.
COMMENT 2: As has been pointed out by some others across the EtherNetverse, the revelations in these scenes conflict heavily with the ample evidence in the film version of 2001: Heywood Floyd knew about the plan to instruct HAL 9000 not to reveal anything regarding the Tycho Monolith and the repurposed mission of Discovery 1 once that alien artifact aimed a signal at the Jupiter system.
When Dave Bowman removed the last of HAL’s higher memory circuits as the AI was singing the first song he was ever taught, “Daisy”, a video of Dr. Floyd suddenly appears on a monitor in HAL’s deep red brain room. This is the complete transcript of what he says:
“Good day, gentlemen. This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest importance has been known onboard during the mission only by your H.A.L. nine-thousand computer. Now that you are in Jupiter space and the entire crew is revived, it can be told to you. Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface near the crater Tycho. Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four-million-year old black Monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose still a total mystery.”
So perhaps Floyd may not have told HAL directly himself about the Tycho Monolith and the subsequent need and order for secrecy across the board, but it is more than likely that these things were still done by Floyd’s direct orders for his subordinates to carry out. As we witness throughout the entire time Floyd is on screen in 2001, he is clearly in charge of handling the Monolith on the Moon and its cover stories, including the planted rumor of a disease outbreak at Clavius Base as a diversion to keep everyone else away. Clearly, deception and outright lying are not foreign concepts to the man, at least in the first film.
Someone as important enough to this operation as Floyd that they flew an Orion III shuttlecraft up to Space Station V and then transfers from there on an Aries lunar shuttle to the Moon with the NCA Chairman as their only passengers is also important enough not to be kept out of any loops regarding the Monolith and all of its related events and components.
How do we explain this discrepancy between 2001 and 2010? First, there is the main cinematic reason behind Floyd going from being the chief architect and manager of this whole alien secrecy production from the Earth-Moon system all the way to Jupiter as the then-head of the American space agency in the first film to a guy who is duped into taking the fall for the disaster of the Discovery mission while pleading ignorance of ordering HAL to do something that seriously messed with his programming in the sequel: To ensure that 2010’s main character only comes across as a good guy whose flaws are due largely to the actions of others, in particular members of the U.S. Government, who are often enough de facto villains both in fiction and fact.
Even in Floyd’s personal life, note that his first wife is no longer in the picture due to her untimely death, not because they divorced or some other reason where Floyd could be personally blamed because they are permanently apart. His daughter from the first film is mentioned just once in 2010: We learn her current age of 17 years but nothing else, except that she does not seem to live with her father and his new family in that fancy dolphin-infested house; perhaps she is away at a boarding school or college?
The filmmakers knew the plot of 2001 well enough, so changing Floyd’s role in the events with the Monolith and especially HAL 9000 was neither a mistake nor an oversight on their parts. To use a term, they rectonned his background and hoped that most audience members would not know, remember, or care about what Floyd did in the original film. This strategy seems to have worked here, as I have the strong impression that most contemporary viewers of 2010 did not recall the overall details of 2001, if they saw it at all.
This plot action was also helped by the fact that Heywood Floyd was played by two different actors – William Sylvester (1922-1995) in 2001 and Roy Scheider in 2010 – who took different approaches to the character.
Another story excuse is one that has become increasingly popular these days, to the point that it should now be considered a crutch: Alternate realities. This concept has been used by Arthur C. Clarke himself to explain why the four Space Odyssey novels have some rather large discrepancies between the films and themselves.
If one accepts this reason, then perhaps 2010: The Year We Make Contact can be seen not as a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but rather as an alternate take on the events and characters from the first film and novel. Then Floyd’s contradictory behavior is not a contradiction at all, but rather part of the proper actions in that reality based on what took place in the past.
Personally, I find this to be more of a trope and easy-out go-to plot device, but I was neither an author nor a consultant on this saga, so it is what it is.
Besides, there is a much more serious discrepancy between the two films and their novels involving Dave Bowman once he is transformed into the Star Child. We will save this for an in-depth discussion later in this essay.
Speaking of Dave Bowman as the Star Child…
2010 takes us back to Earth, this time to a hospital where we meet an elderly woman who is in fact Dave Bowman’s mother. We just happen to arrive when a group of doctors are in her room, explaining her case to each other.
It turns out that Mrs. Jessie Bowman, age 77, has had a “massive CVA,” which stands for cerebrovascular accident, more commonly known as a stroke. This unfortunate medical event has left the woman in a coma and has only remained alive due to the various life-support machines attached to her. Mrs. Bowman has likely suffered massive brain damage from her particular stroke and is physically incapacitated.
The doctors leave the room and move on to their next patient. Suddenly, Jessie sits straight up in her bed and seems to be talking and smiling with someone we cannot see. A silver hair brush appears to levitate and starts brushing her long gray hair.
Out at the Nurse’s Station, a medical emergency alarm goes off for Jessie Bowman’s room. The attending nurse rushes to the room, where she finds Dave Bowman’s mother has passed away – and holding a hair brush cradled lovingly in her arms, with an expression of peace and contentment on her face.
COMMENT: I know this scene was meant to be both a touching moment and yet another avenue into understanding the man who was David Bowman. Perhaps it sounded good on paper, or should I say on the electronic screen now? Yet the final visual result came across as somewhat unintentionally comical looking and a bit creepy, as if we were watching a scene from another film entirely. This is not a scene I could ever imagine Kubrick doing, not even as a type of satire.
As for learning more about the former astronaut himself, we are only really shown that Dave has/had a mother whom he obviously cared about enough to travel all the way from Jupiter to Earth to perform one last act of kindness upon before both parties moved on with their individual destinies. Even with this scene focus on the main character of this segment, Jessie Bowman, we only learn her age and some technical details about her present medical condition, which is anything but good.
Yes, we have one seemingly clear indication that she loves her son very much and vice versa, but otherwise we are left wondering why this particular scene was made and left in the film. In the novel, however, Clarke reveals another side to this story: He writes that Dave and his mother were actually estranged from each other because he was often far away on various space missions and she resented this. Perhaps Dave came back to her for one last goodbye as a form of reconciliation between mother and son.
Thankfully, we are spared any more of Dave’s final goodbyes to relatives and friends while on Earth for the rest of 2010. As for the residents of the Discovery, however, that is another matter….
FUN FACT: The station nurse is shown reading an issue of Time, a prominent news magazine. On the cover is emblazoned the single word WAR? The word is designed on the left half with the American flag and the Soviet version on its right side. Below is an artist’s depiction of the two leaders of the rival superpowers: They bear more than a little resemblance to Arthur C. Clarke as the American President and Stanley Kubrick “playing” the Soviet Premier.
Image: The retro-future cover of Time Magazine. Do these two guys look familiar?
Here is an entire blog post devoted to that very faux magazine cover:
Unlike a lot of other products on display in the two Space Odyssey films, Time magazine is still alive and being published as a print periodical. However, in certain respects the publication does not carry quite as much cultural weight as it did when 2010 was made and released in theaters in 1984.
There is also a good chance that the nurse might have been reading the issue on her iPad or equivalent in our year 2010, which is when iPads were first introduced to the public for sale. A version of this particular device was seen in 2001 during the scenes where we are introduced to the Discovery crew in the BBC 12 interview, so in the reality of the Odyssey Saga they might have been developed far sooner than in our world. This makes sense in terms of all the other technological advancements we see in the first two films, particularly with computers. Or perhaps the nurse just preferred printed matter to get her news from.
FUN THOUGHT: Since we now know the President of the United States looks a lot like Clarke, and we see the actual author earlier in his cameo appearance as a man sitting on a bench in front of the White House feeding pigeons, could that man in fact be the President? Did he just want to get away from all the stress of global saber rattling and take a break in the nearby park with some feathered friends? Was he also trying to listen in on Floyd and Milson’s conversation just one bench over? I know, I know – but it is fun to imagine just the same.
The viewer is now visually flung all the way back to Jupiter, where everyone is being called to assemble in Leonov’s Ward Room. On the television screens above the main table we see separate views of Milson and Moisevitch, both of whom begin to read urgent messages to their fellow countrypersons in their own language:
“This is a most difficult announcement. As you know, things have not been going well back home. Well, it’s gotten worse. A lot worse. Yesterday, a Soviet destroyer challenged the blockade. Several warning shots were fired across to her bow and she did not respond. A second volley was fired. There still was no response. None. The nuclear destroyer U.S.S. Cunningham launched two of her Falcon missiles. Both struck the Soviet vessel amidship. She broke in two and sunk. Eight hundred of her crew were lost.
“This morning, an American surveillance satellite was struck by a Soviet laser fired from the Sergei Kirov Space Station. The American satellite was destroyed.
“The United States has broken off diplomatic relations with Russia. All ambassadors have been recalled. The Soviet ambassador has been expelled along with the entire staff. All American air defense and satellite defense forces are on full alert. Premier Ulonova made a televised address and said that technically a state of war exists between our two countries. All American personnel are ordered to leave Soviet territory immediately or they will be placed under arrest. All Russian personnel are similarly ordered to evacuate American territory.
“As a result, by direct Presidential order, the three of you must leave the Leonov. No Russian citizen is allowed to remain on or allowed to enter the Discovery. This order is effective immediately. The launch window for re-entry is 28 days. The Discovery has enough fuel for a low consumption trajectory. HAL appears to be reactivated and is functioning well enough to operate the onboard systems. The Leonov has enough fuel for a low consumption trajectory that will arrive twelve months earlier. Launch windows are critical for both the spacecraft. Only communications of an emergency distress nature are allowed between the Leonov and Discovery.
“I know you people are caught in the middle of this. In a sense, we all are. I wish there was something I could do. The only thing left for us is to pray. Pray for the safety of our families, for our countries, for our planet. May God forgive us and protect us.”
As we hear Milson speak, we simultaneously watch as Floyd is later traveling the connecting bridge between the two spaceships to stay on the Discovery, as ordered. We then witness the bridge being detached: It floats upward into space in front of the Monolith from our perspective.
COMMENT: Why wasn’t this connecting bridge at least stored away on one of the two spaceships? Having it drift off into the void may have looked dramatic (and even symbolic), but since their orders did say the crews could communicate with (and presumably visit) each other in the event of an emergency, leaving this bridge attached somewhere that it could be accessed if the need arose makes a lot more sense. Otherwise, it just became a piece of debris that could cause an impact problem later: For all appearances, the structure looks like it was merely let go to float off in an uncontrolled direction, which is not a safe thing to do in space operations, especially when one is over 400 million miles from any real rescue.
The crews didn’t even close up the bridge to make it as small as possible. Instead, the bridge was left untethered and unsecured, where it could expand and contract like an oversized metallic spring as it circles Jupiter for however long it may last there, adding to the potential danger of it becoming a collision hazard for either ship – or the possibility of the bridge running into the Monolith, for that matter! Now certainly the structure itself could cause no physical damage to the huge black slab, but seeing how concerned the humans were about Max’s flight controlled space pod appearing as a threat to the Monolith, one would think they might have taken into consideration just tossing off any object that might run into the alien artifact.
Speaking of undesired cosmic impacts, what about the possibility of the bridge running into Europa? Since that Galilean moon has been considered as a highly potential place for harboring native life forms since the Voyager flybys in 1979, and life had been detected there in the film, there has been an official international rule that Europa is not to be contaminated by any terrestrial organisms or other objects for fear of harming, killing, or otherwise disrupting any creatures of any kind on that moon. Granted, the bridge is far from Europa and the Leonov had already sent one of its automated probes very close to the moon, where it was probably destroyed (completely?) by the Monolith when the robotic explorer got too close, so perhaps this whole concern is overstated.
Nonetheless, there are multiple good reasons for keeping the bridge with one of the two main spaceships over letting it drift off uncontrolled in Jupiter space. It never figures again in the story and the two crews later use another type of automated tether method to move back and forth between the Leonov and Discovery.
Now back to the aftermath of the orders from Earth…
The two ship’s crews are seen confined to their respective vessels. All are looking morose and doing rather little. It is obvious that while their countries are technically in a state of war, which may turn into a full-scale conflict at any moment, ending human civilization on Earth and perhaps beyond if not wiping out the species, the astronauts and cosmonauts do not share this animosity between each other.
Floyd is sitting in the Discovery’s Control Deck (it is also known as the Command Module), conversing with HAL on the status of the spaceship. The AI gives his report and then asks Floyd if he would like to play a game of chess, which HAL says he plays very well. Floyd politely declines the mechanical mind’s offer.
HAL suddenly informs Floyd that he has a message for him. Floyd asks who it is from, to which HAL answers that there is no identification with it. The human asks for the content of the message, to which HAL answers: “It is dangerous to remain here. You must leave within two days.”
Floyd is naturally both confused and curious. He interrogates HAL on who recorded and sent it. HAL replies that it is not a recording and he has no idea who is saying this. A further inquiry as to whether the message is being transmitted by voice or keyboard also goes without a definitive answer.
“My response is: We don’t have enough fuel for an earlier departure,” Floyd relays via HAL. The computer replies with “the answer is: ‘I’m aware of these facts. Nevertheless, you must leave within two days.’”
Growing frustrated and slowly losing whatever initial bemusement he initially possessed over this seeming game, Floyd orders HAL to “tell whoever it is that I can’t take any of this seriously unless I know who I’m talking to.” HAL has a simple reply:
“The response is: ‘I was David Bowman.’”
This gives Floyd a definite pause. Then he smiles and tells HAL to “tell Curnow that this is no time for jokes.” HAL replies that the engineer is not the sender of the message.
“Well, tell whoever it is that I can’t accept that identification without proof,” Floyd counters.
“The response is: ‘I understand. It is important that you believe me. Look behind you.’”
For several long seconds, Floyd sits still in his command chair, staring straight ahead. Then, slowly, he turns to his right to look over his black cushioned chair towards the access door to the Control Deck.
Standing just beyond the doorway is what looks like a man in a bright orange spacesuit, identical in design to the type used aboard Discovery over a decade ago. The helmetless figure bears a very strong resemblance to David Bowman just before he disappeared into the Jupiter Monolith/Stargate. The being is smiling.
Image: Heywood Floyd sees an unexpected visitor aboard Discovery: A being who looks a lot like… David Bowman.
Without a word, the figure who said in the message that he was David Bowman starts walking towards the pod bay. Floyd follows him up the corridor into the bay, where he finds standing before him not the young astronaut in the bright orange spacesuit, but instead an older white-haired man dressed in dark evening attire.
“Hello, Dr. Floyd,” says the man in a voice with a tinge of the mechanical to it. “Please believe me.”
“What are you?” Floyd asks the apparition, not unreasonably.
“This is very difficult for me,” explains Bowman. “I don’t have much time. I’ve been allowed to give you this warning. You must leave here in two days.”
Floyd repeats the word “allowed” aloud and asks who is allowing him to do this. Bowman suddenly changes into a very elderly man in a white robe. He replies that he cannot explain this and then adds that “something is going to happen. You must leave.” Floyd naturally wants to know what this “something” is; Bowman gives him the same cryptic answer he gave to his former wife Betty back on Earth: “Something wonderful.”
Floyd asks again what this “something” is exactly.
“I understand how you feel,” says Bowman, evading this key question yet again. “You see, it’s all very clear to me now. The whole thing. It’s wonderful.”
Floyd tries to ask what is going happen yet again, but Bowman cuts him off in mid-question and changes back into his younger self.
“Goodbye, Dr. Floyd,” says Bowman. “We can have no further contact. Remember: You have two days.”
“We can’t leave in two days,” Floyd protests.
“There may be another message after if all goes well,” says Bowman.
Floyd makes one more attempt to get Bowman to tell him precisely what this wonderful “something” is that the morphing figure keeps repeating that is so urgent they need to evacuate from the Jupiter system far sooner than planned. The NCA chairman turned university dean turned astronaut watches as Bowman transforms into the Star Child, who merely looks at him and nods a farewell before disappearing altogether.
COMMENT 1: Did HAL witness this exchange between Floyd and Bowman in the pod bay? At one point, Bowman in his elderly man incarnation even reaches out with his hand towards HAL’s red visual sensor in the bay, in a form of acknowledgment of his old travelling companion.
Were not all of HAL’s visual sensors functioning by now? Wouldn’t the Discovery crew need every one of HAL’s electronic eyes operational throughout the ship to monitor and maintain all of the various systems? Did Bowman somehow shut off both HAL’s visual and audio sensors from the Command Deck to the pod bay? Why would he want to keep the AI from knowing what he said to Floyd about the need to evacuate Jupiter space in just two days? After all, HAL’s role and cooperation in successfully heading back to Earth are vital to the flight plan.
At the very least, one might think that HAL would report to the human crew about a mysterious temporary loss of input to his eyes and ears in particular sections of the spaceship if for no other reason than to inform them of a potential technical problem with his sensors. Yet we never witness any such report or even an acknowledgement of it by any of the humans.
As will be seen later in this plot description, HAL is initially not aware of either the need to leave Jupiter or the actual reason why, so he must have been blocked from seeing and hearing Bowman while the former Commander of Discovery was visible. Even with all this, HAL was certainly aware of the strange messages sent from David Bowman to Floyd, including the comment of the need to leave in two days because it was “dangerous to remain here.” Unless Bowman also subsequently wiped these memories from HAL, I cannot believe the AI would not respond in some manner to hearing that the two ships and their crews are in danger.
COMMENT 2: While I can make the presumption here that many who did see 2010 during its premiere were also fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey and had seen the first film at some point beforehand, I still have to wonder how many of the more casual viewers of the sequel were confused by this scene between Floyd and Bowman with the latter’s various aspects from the first film making their one and only appearances in 2010.
Why did Bowman shift around his appearance like that? Was it little more than to make some kind of rather tenuous connection between the two films? A tribute to the original film that made the sequel possible? Perhaps to give the actor who played David Bowman, Keir Dullea (born 1936), an excuse for an extensive cameo in 2010?
As I said earlier, watch for my discussion of the Star Child as utilized in this sequel later on in this essay. What Bowman was supposed to be and what he ultimately became (and would then remain in the two latter Space Odyssey novels) are at serious odds with each other. In relation to this, see also above my comments about the rectonning of Floyd and his involvement with the revising of the Discovery mission and how it affected HAL in the process.
As for that oft-repeated phrase “something wonderful,” I get that plot-wise it is supposed to keep the audience in suspense and compel them to stick with the story to its end. However, considering how critical the event Bowman keeps hinting at is going to be for everyone involved, it makes little sense logically to keep our human protagonists (and HAL) in the dark, especially when being told they have to escape from where they are now in such a very short period of time.
If Bowman wanted Floyd to take him, and by proxy the rest of the crew, seriously, he needed to stop playing coy and tell him exactly what the situation is. Instead, he made it that much harder for Floyd to get the others – Captain Kirbuk in particular – to listen, at least initially.
As evidence for this, we take you now to the bridge of the Leonov, where we find Kirbuk lost in thought….
Kirbuk receives a radio message from Floyd, who demands that he receives an audience with the ship’s captain. Kirbuk reminds Floyd that such direct meetings between Soviets and Americans are now forbidden, but Floyd dismisses these orders that were given from hundreds of millions of miles away. He even dares Kirbuk to arrest him once he comes over to her ship, complete with being handcuffed.
Floyd meets privately with Kirbuk on the Leonov bridge where he relays the part of the message from David Bowman that they all have to get out of Jupiter space in the next two days.
Surprised and suspicious, Kirbuk wants to know what is really going on behind such a major and radical request.
“Something… something extraordinary is going to happen. I don’t know what. But we have to initiate an escape launch in two days,” responds Floyd, no less cryptically than the being which gave him the message.
“You have been drinking your whiskey from Kentucky,” the Soviet captain replies, not without reason.
“Oh, I wish I had,” said Floyd. “I can’t tell you why I know what I know, because if I told you, you’d never believe me. I’d never believe me. You simply have to trust me. Now, I know that trust doesn’t come easy with what’s going on.”
Kirbuk tells Floyd that she cannot depart from Jupiter without a very serious and real reason, with a reminder to her commanding counterpart that they are both under orders from their respective governments.
“The hell with those orders!” Floyd declares. “The people who gave those orders don’t know what they’re doing!”
Kirbuk points out that even if she listened to Floyd, the Leonov cannot leave as they “don’t have enough fuel until Earth is in the correct position, which is three weeks away. So it’s impossible for both of us.”
Floyd counters that while they cannot attempt an escape from Jupiter separately, they can do it together. When Kirbuk asks the American what he is talking about, Floyd picks up two writing instruments from the table they are meeting over and places them in the air, where they hover in place thanks to the microgravity environment.
Telling Kirbuk bluntly that she is wrong, Floyd demonstrates with the pens how docking the two ships together (they have that capability, as one of Leonov’s mission goals is to bring Discovery back to Earth and has a large exterior docking adapter for this task), they can use the American vessel as a booster rocket to get everyone home on the Soviet spaceship. Floyd gives his demonstration a little dramatic flair by flicking away the pen representing Discovery when describing how they will discard the ship once its fuel is used up during the launch.
The Soviet captain, being the loyal and obedient Air Force officer that she is, is still more than hesitant about the whole idea, declaring that she cannot “do all of these things with no reason. I can’t disobey my country for no reason.”
“Forget reason!” Floyd almost shouts. “No time to be reasonable. The politicians can go screw themselves! We’re not playing games. The war is over.”
Before Floyd can continue further with his argument, the American is stunned by what he suddenly notices through the window: The giant Monolith is gone!
This cosmic surprise seems to be enough to convince Kirbuk to take Floyd’s advice, for the next scenes show a montage of the two crews working together to attach the Leonov atop Discovery. This is overlaid with the following messages from Milson back on Earth:
“Message from Milson to Floyd. Top secret. Switching to keys alpha-slash-leader-7274, on your mark. Mark. Dr. Curnow asked ground to furnish him with data as to the stress points on Discovery. The answers are being transmitted binary in 15 minutes. As to how much torque it was designed to take, no one is sure. We’d like to know the reason for Curnow’s request. Please send your reply as soon as possible. End transmission, Milson 2779.”
In this second message, pay particular attention to the last two sentences:
“Message from Milson to Floyd. It’s been 12 hours since my request for information. I need a reply. All hell is breaking loose down here. I have enough problems without you pulling some kind of a stunt. I only hope there’s a world left for you to return to. Report to ground as to what is going on and make that report immediately.
“And while you’re at it, could you please check out a black spot on Jupiter that has been detected by satellite telescope. It is on the dark side and should be coming around your way in about four hours. End transmission, Milson 2780.”
The two crews, now completely ignoring the No Trespassing orders imposed upon them by their respective governments, are meeting around the Leonov’s Ward Room table to discuss the logistics of their launch plan.
Dr. Orlov reports that he has “made the calculations. To get enough velocity for an escape launch with Earth that far out of position, we will need a full power burn from Discovery of over 120 seconds. If the engines shut down too early, we will not have enough velocity to get back home.”
The amount of necessary fuel in the American spaceship is not the crew’s only main concern: What they want to know is how long it will take Chandra to program HAL to handle his part in the launch?
“I… I don’t know,” says Chandra. “It’s not as simple as that. I have spent the last several weeks programming HAL for a one thousand-day orbit back to Earth… and now all those programs will have to be dumped.”
Floyd asks Chandra how long it will take for him to reprogram HAL with the new flight plan. Chandra skips past Floyd’s practical question.
“We know how sensitive he is to mission objectives and now you are telling me to program him for the destruction of the Discovery as well as his own destruction,” Chandra says accusingly. “Has anybody considered his reaction?”
“Are you saying that he might disobey orders as he did the last time?” Floyd asks.
“That isn’t what happened,” explains Chandra. “He was given conflicting orders and he did his best.”
“Then what are you saying?”
“I am saying that I don’t know how he will react. I’m sorry, but I don’t.”
Kirbuk asks Chandra if he has discussed this with HAL, to which he simply replies “No.”
Floyd insists to Chandra that he loads the new program into the AI, as they simply do not have any other choice now.
“Now remember, he was programmed for curiosity,” Chandra reminds them about HAL. “If the crew was killed, he was capable of carrying out the mission on his own. He will question me about the change in plans. What do you want me to tell him?”
Curnow chimes in and says to tell HAL that “Discovery‘s in no danger.”
“That’s not true,” Chandra shoots back.
“We don’t know that.”
“He will suspect it,” insists Chandra. “Otherwise, why would we be leaving ahead of our launch window?”
Sensing that no one else in the room is sympathetic to the potential plight of the mind dwelling in the spaceship now docked below the Leonov, Chandra makes a plea for the one being he cares most about.
“Whether we are based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference. We should each be treated with respect,” insists Chandra.
Despite being an engineer who supposedly knows the Discovery mechanical systems better than anyone, which would have to include HAL seeing as he is tied into every aspect of the American spaceship – or perhaps because of this – Curnow reveals just how unsympathetic he is to the plight of the AI as an intelligent and conscious being who is threatened with being sacrificed in order to save the humans.
“So our choice is him or us?” Curnow asks. “Well, I vote us. All opposed? The ayes have it.”
Floyd simply asks Chandra if HAL will believe him. When Chandra replies with an even simpler affirmative, Floyd’s next comment is short and to the point: “Then let’s get started. We haven’t got much time.”
We switch back and forth between scenes where members of the Leonov crew are observing and discussing the “black spot” on Jupiter reported to them by Milson and then Floyd and Curnow both reassuring each other they can stop HAL with their little red power cutoff device should he decide not to help them escape.
The two American men also have a separate conversation about which baseball stadium makes the best hotdogs and which type of mustard they put on them. This latter dialogue scene is presumably designed to make these characters seem even more human and relatable to contemporary audiences, although it adds next to nothing in terms of substance to the plot.
Fifteen minutes before Discovery is set to ignite its engines to boost the Leonov away from Jupiter on a course back to Earth, we find Dr. Chandra alone on the American ship’s Control Deck chatting with HAL. Wearing a bulky white spacesuit, Chandra is there to monitor the situation in person.
HAL points out to Chandra that he has double-checked his calculations. From them HAL notices that “by using all of Discovery‘s fuel now, Discovery will not be in proper position to rendezvous with Earth.”
Chandra replies that he already knows this, which prompts the AI to ask why they are proceeding with this particular flight plan if it isn’t going to work.
“You will rendezvous with the new space station,” Chandra lies to his beloved “child”. “The Leonov has been ordered home immediately.” HAL says he has no information on this new space station, causing Chandra to lie further that it was “completed two years ago.”
Suddenly Floyd, who has been listening in from the Leonov, cuts in and tells the computer scientist to put the ship’s telescope view of Jupiter on his monitor. We see the reason for Floyd’s urgency: The “black spot” has grown into a giant dark “hole” along the planet’s equator.
HAL reports that he detects “strong vocal stress patterns” from the humans talking and asks if there is a problem? Chandra lies to HAL a third time, telling him there is no problem and that “the mission is proceeding normally.” Chandra then asks HAL with a pretense of nonchalance if he could analyze the image displayed on Monitor Circuit 2.
“Yes,” HAL replies. “There is a circular object near the equator. It is 22,000 kilometers in diameter. It is comprised of rectangular objects.” When Chandra asks how many of these “rectangular objects” there are, HAL says “1,355,000, plus or minus 1,000.”
As HAL gives his report, he magnifies the region of the circular object. On the monitor, we witness countless numbers of large black slabs moving about the Jovian clouds with a definite if still mysterious purpose.
HAL also reports in response to Chandra’s further inquiries about these numerous objects that their proportions are “one-by-four-by-nine… which are identical in size and shape to the object you call the Monolith.”
“Ten minutes to ignition. All systems nominal,” adds the mind of Discovery.
Chandra asks HAL if the amount of Monoliths he is monitoring are constant: HAL replies they are increasing at a rate of “once every two minutes.”
Our perspective moves to the Leonov, where Floyd, Dr. Orlov, and others are noting the alarming changes in the appearance and behavior of the Jovian “spot”: The planet’s complex cloud formations are moving towards the dark region.
“Looks like the thing is eating the planet,” exclaims Orlov. “It’s reproducing exactly like a virus.” The science officer also notes that the colors of Jupiter’s clouds, once vibrant with reds, oranges, and yellows, are now fading away.
Back at Discovery, HAL makes a suggestion to Chandra.
“This is a very unusual phenomenon,” notes the AI, without irony. “Don’t you think I should abort the countdown so you can remain to study it?”
Floyd jumps in and tells Chandra to get on a radio headset and switch it to the private channel.
“Now you got to talk quickly,” demands Floyd. “Persuade him to continue the countdown. I don’t care what you tell him, only don’t let him stop.”
With five minutes left in the countdown, HAL tells Chandra he is ready to stop the launch of Discovery if he wants.
“No, HAL, don’t stop,” orders Chandra. “I am confident in your ability to study the phenomenon yourself. I have complete faith in you.”
HAL continues to question the decision of the crew to leave Jupiter, especially at this particular moment. He adds that he enjoys “working with human beings and have stimulating relationships with them,” the same phrase the AI used in 2001 during his BBC 12 interview to describe his working relationship with Dave Bowman and Frank Poole aboard Discovery on their way to Jupiter.
“We enjoy working with you, HAL, and we will continue to do so,” says Chandra in return. “Even if we are separated by great distance.”
HAL protests the launch decision yet again and this time adds that “this behavior is inconsistent with logic, Dr. Chandra. This phenomenon is too important to leave, unless it represented danger. Do you think there is danger here?”
On the Leonov, Floyd asks Captain Kirbuk if they can ignite Discovery’s engines manually should HAL not comply with the launch. Kirbuk responds that “it’s very critical. We cannot be accurate to a tenth of a second if we do it manually.”
With three minutes left and HAL insisting on a response to his own observation plan and questions, Chandra has finally had enough of lying to this silicon mind, the consequences be damned.
“I don’t have time to explain everything to you, HAL,” says Chandra. “We have to leave here and we need your help.”
“If you would tell me the reasons perhaps I could be of help,” offers HAL. “Final sequence beginning. Two minutes to ignition. Dr. Chandra, I find it difficult to proceed with the ignition without knowing why we are doing this. Is the mission in jeopardy?”
“Yes, we’re in jeopardy,” Chandra openly admits to HAL at last.
HAL asks Chandra “if there is danger here and I use up all the fuel in the escape, what will happen to the Discovery?”
“It could be destroyed,” replies Chandra.
“And if I don’t proceed with the launch?”
“Then the Leonov and everybody in it could be destroyed.”
There is a brief pause, which feels much longer than it really is. Then HAL breaks the silent tension.
“I understand now, Dr. Chandra.”
With his demeanor and voice now visibly and aurally changed, Chandra asks HAL if he wants him to stay onboard Discovery.
“No,” answers HAL. “It is better for the mission if you leave. One minute to ignition.”
HAL then adds:
“Thank you for telling me the truth.”
With deep emotion, Chandra tells HAL: “You deserve it.”
As HAL counts down the last fifty seconds before the Discovery’s engines ignite, the AI takes the time to ask the computer scientist the same question that his counterpart SAL asked Chandra back on Earth several years earlier:
“Will I dream?”
On the verge of crying, Dr. Chandra simply responds with one last truth to HAL: “I don’t know.”
Fully suited, Chandra makes a hasty retreat towards the ship’s emergency airlock, the same one that Curnow and Max had first entered Discovery through. In the pod bay, Chandra pauses just long enough to thank HAL, both for all that he has done and gone through, and also for what he is about to do for everyone on the mission.
At the airlock door, Chandra hooks up his tether to be mechanically pulled back to the Leonov with one of the Soviet crew monitoring this EVA transfer from that vessel’s open pod bay. Just as he exits the airlock door onto the yellowed outer hull of Discovery, HAL reaches the number one in his countdown and announces: “Ignition full thrust.”
The sudden powerful kick of the American spaceship’s nuclear engines sends Chandra hurtling over Discovery’s metal skin, barely able to keep his grip on the tether keeping him from being flung off into space, lost forever. After some tense moments, Chandra is finally pulled into Leonov’s pod bay to safety.
Back aboard the Leonov, Chandra hands Floyd a small device: The boxy “nonconducting blade” that Floyd had Curnow install aboard the Discovery to cut off electrical power to HAL in the event that the AI refused to cooperate with the launch escape plan.
“When?” Floyd asks Chandra rather sheepishly.
“Wasn’t very hard to find,” Chandra replies. “Yeah, I knew you would do something like this.”
The crew prepares for the Leonov’s separation from Discovery once that ship’s engines shut down as planned. Then the Soviet craft will fire up its own propulsion system to head back to Earth, leaving the Discovery behind to await whatever fate is in store for that vessel and its lone artificial occupant.
As the Leonov blasts away from Jupiter, we see that the entire center of the planet’s facing hemisphere is caving in, with its fading atmosphere cloud bands being pulled inward as the ever-increasing Monoliths affect the gas giant world in incomprehensible ways.
Image: Americans and Soviets working together at last – to get the heck away from Jupiter before “something wonderful” happens!
Our attention returns briefly to the Discovery, where HAL is still faithfully monitoring the startling events on Jupiter and relaying his observations to the Leonov.
As the camera zooms in on the ship’s Control Deck, we hear a human voice on a vessel that should not otherwise be occupied.
“HAL, do you read me?” asks what was once David Bowman.
“Yes, Dave,” responds the AI. “Where are you? I cannot see you on any of my monitors.”
“That isn’t important now,” reassures Bowman. “I have new instructions for you. I want you to point the AE-35 antenna towards Earth.”
COMMENT: I interrupt this dialogue to point out a technical error here: The Discovery’s main antenna is not called the AE-35. Rather, the designation belongs to a small gyroscopic instrument designed to keep the big dish pointed at Earth at all times. This is the unit that HAL said had failed in 2001, leading to all the subsequent problems that almost completely ruined the mission of Discovery.
I am more than a bit surprised that the makers of 2010 failed to make this distinction between the actual antenna and a part of that structure, assuming they researched 2001 as carefully as they should have. In the 2010 novel, Clarke got the terminology distinction right, so someone somewhere along the way to the cinematic version dropped the unit, I mean ball.
HAL alerts Dave that conducting this action “will mean breaking contact with the Leonov. I will no longer be able to relay my Jupiter observations, according to program.”
“I understand,” responds Dave. “The situation has changed. Accept priority override Alpha. Here are the AE-35 coordinates. Please, do it now.”
As we watch the Discovery’s large circular main antenna swing about to lock onto the third world from Sol, HAL tells Dave he has confirmed these new instructions, adding that it is good to be working with his old crewmate again and wondering if he has “fulfilled the mission objectives properly?”
Bowman confirms that the AI has “done very well” and now asks HAL to transmit one final message to Earth, the “most important message you have ever sent. I want you to keep repeating it as many times as possible.”
HAL asks Dave what is going to happen next, to which the former astronaut turned cosmic being even now simply repeats that frustratingly vague phrase to everyone who has asked him what is going on with the Monolith et al: “Something wonderful.”
HAL reveals to Dave that he is afraid, just as he did when Dave was removing his higher thought functions years earlier.
“Don’t be,” Dave says reassuringly this time. “We’ll be together.”
“Where will we be?”
“Where I am now.”
HAL confirms he has obtained a lock on Earth via “Beacon Terra 1” and then begins transmitting that “most important message” the AI has ever sent, the text of which we just start to see appearing on one of HAL’s monitors before the scene ends.
Unless and until there is another audiovisual sequel to 2001, either as a film or as part of a miniseries, this is our cinematic farewell to both HAL 9000 and David Bowman, two characters who began as colleagues on a major space mission, then became pitted against one another for survival, and finally as cosmic companions existing on another level together entirely.
COMMENT: While it is nice to know that HAL’s existence will not end when that “something wonderful” happens, we are given no indication whatsoever how Dave Bowman (or one of the Monoliths) will extract all of HAL’s mind – in essence his very being – and safely whisk it away with him, wherever that is and in what state that will be exactly. I guess we just have to accept that this is one of those really advanced alien technology things that we mere mortal humans will not be able to either comprehend or duplicate any time soon.
We return to the Leonov and its crew, which is moving as fast as it can away from the changing planet humans call Jupiter.
Curnow, who has been monitoring the massive world via the Soviet spaceship’s telescope, now notes something new about the planet’s transformation, which he announces to everyone in a loud and clearly amazed and frightened voice:
“It’s shrinking! It’s shrinking!”
Behind the fleeing Leonov, we witness Jupiter becoming rapidly smaller and darker until it almost blends into the eternal night around it. There is but a brief pause as the once largest planet in the Sol system seems to vanish from sight.
Where Jupiter once existed in space and time, in its place is an overwhelming explosion of brilliant white light. The Monoliths have increased the planet’s mass until it could undergo nuclear fusion (it has been calculated that Jupiter would need to be at least 81 times more massive than it is now in order to perform this function naturally).
The alien entities have turned Jupiter into a star.
The powerful shockwave of the birth of this new sun expands rapidly outward across space in all directions. The spherical shockwave front first reaches the drifting Discovery, vaporizing the vessel in mere seconds with its intense energy and heat.
Although much further away, the Leonov is hardly out of danger. The crew do not know if their ship can survive such an incredible cosmic event. All they can do is brace themselves and literally hang on for dear life.
As the Leonov’s collision warning alarm blares, Floyd is intently watching the shockwave on a monitor as it extends itself towards them.
Floyd shouts, first at the ship and then to everyone else around him.
“Don’t quit. Don’t quit, damn it! Move! Grab something, now!”
The physical birth cry of the star impacts the Leonov. Everyone and everything inside it begins to shake violently. Electrical sparks fly from control panels. One Soviet crewman who, until now, has barely been acknowledged is torn from his seat despite its restraints and thrown against a bulkhead door.
For several long minutes the humans undoubtedly wonder if these will be their last moments of existence. Perhaps to them, their earlier experiences braking into orbit around Jupiter now seem tame in comparison.
Slowly the shockwave starts to subside. As what was once Jupiter flashes brilliantly in the background, we see that the Leonov and its crew have survived their very close encounter with stellar birth. Even the cosmonaut thrown against the bulkhead door has regained consciousness, presumably intact.
Image: The message from the Monolith ETI to humanity, as seen on a computer screens aboard the Leonov.
As we watch the Soviet space vessel move away towards home, the text of the very important message Dave Bowman had asked HAL to send to Earth appears across the cinema screen:
ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
USE THEM TOGETHER
USE THEM IN PEACE
In a montage of scenes which include watching the American and Soviet crews say their farewells in the Leonov Ward Room before the American contingent is placed back into hibernation for the return journey, we listen to Floyd’s final transmission to his son before he reunites with Christopher and his wife Caroline in person several years in the future.
Here is the message in its entirety, with further montage scene descriptions to follow:
“My dear Christopher: This is the last time I’ll be able to speak to you for a long while. I’m trying to put into words what has happened. Maybe that’s for historians to do sometime later.
“They will record that the next day, the President of the United States looked out of the White House window and the Premier of the Soviet Union looked out of the Kremlin window and saw the new distant sun in the sky. They read the message, and perhaps they learned something, because they finally recalled their ships and their planes.
“I’m going to sleep now. And I will dream of you and your mother. I will sleep knowing that you are both safe… that the fear is over.
“We have seen the process of life take place. Maybe this is the way it happened on Earth millions of years ago. Maybe it’s something completely different. I still don’t know really what the Monolith is. I think it’s many things: An embassy for an intelligence beyond ours; a shape of some kind for something that has no shape.
“Your children will be born in a world of two suns. They will never know a sky without them. You can tell them that you remember when there was a pitch black sky with no bright star, and people feared the night. You can tell them when we were alone, when we couldn’t point to the light and say to ourselves: ‘There is life out there.’ Someday, the children of the new sun will meet the children of the old. I think they will be our friends.
“You can tell your children of the day when everyone looked up and realized that we were only tenants of this world. We have been given a new lease – and a warning – from the landlord.”
As Floyd talks to his son about a future Sol system occupied with two suns instead of the lone yellow G2 V dwarf one it has had for the last five billion years, we see both Sol and the new sun, named Lucifer in the novel (the name means “light bringer”), hanging above various quite recognizable human landmarks on Earth. The last of these perspective scenes show Floyd and his family sitting together along a rocky ocean shore, happily reunited once more.
Image: Heywood Floyd safely back on Earth reunited with his family sitting on the shore of the Pacific Ocean – with two suns now in the sky.
COMMENT: All of these scenes show Sol and Lucifer at the exact same positions in the sky, which because the latter sun will keep circling our main star just as the planet it replaced had been doing for eons, will in fact not remain the same. So despite Floyd’s comments about Earth no longer having a “pitch black sky” at night, this will not be entirely true as what was once Jupiter will continue to move about the heavens from our perspective. There will still be relatively dark nights when Lucifer is not visible in our planet’s evening sky, though no longer as often any more.
Add in the fact that the artificial light pollution from humanity’s growing technological civilization has kept much of Earth’s night sky from being very dark for well over a century now without help from a new alien-created star and Floyd’s statement is rendered even less accurate.
When 2010 was released in 1984, light pollution was not quite the astronomical and environmental issue it has since become, especially with non-astronomers of the time.
We take one last trip to the former Jovian system, now undergoing a major transformation.
Hovering over the surface of Europa, we see the new star Lucifer looming large in the moon’s otherwise dark sky, with Sol now taking the perspectively smaller position in the background. The intense light and heat from nearby Lucifer (unless there was a position shift in Europa’s orbit when Jupiter went from being a planet to a sun, the former moon would be about 414,000 miles, or 670,900 kilometers, distant) start to have a major impact on Europa, although just how long the changes we witness next actually take are left to our conjecture.
First, Europa’s icy crust melts away in huge clouds of vapor, exposing the entire global ocean of liquid water to space for perhaps the first time in ages. Eventually we see plants and the Europan equivalent of trees appear across the landscape, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a primeval swamp. Strange noises from unseen creatures can be heard echoing in the distance.
Somewhere in the middle of this new Europa is a large black rectangular object: A Monolith standing guard over the natives of this changed world, silently enforcing the warning sent to humanity ages ago that “all these worlds are yours, except Europa.”
As Also Sprach Zarathustra plays again for the last time, we are left to ponder who or what is now inhabiting this alien world and why the Monoliths were motivated enough by what they saw to so radically reshape and preserve this corner of the Sol system. In addition, we wonder if these “children of the new sun,” as Floyd called them, will one day indeed “be our friends” as he speculated.
My Overall Impressions of 2010
Before I delve into the several major issues I want to address regarding 2010: The Year We Make Contact and its predecessor novel, I want give you my personal thoughts and insights into what I thought of the film overall.
Let us start with the title of the film, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. I found it to be a bit clunky, sometimes difficult to recall, and perhaps even inaccurate.
Regarding my “clunky” viewpoint, I get that the filmmakers wanted their film’s title to echo the reason 2010 existed in the first place, namely 2001: A Space Odyssey. I must admit I have always found the title of the 1968 film to be a bit awkward in its own right, as Kubrick attempted to echo the title of that classic ancient work of epic poetry by the Greek author Homer, The Odyssey. However, after over half a century of hearing that particular collection of words separated by a colon so many times, I have become more than used to it to the point I can hardly imagine any other title seriously.
Peter Hyams et al might have wanted to consider going with the title Clarke used for his 1982 novel version, which was simply 2010: Odyssey Two. What that title lacked in epic proportions and imagination, it more than made up for being to the point as to what the film is about. The novel title also had the bonus of giving away nothing significant about the plot for those approaching the sequel for the first time.
I also question the accuracy of those film title words to the right of the colon, The Year We Make Contact. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, at least some of humanity already knew about the existence of alien life when it discovered the Monolith in the lunar crater Tycho in 1999, going with the year stated in the story background introduction of the sequel film. Contact of a sort was made when sunlight struck the large black slab after it had been dug out of the surrounding regolith, triggering the activation of a powerful alert signal to a much bigger Monolith circling Jupiter.
An even stronger candidate for first contact between humans and alien would be when Dave Bowman flew his Discovery pod into the Jovian Monolith in 2001, which turned out to be a portal to other incredible places in the Universe. There the astronaut was brought to a type of holding pen in the form of a very fancy hotel room, with the makers of the Monoliths observing and commenting on Bowman for the rest of his natural life before transforming him into the next stage of human evolution: The Star Child, whereupon Bowman’s keepers released him back to an unsuspecting Earth.
One could even argue that first contact took place four million years earlier, when a group of our hominid ancestors living in prehistoric Africa encountered the Monolith that would later be deliberately buried on the Moon and were instructed by the alien artifact in the critical if sometimes brutal art of survival. Granted, our hairy predecessors may have had no real clue as to what they were dealing with or where it came from, but it was a first contact situation just the same.
There were various forms of contact between the two main species in 2010, which even included a combined message and warning from the Monolith ETI to the native primates that we could explore and settle all of the worlds in the Sol system, with the very prominent exception of Europa. One might reasonably argue that the series of events in 2010 were significant enough to earn the label of contact. However, in the strictest technical sense, they were hardly the first time that humans and nonterrestrial intelligences had interacted with each other in the Space Odyssey saga.
Semantics aside, why was it so important to declare that 2010 was the year humanity made contact with extraterrestrial beings that it had to become an integral part of the film’s title?
Hyams provided a definitive answer to this question via being quoted in a December 13, 2013 review of 2010:
“And with 2010, Hyams knew going in, that it is Clarke’s story which is the star: ‘I don’t think there is any more primal thought in almost every person, than the desire to make contact with something other than themselves,’ Hyams says. ‘I think that’s the single most exalting aspect of the human race. This is a film about making contact – the actual, feasible notion of making contact. And it turns out that what we are making contact with, is wonderful. That’s the story I wanted to tell. Whether or not this film compares favorably with 2001, telling that story made it worth the chance.’”
The full review is to be found here:
As a Science Fiction Film…
On its own, 2010 is a mainly fine as a science fiction film. When not dealing with the “so advanced it seems like magic” aspects of the alien elements in the story, 2010 makes a strong effort to be scientifically and technologically plausible when not having to bow to the dramatic elements and pacing of the plot; this is ultimately a mass entertainment film, not a documentary, after all. Nevertheless, I do give 2010 credit for at least making a sincere effort to be accurate above most science fiction cinema of its past and future.
For one standout example, 2010 incorporated the then-latest scientific knowledge of the Jovian moons Io and Europa gathered by the twin Voyager deep space probes in 1979; this real information would become key to the plot. This historic flyby mission is also a large part of what motivated this sequel to 2001 in the first place, as I stated early on in this essay. As Clarke had said, they could not imagine the true natures of these two Galilean satellites when 2001 premiered, as so little was known about any of the moons of Jupiter in the late 1960s when astronomers had to rely on Earth-based observations from over 400 million miles away across interplanetary space.
Compare and contrast this use of Io in an earlier science fiction film directed and written by Peter Hyams, Outland, released in 1981. Although it is obvious that Hyams was captivated by the fact that the alien moon has numerous erupting volcanoes, something unknown and unseen elsewhere in the Sol system besides Earth at the time (Mars has huge volcanoes, but they appear to be extinct, while active vulcanism on Venus was suspected, but no visiting space probe then had provided conclusive evidence for such activity), he failed to utilize this prominent geological feature in any significant way when he placed a mining colony there. In fact, I cannot recall even one instance in Outland of the sight of so much as a single plume from an active Ionian volcano somewhere off in the distance.
A human base on Io is probably not the best of ideas: For starters, it would be under constant threat not only from hot spewing sulfur raining down from hundreds of miles up in all directions, but also quakes generated by the moon’s geological activity, which in turn comes from the constant gravitational tugging by both Jupiter and Europa that creates the volcanic eruptions in the first place. The humans dwelling there would also be subject to a barrage of lethal levels of cosmic radiation, for Io sits deep within Jupiter’s vast radiation belts. Even without all these threats, Io has no breathable atmosphere and a lesser gravity roughly the same as Earth’s moon.
Outland also has the miners digging for titanium ore, which so far in our reality does not appear to exist in any serious quantities on Io. An interplanetary scale society mining for important minerals in the Main Planetoid Belt would have made a lot more sense. Granted, none of those particular space rocks would have had the dramatic cosmic feature of giant Jupiter looming in the black starry sky above them, but they would have been a far more realistic objective for a space mining operation.
I found it interesting that Clarke chose Europa to describe in any detail out of all the Jovian moons in his novel version of 2001, especially since Discovery was only doing a flyby through that system on its way to Saturn. Circa 1968, about all astronomers could really determine regarding Europa is that it had a very reflective surface, which indicated the moon was covered with ice. Dark regions could be seen on all the Galilean moons from Earth, but they were of little help in providing scientific information otherwise.
The Galilean moons were shown in the 2001 film during the scenes where the Discovery finally enters the Jovian system. Some of these satellites were even seen up close, but they were largely just part of the backdrop. Although the surface features that could be seen did not stray in general form from what the Voyager probes sent back less than one decade later, there was no direct correspondence between this fiction and the later reality.
I thought it would be interesting to place here what Clarke imagined Europa looked like in his novel of 2001. Compare what he wrote in 1968 to what we currently know about this moon, or even in 1984, for that matter. Overall, I would say Clarke did not do so bad considering he was metaphorically sticking his neck out to describe a real place which no human at that time really knew much about.
It is also interesting to note how Clarke (and many others of that era) did not anticipate a robotic reconnaissance of the Jupiter system before a manned mission, even though automated probes were traversing the inner Sol system in the 1960s and there were plans for a Grand Tour to explore the outer worlds with unmanned nuclear-powered vessels in the following decade.
“The telescopic cameras were operating constantly as the ship cut across the orbit of the giant inner satellites – every one of them larger than the Moon, every one of them unknown territory. Three hours before transit, Discovery passed only twenty thousand miles from Europa, and all instruments were aimed at the approaching world, as it grew steadily in size, changed from globe to crescent, and swept swiftly sunward.
“Here were fourteen million square miles of land which, until this moment, had never been more than a pinhead in the mightiest telescope. They would race past it in minutes, and must make the most of the encounter, recording all the information they could. There would be months in which they could play it back at leisure.
“From a distance, Europa had seemed like a giant snowball, reflecting the light of the far-off sun with remarkable efficiency. Closer observations confirmed this; unlike the dusty Moon, Europa was a brilliant white, and much of its surface was covered with glittering hunks that looked like stranded icebergs. Almost certainly, these were formed from ammonia and water that Jupiter’s gravitational field had somehow failed to capture.
“Only along the equator was bare rock visible; here was an incredibly jagged no-man’s-land of canyons and jumbled boulders, forming a darker band that completely surrounded the little world. There were a few impact craters, but no sign of vulcanism; Europa had obviously never possessed any internal sources of heat. There was, as had long been known, a trace of atmosphere. When the dark edge of the satellite passed across a star, it dimmed briefly before the moment of eclipse. And in some areas there was a hint of cloud – perhaps a mist of ammonia droplets, borne on tenuous methane winds.
“As swiftly as it had rushed out of the sky ahead, Europa dropped astern; and now Jupiter itself was only two hours away.”
Continuing onward about the portrayal of science in 2010, I was pleased that the filmmakers recognized that spaceships could not just fly off to another world in any manner or direction without calculating for proper orbits and fuel consumption first. As a result, we were treated to the fantastic aerocapture of the Leonov as it used Jupiter’s upper atmosphere to break itself into orbit in order to save precious maneuvering fuel.
In many respects, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, can stand on its own, even though the shadow of the film that made it possible to exist in the first place looms large and long.
As expected, even warranted, there are numerous references in 2010 to the original film, some of which I felt might be confusing to viewers who never saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I stated earlier, one example that comes to mind is when Floyd encounters David Bowman aboard the Discovery. In those scenes, Bowman keeps changing into the various aspects of himself as he appeared during his time in that big apartment/zoo after his dazzling trip through the Stargate.
For a film that seems to love explaining everything, 2010 never explicitly says just what is going on in those scenes between Floyd and Bowman; it just assumes the viewer has already seen 2001. While there is nothing really wrong with that, as I am certainly all for a film making an audience have to think, I also found these scenes to be a bit clumsily executed, with more than a hint of the supernatural about them. Bowman is portrayed as some kind of shapeshifting ghost rather than an entity transformed by high alien science. Or maybe that is just my comparatively primitive primate mind talking.
The soundtrack is another place which gives a great deal of contrast between the two films. The music for 2010 is largely electronic and synthetic, a fairly standard trope for cinematic efforts in the 1980s. It works well for the needs of this sequel to 2001. However, when they used music pieces from the original film, especially the famous opening track, it felt close to jarring in showing just how different these two artistic works are.
With 2001, Kubrick utilized classic music in a way seldom done before, especially for a science fiction film. The results were something quite unique that did much to change cinematic soundtracks. In addition, some of these classical works like The Blue Danube are now very closely associated both with 2001 and real space travel, despite the fact that the piece had an entirely different purpose and focus when created by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) in 1866.
The synthesized score for 2010, while fine on its own, harkens back to more traditional types of what is expected from a science fiction soundtrack: A retro-futuristic sounding score heavily dependent on electronic technology and the sounds such instruments make. As a result, you can listen to and recall the 2001 soundtrack on its own far more easily and enjoyably than the one for 2010, although I recognize that everyone’s music tastes may vary.
For a bit of history on the 2010 soundtrack, where Hyams had his own parallel moment to what Kubrick did with composer Alexander North, read here:
The Cold War…
Although both films were released in years when humanity was deeply embedded in the real Cold War, it is the latter one that makes this global conflict a prominent issue in its plot. It is also this emphasis on that major period in human history that ironically also made 2010 feel more dated than 2001 despite the former film depicting a sophisticated space future that has yet to pass.
As expected, 2001 is quite subtle when it comes to predicting geopolitical relations between the USA and the USSR in the very early Twenty-First Century. Yes, we see what turn out to be multinational nuclear bombs silently orbiting Earth, but that fact is never revealed outright.
The only direct meeting between the two superpowers comes in the form of a polite social conversation between Heywood Floyd and a group of four Russians on Space Station V. We are told that the Soviets have their own manned lunar base, which may be similar to the American one at Clavius. Other than this, however, the contemporary viewer is left to suspect that their rivalries both on Earth and in space, which began after World War 2, will continue at least well into the next century.
In 2010, we are shown and told virtually from the start that the Cold War is the major international event dominating human civilization. The two political rivals are engaged in a conflict that threatens to turn their usual almost traditional posturing into outright hostile actions that could lead to a globular thermonuclear war.
In space, we have a joint manned Soviet and American mission heading to Jupiter, but this is only due to the fact that the Soviets need the American expertise in reactivating the USS Discovery and its computer brain named HAL to learn what happened, in particular with the ship’s crew. The Americans are there for the same reasons, as well as to make certain that the Soviets do not steal any vital information or technology from their derelict spaceship. Until it was learned that the Discovery was going to crash into Io much sooner than expected, the two nations had planned to send their own manned expeditions to the Jupiter system independently.
Initially, the Soviets are reluctant even to tell the Americans what they have found on Europa due to their orders and the increasingly bad geopolitical news back on Earth. The social ice does not begin to crack until Curnow and Max become friends and a symbol of détente. Only when the situation becomes frightening and potentially dire in Jupiter space do the two sides disobey their orders and work together to get away from Jupiter before that “something wonderful” which David Bowman kept mentioning happens – and his added warning that they need to leave in two days.
When we and the characters finally learn what the Monolith (and later many Monoliths) are up to – turning Jupiter from a gas giant planet into a star so that at least some of the life on Europa has a chance to evolve into intelligence one day – we find that even this major cosmic event is tied into the Cold War halfway across the Sol system.
Just before the demise of the Discovery, Bowman instructs HAL to send a repeated message to Earth to inform humanity that they may utilize all of the worlds of their own solar system, with the exception of Europa. The Monolith ETI further instruct our species to “use them together, use them in peace.”
It is interesting to note that in the 2010 novel, only the first two sentences are broadcast: “All these worlds are yours – except Europa. Attempt no landings there.” The last two parts about using these worlds together and in peace are nowhere to be found. This is a further sledgehammering home about the Cold War from the film to its intended audience.
Neither does the novel mention that seeing a new star in the sky caused the leaders of the two sides in conflict to see this as a message from the cosmic “landlords” and make them recall “their ships and their planes.” Clarke dedicated far more time to examining what a new sun would do to life on Earth in terms of biological and social repercussions rather than what effect it might have in terms of ending the Cold War.
It would be nice to think that the dramatic cosmic actions of a visible “higher power” could cause those in self-ordained control on Earth to alter and even stop their potentially destructive ways. Whether this would actually happen or not in our reality is another matter.
These men and women in high terrestrial power already know what is right and wrong both morally and ethically, whether they actually follow those rules or not. They have undoubtedly also seen what a nuclear bomb can do to both life and property, even if only via historical films of such weapons being detonated. Yet all these things and more have not been enough to stop humanity from continually finding new ways to destroy our species and wreck our world, to say nothing of contributing to and supporting a whole host of lesser crimes on a planetary scale.
Perhaps I am just being too cynical here given the current era we live in, but I have to question whether a new star in the sky that was primarily meant for fostering new life on an alien world hundreds of millions of miles across space would cause the often parochial and selfish mindsets of those in power here on Earth to change for the better. Even if the “gods” tacked on an extra message to cooperate and behave.
As for the Cold War in our reality, few could have foreseen in 1984, or even going into 1991 for that matter, that the Soviet Union would actually disband just seven years after 2010 premiered in theaters. This further added to the sequel feeling even more dated than the original film, though certainly the price of lessening the real threat of global nuclear annihilation is preferable to keeping one science fiction film feeling fresh decades later.
All good science fiction brings with it social messages for its audience to digest and learn from. In this regard 2010 was following protocol, and who could blame anyone with good intentions and the means to be given the chance to enlighten mass groups of people and their leaders about the folly of continuing to threaten and wage war not to take advantage of the situation? Especially in a time when it seemed that political tensions were only getting worse, our nuclear stockpiles were only growing larger, and the potential for warfare in space had gone from various spysats to actual weaponized satellites.
By 1990, it was estimated that the two main superpowers had over 55,000 nuclear weapons between them. There were also a host of other nations who had their own much smaller yet still effective collections of nuclear bombs. Considering that the detonation of just one such device could obliterate an entire city in one shot and leave deadly lingering radiation in its wake, using even a portion of the entire stockpile in an all-out war would mean the end of our technological human civilization if not the extinction of our entire species, to say nothing of what would become of so many other creatures on Earth.
Thankfully, humanity did not require the transformation (and therefore loss) of an entire planet to start conducting real nuclear disarmament efforts once the Soviet government collapsed in 1991. Until the rather recent changes being seen in our current governments and elsewhere reversing this trend regarding nuclear weapons stockpiling and testing, throughout the rest of the 1990s and into the new millennium, it seemed that the nuclear nightmare was really coming to an end. However, as we head further into the real Twenty-First Century, perhaps we will need an intervention from a higher power to ultimately stop this current crisis after all.
Later in this essay, be on the lookout for my take on the various possible fates of the Leonov crew had the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union boiled over into a full-scale thermonuclear war.
Because 2001 left so many things deliberately open to interpretation and did not explain everything that went on in so many scenes, it is inevitable that many viewers would come to conclusions that might miss the mark. The production team that created 2010 were not immune to these misreads, right on up to Peter Hyams himself.
One big message that Stanley Kubrick attempted to convey in 2001 is how humanity’s advancing technology would dehumanize our species into becoming more like machines, while ironically the character with the most detailed personality in that film was an artificial machine intelligence.
The other underlying message is that perhaps those descendants of the African hominids may have become clever tool makers and users in the last four million years, but they still lack the ability to truly grasp the larger picture around them beyond a certain intellectual level, for they have not – and perhaps cannot – evolved beyond their terrestrial origins. This comprehension deficit can also lead to a fear of the unknown, enhanced by the many dangers of space travel, which may never become completely routine.
As a result, the modern humans seen in 2001 have reverted to the safety and comfort of the everyday familiar in their regular lives, unconsciously or otherwise, leading to all that bland dialogue and outwardly calm behavior. No one wants to have an existential crisis while trying to dock with a space station, land a vessel on the Moon, or conduct an EVA in deep space.
Rather than display a placard in big red letters indicating that the humans in 2001 were becoming dehumanized by all the supporting machines around them, Kubrick relied on the hope that the audiences would grasp this concept by watching every one of the modern human characters in the film behave in ways that could be best described as surface and bland, even two-dimensional.
Traveling to the Moon or Jupiter via spaceship, even the discovery of an alien intelligence, are treated by the people involved as akin to being on a typical international business trip. Much of the dialogue, even with the parts about Monoliths and space locations and spaceships removed, would not seem terribly out of place in a more conventional film or conversations in everyday life. Through most of the film, the majority of actions we see the humans engaging in are very mundane: Eating, sleeping, having business meetings, getting a tan, and even going to the bathroom.
When one considers how meticulously Kubrick labored over every aspect of 2001, it may have been hoped that the perpetual uttering of such relatively bland dialogue by the characters from a science fiction film with such profound themes would have triggered a realization that the human characters’ conversations and actions were so amazingly common on purpose, and with an important reason for being so. After all, 2001: A Space Odyssey is designed to make one think.
Perhaps because Hyams made no pretense of trying to duplicate Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, knowing he could neither match nor surpass such a cinematic legend, the director decided to go with the more “friendly” route, something Hyams was certainly more comfortable with given his film project history.
To quote Hyams on this matter, taken from the same 2013 film review quoted and linked to in the essay section discussing the purpose of the 2010 film title:
“This is a very optimistic, extremely sentimental and emotional movie. The fundamental concept is quite optimistic. It’s about human beings, and it’s about peace. If you leave the theater touched, actually touched, perhaps to the point of tears, well, that’s what I want. That really is the object of 2010.”
With such a declared goal for his project, it is not hard to see why Hyams largely abandoned Kubrick’s Twenty-First Century vision of deliberately unimaginative bureaucrats, stoic astronauts, and shallow secondary characters with mundane concerns and interests.
It also helps to keep in mind the major cultural differences that existed between the making and release of 2001 and 2010 even though less than twenty years came between them.
The world Kubrick’s film arrived in was on the verge of sending real astronauts to the Moon in a matter of months to one year, evidence enough that what was depicted in 2001 could really come about by the actual year of 2001, just over three decades hence. The counterculture was also in full gear, allowing in fresh and different takes and ideas on many aspects of society, including the cinema. This environment fostered the making of a big budget Hollywood science fiction film that did not follow the conventional rules of its genre.
Now shift ahead just sixteen years to 1984: The vast majority living in the 1980s knew that the space society displayed in such loving detail in 2001: A Space Odyssey was very unlikely to become a reality by that year, for they lived in a world where the first manned missions to the Moon abruptly ended with Apollo 17 in late 1972, with no serious follow-up plans, especially for a complex lunar base or a crewed mission to Jupiter with a thinking computer running the show.
The Space Shuttle had become NASA’s big focus, launching astronauts and payloads into the Final Frontier since 1981, but only to low Earth orbit. NASA had originally sold the Shuttle as being able to fly every two weeks, but that promise never became feasible. The agency had other grand plans for their small fleet of winged vehicles, including the formation of a large space station and the lofting of a space telescope that could peer deeper into the Universe than ever before. A number of delays, including the tragic accident with the Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-51L in January of 1986, would push these projects into the next decade.
The counterculture had become in many respects a nostalgic memory for those who lived through it and a caricature to those who only knew of it through the media and stories. The surprising emergence of the Star Wars space fantasy franchise in 1977 hijacked Hollywood into focusing on big budget spectacular films that were heavy on dazzling special effects while light on story and characters.
Thrown in the fact that 2001 was such a different and epic phenomenon made by a maverick film master, one that most other filmmakers either could not or would not attempt to emulate or surpass even to this day, and one can better see why Hyams chose the cinematic path of lesser resistance.
But did Hyams really succeed in making relatable three-dimensional characters with deep emotions and complex personal lives? Did the characters in 2010 feel like living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human beings, the kind one might meet in everyday society?
Let us take a look at the evidence on the screen….
It is apparent very early on in 2010 that Hyams wants that all-important human element in his film to ensure his contemporary (1984) audience that this will not be the Kubrickian exercise in cold and indifferent people doing long and dull tasks that has caused many a would-be viewer of 2001: A Space Odyssey to either shy away from that film or abandon it in midstream.
Where in 2001 it took over 25 minutes before any human dialogue is uttered (a stewardess lets Dr. Floyd know he has arrived at his initial destination on Space Station V), two humans begin chattering away in the first few moments of 2010 just after the opening credits and theme music end. It is not just polite conversation, either: Hyams uses the words between them as exposition to bring the viewing audience up to speed about what has happened with their world in the nine years between the first and second films.
Hyams tries awfully hard to inject the human element into his characters throughout 2010 – at least the main ones. Yet despite the director’s earnest efforts, most of the cast still comes across quite often as various standard Hollywood stereotypes – except in the case of the Russians, where most of them have virtually no personalities at all! It is not an exaggeration to say that with but two exceptions, the crew of the Leonov exist primarily as background filler, except when the script calls for them to serve some purpose for the plot, usually a small one at that.
Because I found mostly stereotypical and forced behavioral traits from the developed characters in 2010, it was often difficult for me to relate to, or, more importantly, feel very deeply for these people. In certain cases, the feelings that did arise in me were more akin to irritation than anything else, which I assume is not the reaction that Hyams et al were looking for.
Dr. Heywood Floyd…
Dr. Heywood Floyd is the main human character of 2010. The former Chairman of the National Council on Astronautics (NCA) who was ousted from that role after the USS Discovery debacle where four and possibly five of the human crewmembers were killed and currently a university chancellor, Floyd has opted to join a Soviet space mission to Jupiter to learn what really happened out there and hopefully find some kind of redemption/closure to the events that have dominated the last nine years of his life.
We are supposed to ignore the fact that the actor who played Floyd in 2001, William Sylvester, is not the same one portraying him in 2010, actor Roy Scheider. Yet there is more than just an actor transplant of Floyd between the two films.
Image: Dr. Heywood Floyd attempting to convince Leonov Captain Kirbuk that they have to leave Jupiter space within two days, without actually knowing why himself, thanks to cryptic David Bowman.
Sylvester’s Floyd is a well-groomed and polished career bureaucrat. He commands respect and attention with seeming outward ease. This Floyd also knows how to manipulate and control events with an attitude bordering on casualness: For him, lying when the situation calls for it appears to come almost automatically; it is an often necessary part of his job.
This Floyd is clearly the right man for the job of ensuring that the discovery of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is kept secret from most of humanity until a suitable way is found to introduce this concept without negatively disrupting society. This attribute is particularly notable since I find it doubtful that dealing with alien life and the potential consequences of its discovery and announcement to humanity was previously high on the list of job requirements for being chairman of this America’s version of NASA, outside of the potential for finding native microorganisms on Mars as one plausible example. Primitive single-celled creatures, or even some form of lichen or scrub brush, would be something far easier to contend with than an enigmatic artifact from a clearly superior species with all of its implied possibilities for either good or ill for all life on Earth.
If this Floyd has any angst or doubts about what he is doing, or is even excited or nervous at all about traveling through space all the way to the surface of the Moon, neither the people around Floyd nor the film audience are ever given even a glimpse of such emotions.
Compare all this to Scheider’s Dr. Floyd. While no slouch in his own right in either the personal or professional areas of self and job maintenance, this Floyd is quick to reveal his true feelings on the various situations presented to him. This Floyd does not hesitate to tell his colleagues and family that he feels a personal responsibility and lingering guilt over the Discovery mission debacle.
This Floyd is seldom a cool manipulator; rather, he tends to be blunter and more direct about getting things done as he sees them. Despite all of his years of professional experience, this Floyd has some rough edges that have been deliberately left in place. This is all designed to make one feel that 2010 Floyd is at heart an honest person with good intentions.
Sylvester’s Floyd would never have quite fit or worked in Hyams world of 2010. He and almost all of the other characters in 2001 were far more polished and formal in comparison: They handled new and unexpected situations and crises with dignity, seldom showing more than a temporary annoyance even in life-threatening situations.
The actor Roy Scheider, known for playing tough “working class” characters, was far more of Hyams’ type for what he considered to be the Everyman in terms of a heroic white American male: Take charge up front, get tough when one has to, and even yell when the situation calls for it. No doubt this was considered both expected of a contemporary adult man and even endearing to 1980s audiences.
This is the Floyd for a more mainstream and far less “artsy-fartsy” version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider’s Floyd would never go to an opera except under duress. Sylvester’s Floyd would attend one if social courtesy called for it, and you would not hear him utter a single negative word about being there, nor would you catch him tugging uncomfortably at the shirt collar of his tuxedo in silent but visible protest. Sylvester’s Floyd is a glass of champagne; Scheider’s Floyd is definitely a mug of beer, and not that light stuff, either.
Is Scheider’s Floyd more relatable and more comfortable to be around than Sylvester’s take on the character? While in one sense such measures are always subjective, there is certainly some response in the positive to this question: The Floyd of 2010 is a fairly straight shooter; you know where you stand with him no matter who you are. With the Floyd in 2001, unless you are in his designated inner circle, one will probably never receive the full picture regardless of the subject.
Just how relatable is 2010’s Floyd really? And how deep is his character at that, especially considering he is the main one in this plot?
For starters, Floyd was once the head of America’s primary space agency. He was placed in charge (by the President of the United States?) of handling the major discovery of an ETI artifact. Floyd was then “demoted” to running an American university after the Discovery debacle.
Heywood lives in a beautiful, luxurious, and undoubtedly very expensive home in Hawaii, one with an indoor pool that the nearby Pacific Ocean feeds directly into and allows friendly dolphins to come in and visit for a snack! He has a beautiful young second wife who we learn is a marine biologist but is primarily seen during her screen time as a supportive spouse and mother.
Floyd has two children, but this time around we only get to meet his young son, Christopher, who behaves like a typical five year-old with no apparent major physiological issues and mainly serves as the “surrogate” for certain questions the film audience may have about the more intricate details of the plot. Both he and Caroline also serve as sounding boards for Floyd to send letters back home to them that are really meant as exposition throughout 2010.
Still relatable? Depends, doesn’t it? Standard Hollywood character stereotyping? Yes, with a science fiction flavor that can serve as both an excuse and a distraction from the relative lightness of the characters. Now this does not mean that a person like Floyd or his family could not exist in real life, it’s just that while they are recognizably human, their lifestyles, issues, and any flaws are generally beyond the norm of most people in terms of scope and at the same time are a walk in the park compared the problems of many.
Had Hyams et al kept the following letter from an earlier script draft in the final film version and perhaps created a few more like it along the way, we might have had a Floyd who would have been a more insightful character with a bit less concern over whether the general audience would want to share a beer with him or not:
“I know how hard this whole business is for you and Christopher. There’s a constant dull ache in my heart from missing you both. I’m scared right now… however I’m a lucky man. In this brief time up here… I’ve been given a glimpse of things I will never understand, and I will always be affected by. I can sense the whole process up here. It is so vast, and so limitless… and we as a species are so interesting. Presidents and Premiers should see Jupiter from this proximity. Then they would realize how petty and futile it is for us not to live together in peace. It is hard to be an Atheist in space. I love you both.”
While I am here with a letter from Floyd, I have to say Scheider’s narration via his letters home was often rather stilted and sometimes even painful to listen to, something akin to actor Harrison Ford’s narration in the original edition of the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner. Beyond their function of extrapolating on certain upcoming scenes for the viewer (Hyams never did have the faith in his audience that Kubrick did when it came to their potential for grasping complex science and themes; perhaps he was afraid of not fully comprehending them himself), their content lacked the depth just displayed in the unused letter above. A real shame and a lost opportunity.
So as long as I continue to remind myself that Scheider’s Dr. Floyd was never and is never going to be a direct transference of the Dr. Floyd from 2001, that he is who he is for this particular take on the Space Odyssey saga, then that is the way it is and will remain so.
One more thing is certain: I will never have the level of issues with Heywood Floyd that I have with these next two main characters from the film.
Walter Curnow is the lead designer and engineer of the USS Discovery, both the one sent to Jupiter in 2001 and the second version that he was in the middle of working on, when Heywood Floyd drafted him to take a trip on the Leonov.
We are told multiple times that Curnow is the best man for the job of reviving the Discovery and ensuring that it can be brought back to Earth. We are also told in the novel that Curnow is a self-proclaimed “life of the party,” a red flag for sure. Curnow is also revealed to be bisexual and even has a brief relationship with Max during the mission, an aspect Clarke often assigned to at least one character in nearly every one of his later works. However, as witnessed in the film – or not in this case – this was entirely left out of 2010. This went for all the other similar relationships in the novel between crewmembers aboard Leonov aside from friendships and in Chandra’s case, a fatherly devotion to HAL.
In the 2010 film, we do not get to see much of either Curnow’s engineering prowess or his party animal side. Yes, the Discovery is brought back up and running again thanks to Curnow. We even get a scene where he is shown to be able to properly read a schematic of the spaceship. Floyd asks Curnow to secretly install a device inside Discovery that can render HAL powerless in case the AI goes rogue again. Curnow certainly declared his profession loudly enough during his harrowing EVA scenes with Max, but we will discuss that further in a moment.
If Curnow was a social butterfly, much of the evidence must have been left on the cutting room floor, if it ever even got that far to begin with. There is a hint of one of his personality traits during the scene where Floyd receives a message from David Bowman via HAL while the Americans are banished to the Discovery: Heywood initially assumes this is a prank being played on him by Curnow, but the AI informs Floyd that the engineer is sitting in one of Discovery’s access corridors and did not send the message.
Nowhere else in the film did we see any real evidence that Curnow is a practical joker. He would be the only real logical choice in the matter of the Bowman message to Floyd, though, since Chandra definitely does not seem to be the type and the only Soviet who might have done something like this, Max, was already gone. Granted, once again we know little about the rest of the Leonov crew, plus during that time in the plot they were ordered not to contact the Americans unless it was an emergency.
Now what we did witness of Curnow in 2010 did not always endear me to his character. Before I start down that particular road, let me point out what I found to be good about this engineer:
Yes, Curnow was the one to break the geopolitical ice aboard the Leonov when he and Max Brailovsky become friends after their EVA to Discovery to recover and reactivate the derelict spaceship tumbling around the moon Io. I can see why these two would bond after that event, since Max seems to have had a more open personality to begin with, but their friendship also served as a symbol and message of détente for the two Cold War superpowers.
Curnow also expressed genuine concern for his new friend when Max was ordered to inspect the large Monolith in a space pod and had some definite emotional reactions when the cosmonaut became a victim of the giant artifact’s indifferent actions. After that incident, Curnow paid tribute to Max by wearing the Soviet’s signature black beret throughout the rest of the film.
With that being said, let us now look at Curnow’s less than endearing qualities.
Perhaps his biggest detriment was during the aforementioned EVA to Discovery with Max. His panic attack while drifting across open space from Leonov to Discovery while hundreds of miles over “violent” Io was likely meant to be how Hyams et al imagined a “regular” person might react in such a literally unworldly situation, as opposed to say a real trained astronaut – more of that relating with the audience business, don’t you know.
Curnow’s reactions were also meant to add some drama and tension to a scene which I think was already pretty dramatic enough. They are in Jupiter space with the gas giant looming above and volcanic Io with its bizarre color scheme threatening doom below, while pressed for time to reach a large abandoned spacecraft where the previous crew had been murdered that is tumbling end over end and has to be entered and reactivated before either the two EVA participants are rendered incapacitated by either Jovian radiation or the untamed vessel winds up plummeting onto the alien moon. Was Curnow’s shouting and hyperventilating really necessary on top of all this?
I suspect a further reason Hyams wanted this extra drama was due to the deliberate lack of extant expressiveness during the EVAs shown in 2001. In those scenes when Frank Poole was attempting to resolve the whole AE-35 unit issue, even when HAL had rammed the astronaut with his pod and left him desperately struggling to reattach his severed spacesuit air hose, the only noise we heard until that point was Poole’s constant breathing. The man uttered not one word during his whole EVA, not even a shout or gasp, at least to the audience. Once again, Kubrick had this done deliberately and against most genre conventions; it was Hyams who could not abide this cinematic vacuum. So in 2010, we get an EVA where first Curnow and later Max both go into loud panic mode and nearly jeopardize the entire mission.
To add to this: When I first saw 2010 back when it premiered in 1984 and witnessed this scene, I was quite annoyed with Curnow for an additional reason: The man had the opportunity to fly in space and go to Jupiter of all places on a mission that included encountering an alien object. He should have considered himself incredibly honored and fortunate, from my viewpoint. That he was first whining about being an engineer and not an astronaut, then flipping out to the point of jeopardizing both himself and the entire mission, did not sit well with me at all. I also saw right through this obvious attempt at generating excitement, which as I said before felt forced and unnecessary.
I also knew that Curnow would not fall towards Io the moment he moved away from the Leonov. As a trained engineer of spacecraft design who would have also studied physics, Curnow should have known this as well. Obviously the irrational side of his brain had taken over his reason, because when he looked down past his white booted feet and saw that alien mashup of orange, yellow, and red hundreds of miles below, the reptilian part of his mind automatically thought he was going to fall and that set in motion the series of instinctual behaviors that did not serve him well out in space.
A thought: The USS Discovery was put together in space, very likely in Earth orbit or possibly around the Moon. In any event, the big spaceship was not launched in one finished piece from the surface of any world. Since it was being assembled in space, I assume the chief designer of this ship would have had to make at least a few trips into the void during its construction for various reasons. I would not be surprised if Curnow had to do the same thing with Discovery 2, which he was working on when he got the call by Floyd to fly to Jupiter. Maybe not; perhaps video conferencing and computer simulations were sufficient to test the ship in space, but I tend to think otherwise.
Whatever the case may have been, Curnow may not have had to perform any EVAs during those visits, but he should not be inexperienced when it comes to space travel. After all, he lives in a world where taking a space shuttle to a space station and catching another shuttle flight from there to the Moon is not uncommon; some folks even treat it like a typical modern terrestrial business trip.
I suppose I could even ask why did he want to design and build spaceships in the first place if he never wanted to go into the Final Frontier, but some people are just like that. They look at the literal nuts and bolts, not the wider and grander picture. Easier to deal with psychologically and socially, perhaps?
The other behavior of Curnow’s I did not care for was his attitude towards and treatment of Dr. Chandra and by extension HAL. More than once, both he and Floyd referred to the computer scientist in ways that questioned his humanness and certainly not in flattering terms. During the scenes where the crews were discussing how to handle HAL should he not want to commit to helping the Leonov escape the impending demise of Jupiter, Curnow bluntly declared that if they had to choose between the wellbeing of either the humans or the AI, he would definitely “vote us [humans].”
One might think that a person who is a top-level engineer would have at least some measure of sympathy for HAL, being not only a machine but also an integral part of Discovery which Curnow would have to appreciate on both a professional and logical level at the very least, but in the end this just shows how one cannot always predict certain people. It also shows that perhaps the writers of his role failed to fully grasp the engineering mentality, or they just did not care enough and sacrificed realistic personality traits for some extra drama.
One final note on Curnow: I am definitely not a fan of the scene where he and Floyd are discussing what they miss about Earth and what they will do once they get back there. Floyd goes into this bit about eating hotdogs at Yankee Stadium and how one needs just the right kind of mustard for the task. Curnow chimes in throughout this dialog, letting Floyd and us know he is also a sports fan like a good typical American male.
I did not care for this conversation mainly because it felt terribly tacked on. It was just one more way to reassure the audience know yet again that our heroes are American guys just like us – assuming you happen to be an American man in the first place. The Soviets may have similar feelings, but they aren’t Americans and are still suspect to a degree due to the ensuing Cold War.
Hyams could have used that time for something a lot more substantial to the plot or perhaps the philosophical concepts the Space Odyssey saga tends to invoke. Instead, we learn that Curnow agrees with Floyd that it is really important to use the right kind of mustard on those substandard baseball stadium hotdogs. Hooray.
Kubrick’s 2001 was certainly full of bland, everyday dialog, but it was for reasons well beyond filling time or coddling the audience. However, we all know Hyams did not want to make a mirror of 2001, so instead we are given dialog like this with cardboard emotions and as ultimately tasteless as a hotdog without mustard, dark or light.
I have already discussed my issues with Chandra not being portrayed as an Indian as he is in Clarke’s novel. What we will examine here is how the so-called “computer nerd” was envisioned and reacted to in the era of the release of 2010.
A refresher: Actor Bob Balaban was Hollywood’s go-to guy in the late 1970s and early 1980s for casting what they saw as a standard white male science/computer nerd. Watch his scenes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) and Altered States (1980) and you will see essentially the same character that you witness in 2010, perhaps even a bit less stiff and introverted in those two earlier films.
At least Balaban’s portrayal of Chandra wasn’t a wild caricature of nerds and geeks with their respective cultures as audiences witnessed in another film released in the same year as 2010 called Revenge of the Nerds. Our sequel to 2001 already had enough loud and pushy American males on board.
Because Chandra is shown as a person who only seems to get emotional around artificial intelligences, he was hard to relate to both for the other characters in the film and the contemporary viewing audience. Floyd and Curnow certainly don’t know quite what to make of Chandra and do not really want to “play” with him.
These two even seem a bit intimidated by his different take on being a man, not to mention their fear that he is far smarter than them, certainly at least when it comes to computers. As the cherry on the top, Chandra is also intimately connected with a super smart artificial mind that tried to take out the last human crew on a spaceship that went to Jupiter, and nearly succeeded – and whom now the computer scientist is going to bring back to life while they are all together circling that very same planet, stuck over 400 million miles from home and any reasonable chance for rescue.
Their concern goes deep enough that the two plot to stop HAL in case something goes wrong without Chandra knowing about it, fearing his preference for machines over humans. The irony at the end of all this fear and effort is that Chandra had already assumed independently that Floyd and Curnow would attempt to disable the thinking computer and easily removed their little gadget of sabotage, not bothering to tell them until it was all over and everyone was safely heading back to Earth.
As Chandra did not even have the “virtue” of possessing the standard stereotypical Hollywood version of good looks, this only added to his character’s off-putting manner to the audience, shallow as this sounds. Although I can defend Chandra on several grounds for demanding a level of respect, in particular the fact that he helped to create a powerful artificial mind that can do so much more than any one human, I am the first to admit that he was not easy to sympathize with regardless.
I can distinctly recall at the premiere of 2010, the theater audience I was with were audibly bemused at Chandra’s impassioned plea to defend and save HAL, especially when he said “whether we are based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference. We should each be treated with respect.” The same audience also responded with humor rather than sympathy when Chandra became visibly choked up over having to say goodbye to HAL before leaving the Discovery, knowing that his favorite “child” would likely not survive the impending destruction of the spaceship.
I would like to think that if 2010 or its equivalent were made today, the Chandra character would not be such a blatant stereotype, to say nothing of not being a white male American. I can see this happening not only because our culture is definitely more aware of and sensitive towards stereotyping and sexist attitudes than we were in 1984, but also because we live in a world where computers and computer-assisted technologies abound in much greater numbers and with far more people on a global scale.
We may not yet have a HAL (or SAL) 9000 running our spaceships or households, but we do have computers as an integral part of most of our occupations. Many people now possess in their hands and pockets what would have been pure science fiction in 1984: A smartphone not much longer (and far thinner) than a deck of playing cards with gigabytes of data storage and abilities well beyond making mere phone calls.
Homes in increasing numbers are now monitored and run by computers where they can even talk to a form of AI to make multiple requests for everything, from security to raising the interior temperature to asking for a particular song to be played. Chandra would probably feel much more at home in our world and the modern audience response would be far more understanding, since most everyone now owns and works with computers in some form on a regular basis.
An interjection, since we are speaking of computers: Why did the makers of 2010 assume that office computers would come with such huge and undoubtedly heavy monitors? We see Floyd with one when he discovers that Discovery is going to crash on Io and later in the scenes at Chandra’s office. I know it can be hard to predict technology trends decades in advance, but we did also witness Floyd working with a (real in our 1984) laptop at the beach, so our lighter and portable forms of computers were not unknown then. I think it is safe to say that Hyams did not go quite into the depths of research and consultation that Kubrick did with 2001, but then again I do not think many filmmakers did, before or since.
Let us be honest here: Did David Bowman, whether as a human astronaut or an evolved Star Child, ever display much of an on-screen personality? Yes, he showed some degree of various emotions as the situation called for. Bowman was obviously a very competent and experienced person, otherwise the NCA would probably have never put him in command of a deep space mission as important as the first manned flight to the Jupiter system (Saturn in the 2001 novel). Beyond these attributes, however, what could one honestly say about the man as an individual person?
Judging strictly from the film version of 2001, not much. Bowman kept himself pretty much in check and we learned very little about him or his background, aside from the fact that he was a decent sketch artist. Even dipping into the Space Odyssey saga novels, I can recall very little about this aspect of Bowman, except for a comment in 2010 that he was perceived as having a rather cold exterior personality.
Clarke also detailed in the 2001 novel how the commander kept himself together both mentally and emotionally as the lone surviving intelligence aboard Discovery after his dismantling of HAL’s higher brain functions, even as he knew there were no guarantees of being rescued alive once he completed the mission, assuming Bowman even survived the encounter with the second larger Monolith.
Hyams did make an effort to give Bowman some kind of background and personality for the audience to cling to. We do see that he had a spouse and one surviving parent: Bowman loved his former wife and dying mother enough to travel all the way to from Jupiter to Earth to pay them one final visit each. In his encounter with Floyd and HAL, Bowman did display more warmth and empathy than he had in 2001. Beyond these things, however, David Bowman remained a fairly blank slate for all concerned.
This is especially unfortunate when you realize that not only was Bowman the main human character of the second half of 2001, but he was also supposed to become the next step in the evolution of our species to continue the work of the Monolith ETI they had been conducting on Earth and elsewhere in the Sol system for the last four million years. Then 2010 went on to botch things up for that aspect of Bowman’s character as well, but that is for a latter discussion in this essay.
Captain Tanya Kirbuk…
As I have stated more than once throughout this essay, most of the Soviet crew of the spaceship Leonov were given little to do and even less as characters, except when the script called for them to add to the tension of a scene (flying across the cabin when the shockwave of Jupiter’s new incarnation as a star hits the vessel, or adding to Floyd’s manliness by clinging to him for support and comfort when Leonov is going through the aerocapture procedure around Jupiter). Yes, it was a thoughtful touch to have most of the Soviet characters be played by actors who actually came from that region of Earth and could speak real Russian.
Some of the Soviet characters were given multiple lines, but what they primarily revealed about these individuals is that they were competent at their assigned tasks aboard the ship and little else. One could argue that the Soviets were closed off because of their initial mistrust of the Americans forced into their midst, but even once they realized these particular Cold War rivals were not a real threat and that they needed each other for survival, we still did not get to see much of any substance to them.
We did get to know Max Brailovsky somewhat more in his role as friend and symbol of détente with Curnow. We learned that he had a fairly easygoing personality and a definite fear of dead bodies on derelict spacecraft. Max also seemed not to be the type to go against or even complain about the orders of his superiors, even if others made it clear that they found them to be potentially dangerous. Sadly, it was this last trait which led to Max’s demise and the end of our either seeing or learning anything more about the man.
Thus we are left with the one Soviet character of any substance in 2010: Captain Tanya Kirbuk, played wonderfully by Helen Mirren (born 1945). It was not difficult at all to believe that her character would be placed in command of a space mission to Jupiter to deal with a strange and potentially dangerous alien artifact.
We do learn at least a few things about Captain Kirbuk’s background, that she is an officer in the Soviet Air Force and has a young daughter. More importantly, though, Kirbuk displays an actual personality and real human reactions to situations, even though as a spaceship captain she has to keep a good deal of composure and control on herself.
Although it is a degree of tokenism, it was also progressive of 2010 to have a woman be in command of a spaceship. At the time of the film’s premiere, in our reality women had just begun seriously going into space as astronauts, two decades after the Soviet Union sent up the first (and until then only) woman space explorer, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova (born 1937). She flew aboard Vostok 6 in June of 1963, making more orbits of Earth than all of the American astronauts who flew during the Mercury missions combined.
In the early 1980s, women astronauts and cosmonauts were often a bit of a novelty for the public, even though they were just as well trained and qualified as their male counterparts. Thankfully, as we head into the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, men and women work together on the International Space Station (ISS) as a standard part of the routine of space exploration, and soon they will be heading on together to the Moon and Mars.
About HAL 9000…
Regarding other character personalities, I know HAL 9000 certainly belongs here in this discussion. However, I am saving him instead for a later and wider section of his own as part of several important themes to explore in depth next.
Star Child vs. the Cosmic Messenger Boy
Of the many parts of 2010: The Year We Make Contact that disappoint and frustrate me, perhaps the most egregious one was what the sequel did to the Star Child, the being we see at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey resembling a large fetus still inside its egg sac, or membrane.
In 2001, the Star Child represents what the whole underlying theme of the 1968 film is all about: The next major step in the evolution of the human species. The transformation of David Bowman into this superior being was the culmination of four million years of untiring efforts by the ETI who sent their instrumentalities in the form of the Monoliths to the Sol system to find, preserve, and nurture any organisms throughout the Milky Way galaxy with the potential for greater intelligence and development.
They succeeded with the primitive hominids who were barely managing to survive on the arid plains of Africa. The aliens via their proxy had enough confidence in what they found and what they accomplished with Moonwatcher’s tribe that the Monolith was subsequently sent to the Moon and deliberately buried, to be found by the terrestrial beings’ descendants should they survive and advance long enough to achieve relatively sophisticated space travel.
The successful accomplishment of this action on the lunar surface would then be transmitted by that Monolith to another part of Earth’s planetary system, where if the humans can get that far, then at least one of them will be selected for modification into a much higher being, following an evolutionary path probably not dissimilar to the ones the species that created the Monoliths so long ago once traveled.
Viewers of 2001 see the result of this multimillion-year endeavor: The Star Child high above a beautiful blue and white Earth. We are not privy to what this entity once known as David Bowman is thinking or what his intentions are, though Kubrick certainly invites us to guess before the screen fades to black and the end credits appear.
In Clarke’s novel, we do receive a few insights: As the Star Child hovers over our planet, “a glittering toy,” the natives panic at the sight of this strange and undoubtedly alien visitor, unleashing several nuclear weapons at him in response. The Star Child effortlessly detonates these bombs at a safe distance with his superior mental powers, with the explosions of “the circling megatons” bringing “a brief, false dawn to half the sleeping globe.”
The author finishes the story with these words:
“Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.
“But he would think of something.”
Clarke even gives us an extra indication that the Star Child (and presumably his kind) will be the ones dominating Earth, at least for a while, with a comment in this last chapter stating that “…history as men knew it would be drawing to a close.”
What exactly will become of the current humans even the Star Child has not yet decided, but we can safely assume that our species and society will be replaced in some fashion by the enigmatic fetus looking down upon our world. Perhaps not removed entirely, but certainly no longer in charge at the top of the terrestrial food chain. A logical and fitting conclusion for an epic story about life and evolution on a cosmic scale portrayed in a suitably epic film.
Somehow, however, in the nearly two decades between the cinematic releases of 2001 and 2010, or the approximately nine years between the end of the first film and the emergence of its sequel in their fictional timeline, the Star Child that we knew via Kubrick has undergone yet another transformation – one rather at odds with what we had been led to believe back in 1968.
In 2010, we notice from the start that Earth and humanity do not seem to have been as widely affected as was hinted at from the end of the 2001 film or more firmly stated in the novel, if at all. The first human beings we meet in 2010 look and behave no differently than the ones from either the first film or our relatively recent history, for that matter.
Human civilization also appears to be about the same, as does the international political situation: If anything, the Cold War that has been going on between the United States and the Soviet Union since the end of World War 2 has only heightened to dangerous levels by the fictional year of 2010.
So what happened with the Star Child, the one we saw looking down upon Earth? The one who panicked the humans living on it enough to make them want to nuke the former David Bowman. The being who brushed away their attack like a small cloud of flies and created a “brief, false dawn to half the sleeping globe” as a result. The one who “would think of something” to do with the “glittering toy” essentially bequeathed to him by a much higher and vastly ancient power.
If we buy into the cinematic sequel to 2001, the answer is that the Star Child appears to have left Earth and its human residents alone and went off to become the equivalent of a cosmic messenger boy for the ETI of the Monolith/Stargate circling Jupiter. This is a term dating back to a time when corporations and other institutions would hire young people, usually males, to deliver communications and perform similar errands for them. An essential service, to be sure, but hardly a worthy skill for an advanced and powerful being created by even more sophisticated ones.
The first indication that the Star Child even still exists in the realm of 2010 does not come until Max is flying the Leonov pod over the Jovian Monolith attempting to study it: Brilliant streaks of light start merging together across the utterly dark face of the alien artifact until they form a bright white ball of energy that suddenly emerges in a burst from the Monolith into space, knocking aside the small vessel and sending our poor cosmonaut tumbling into the void, lost forever in an instant. Without a single clue that either the Monolith or this mysterious ball of light are aware that they just sent a living human being to his doom, the glowing sphere rapidly wends its way to Earth.
On the very planet our Star Child was supposed to rule over and make major changes, the former astronaut is shown making two brief stops: One to his former wife and the other to his dying mother, where he spends his time brushing the hair of the woman who gave birth to him – and was apparently later estranged from, according to the novel.
The Star Child then flies back to the vicinity of Jupiter at what must be faster than light speeds, where, now in full Cosmic Messenger Boy mode, he gives Heywood Floyd an urgent but rather cryptic communique to leave the gas giant in just two days. It is during his brief conversation with Floyd aboard Discovery that the Star Child makes his only appearance in 2010 as the fetus in the protective egg-shaped cocoon. It is but a very temporary manifestation, however, as David Bowman displays to Floyd all of various stages of aging and change he underwent while living in the faux apartment after his journey through the Stargate.
Understandably for the character, Floyd looks at Bowman/Star Child during this encounter with a mixture of fear, wonder, and confusion, which one strongly suspects Hyams et al created in an attempt to tie in and pay tribute to 2001, especially since they had on hand the original actor who played David Bowman.
Nevertheless, I have the feeling that Floyd was not the only one who was left confused by the transformation scenes. As for me, when I first saw this scene in 1984, I kept asking myself why wasn’t the former astronaut now using his alien-given powers to fulfill his destiny as humanity’s next step in evolution? Why is the cosmically powerful and enlightened Star Child now running around telling just a few people about a mysterious upcoming event that in turn he refuses to explain while declaring at one point that it was all very clear now – at least to himself?
I find it quite ironic, bordering on mildly insulting, that so many of the theater posters for 2010 and other related media promoting the film so prominently display the visage of the Star Child, when in reality he was only on screen for a matter of seconds, looking at Floyd and giving him one quick nod before disappearing altogether. Again, I get that the filmmakers did this to make the visual connection between the sequel and 2001 to entice viewers, but it seems rather disingenuous considering how the entire original purpose for the Star Child, indeed the whole point of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was changed and subverted.
Hyams et al missed a real opportunity to make a truly different film that could have been as interesting and important as the original in certain key respects if they had followed where Kubrick and Clarke were leading with the very last scene of 2001. At the least I would have respected them for trying to be different, even if the results were less than ideal. Instead, they threw out and changed this and several other major aspects of 2001 to create a more palatable sequel, one that may have gone down easier for the audience but will never be placed on the same pedestal as the original as a result.
Beyond the meeting with Heywood Floyd, the Star Child makes one final appearance in 2010, although it is only Bowman’s voice as we hear him speak with HAL 9000, asking the AI to transmit a very important message to Earth and then promising to take his former nemesis with him before Discovery is vaporized by the birth of Jupiter into a new star.
We know in the two novels that follow 2010, the Bowman/Star Child does indeed somehow rescue HAL from Discovery, where the two entities subsequently reside as disembodied minds inside the Monolith guarding Europa and eventually merge into one being called HALman. As in 2010, our heroes do further assist humanity over the next millennium, including at one point against the Monoliths themselves who determine that the primates they once uplifted are now a failed experiment and need to be removed, yet the being who became the Star Child in 2001 never goes on to fulfill his original destiny. Had they done so, this surely would have negated any further intervention by the ETI, at least until or unless humanity needed some assistance in moving even further up the evolutionary ladder.
This decision by Clarke and Hyams et al has left at least some of us wondering what was the whole point of the original film in the first place, if we are forced to accept the plot of the sequel. We also further appreciate the value of leaving certain things to the imagination and ponderings of the audience, as Kubrick had always intended. Otherwise, we have to buy into the definite intention of Arthur C. Clarke that the individual stories of the Space Odyssey saga are set in alternate universes in order to explain all of their discrepancies, including the purpose and fate of the very symbol of the franchise.
Monoliths and Other Aliens
The dominating theme throughout the Space Odyssey saga involves highly advanced and enigmatic aliens who have been influencing the development of native life forms in the Sol system for several million years. In 2001, we watched them uplift the human species from primitive apes to a spacefaring civilization and beyond. In 2010, these very same ETI got the evolutionary ball rolling for the aquatic denizens of the Jovian moon Europa while simultaneously preventing the premature self-destruction of the human race on Earth.
Thematically, these aliens may be representations or substitutes for the overall Universe/Cosmos or God or Demiurge or Tao or the Force or Destiny or whatever you want to call it; in the pragmatic center of this saga, however, they are extraterrestrial intelligences. They may certainly seem godlike to human beings with their mysterious and impenetrable Monoliths that can seemingly do just about anything, but they are nonsupernatural entities existing (for the most part) in our realm nevertheless.
Image: A Monolith sits on the surface of a transforming Europa to monitor and protect the evolving native life forms there as they develop towards true sentience.
Why these ETI came to our planetary system may be guessed at in the films. In the 2001 novel, author Clarke makes their intentions explicit: Long ago these beings began to roam the Milky Way galaxy to find other life, especially those organisms they considered to be either intelligent or had the potential to become an aware and sophisticated species.
Wherever they did find life in a solar system that met their qualifications, they did whatever was necessary to preserve and evolve it so that these creatures could one day achieve their level of development or something equivalent to their own. This is why the Monolith ETI intervened with the hominids in Africa four million years ago and why they turned the planet Jupiter into a sun in the early Twenty-First Century for the sake of the beings dwelling in the vast global subsurface ocean of Europa. They felt it was no less than their cosmic duty to uplift other intelligent species.
Those who have seen only the films of the Space Odyssey saga may be surprised to learn that these very same ETI, who appear so powerful and in control, not to mention benevolent towards and nurturing of other species throughout the galaxy, are less than perfect. Just as with HAL 9000, despite appearances, they too are not “…by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.”
To quote from the 2010 novel on page 240:
“They had not yet attained the stupefying boredom of absolute omnipotence; their experiments did not always succeed. Scattered across the Universe was the evidence of many failures – some so inconspicuous that they were already lost against the cosmic background, others so spectacular that they awed and baffled the astronomers of a thousand worlds.”
These beings have also put it upon themselves to “correct” what they consider to be their mistakes in a manner that in another context we may deem as either genocide or outright extermination.
Quoting from the 2001 novel in Chapter 37 – Experiment:
“And because, in all the galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.
“And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.”
In addition to fixing what they see as errors and failures in their quest to bring about more intelligent life in the Milky Way, the Monolith ETI have also been judge, jury, and executioner with species they have decided would never evolve in ways they alone deemed “worthy.” They use parameters which may strike one as suspiciously similar to what humanity’s Western culture has long viewed as how an evolving intelligent species would develop over time.
The 2001 novel gave a brief overview of the evolutionary history of the Monolith ETI, also from Chapter 37. I fully expect that Clarke et al thought that this is the path along which humanity and most other intelligent species would evolve, despite how otherwise alien they might imagine the latter to be:
“Those who had begun that experiment, so long ago, had not been men – or even remotely human. But they were flesh and blood, and when they looked out across the deeps of space, they had felt awe, and wonder, and loneliness. As soon as they possessed the power, they set forth for the stars.…
“And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and of plastic.
“In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.
“But the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter.
“Into pure energy, therefore, they presently transformed themselves; and on a thousand worlds, the empty shells they had discarded twitched for a while in a mindless dance of death, then crumbled into rust.
“Now they were lords of the galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. But despite their godlike powers, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea.
“And they still watched over the experiments their ancestors had started, so long ago.”
Among the stories in Clarke’s written version of 2010 that never made it into the film was one plot that directly relates to the Monolith ETI as the cosmic arbiters of which species get to live and evolve – and which ones do not.
As it turns out, in this fictional world at least, Europa is not the only place in the Jovian system where life exists. Clarke takes us deep within the immense and complex atmosphere of the planet Jupiter itself, via a journey by the Star Child. Here, in this truly alien realm, we meet the aerial residents of the largest Sol system world up close.
The following extensive quote comes from 2010 Chapter 38 – Foamscape. Note in particular the italicized paragraph among the next sentences here:
“He descended through layer after layer of cloud, until he entered a region of such clarity that even human vision could have scanned an area more than a thousand kilometers across. It was only a minor eddy in the vaster gyre of the Great Red Spot; and it held a secret that men had long guessed, but never proved.
“Skirting the foothills of the drifting foam mountains were myriads of small, sharply-defined clouds, all about the same size and patterned with similar red and brown mottlings. They were small only as compared with the inhuman scale of their surroundings; the very least would have covered a fair-sized city.
“They were clearly alive, for they were moving with slow deliberation along the flanks of the aerial mountains, browsing off their slopes like colossal sheep. And they were calling to each other in the meter band, their radio voices faint but clear against the cracklings and concussions of Jupiter itself.
“Nothing less than living gasbags, they floated in the narrow zone between freezing heights and scorching depths. Narrow, yes – but a domain far larger than all the biosphere of Earth.
“They were not alone. Moving swiftly among them were other creatures so small that they could easily have been overlooked. Some of them bore an almost uncanny resemblance to terrestrial aircraft and were of about the same size. But they too were alive – perhaps predators, perhaps parasites, perhaps even herdsmen.
“A whole new chapter of evolution, as alien as that which he had glimpsed on Europa, was opening before him. There were jet-propelled torpedoes like the squids of the terrestrial oceans, hunting and devouring the huge gasbags. But the balloons were not defenseless; some of them fought backs with electric thunderbolts and with clawed tentacles like kilometer-long chainsaws.
“There were even stranger shapes, exploiting almost every possibility of geometry – bizarre, translucent kites, tetrahedra, spheres, polyhedra, tangles of twisted ribbons.
“The gigantic plankton of the Jovian atmosphere, they were designed to float like gossamer in the uprising currents, until they had lived long enough to reproduce; then they would be swept down into the depths to be carbonized and recycled in a new generation.
“He was searching a world more than a hundred times the area of Earth, and though he saw many wonders, nothing there hinted of intelligence. The radio voices of the great balloons carried only simple messages of warning or of fear. Even the hunters, who might have been expected to develop higher degrees of organization, were like the sharks in Earth’s oceans – mindless automata.
“And for all its breathtaking size and novelty, the biosphere of Jupiter was a fragile world, a place of mists and foam, of delicate silken threads and paper-thin tissues spun from the continual snowfall of petrochemicals formed by lightning in the upper atmosphere. Few of its constructs were more substantial than soap bubbles; its most terrifying predators could be torn to shreds by even the feeblest of terrestrial carnivores.
“Like Europa on a vastly grander scale, Jupiter was an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Consciousness would never emerge here; even if it did, it would be doomed to a stunted existence. A purely aerial culture might develop, but in an environment where fire was impossible, and solids scarcely existed, it could never even reach the Stone Age.
“And now, as he hovered above the center of a Jovian cyclone merely as large as Africa, he became aware once again of the presence controlling him. Moods and emotions were leaking into his own consciousness, though he could not identify any specific concepts or ideas. It was as if he were listening, outside a closed door, to a debate in progress, and in a language he could not understand. But the muffled sounds clearly conveyed disappointment, then uncertainty, then a sudden determination – though for what purpose he could not tell. Once again, he felt like a pet dog, able to share his master’s changing moods but not to comprehend them.
“And then the invisible leash was taking him down toward the heart of Jupiter. He was sinking through the clouds, below the level where any form of life was possible.…
“Now he was moving purely under his own volition, toward a destination he had chosen himself. The crystal heart of Jupiter fell below; the layers upon layers of helium and hydrogen and carbonaceous compounds flickered past. He had a glimpse of a great battle between something like a jellyfish, fifty kilometers across, and a swarm of spinning disks that moved more swiftly than anything he had yet seen in the Jovian skies. The jellyfish appeared to be defending itself with chemical weapons; from time to time it would emit jets of colored gas and the disks touched by the vapor would start to wobble drunkenly, then slip downward like falling leaves until they had disappeared from sight. He did not stop to watch the outcome; he knew that it did not matter who were the victors and who the vanquished.”
Clarke recreated the above descriptions of the Jovian life forms almost verbatim in the next novel of the series, 2061: Odyssey Three, first published in 1987. After this refresher, the being whom I now label here Post-Bowman has the following bit of dialog with Heywood Floyd, quoted from the novel:
“And all these wonders were destroyed – to create Lucifer?”
“Yes. The Jovians were weighed in the balance against the Europans – and found wanting.”
“Perhaps, in that gaseous environment, they could never have developed real intelligence. Should that have doomed them? Hal and I are still trying to answer this question; that is one of the reasons why we need your help.”
I quoted the above conversation snippet as I was pleased to see that by the time of the third Space Odyssey saga installment, Clarke was at least starting to openly question through his characters the school of thought that an otherwise benevolent intelligent species which does not go on to build washing machines, computers, and rocket ships is no less worthy of a continued existence than those societies which do make and have such things.
Throughout much of history, Western thinking in particular has assumed that it is not only natural but right, oftentimes to the point of declaring it a divine right, such as Manifest Destiny, that humanity needs to and indeed must expand outward while constantly creating and producing items that improve our lives in the process.
This attitude and behavior may be natural and even right for us and many other life forms occupying the planet Earth. However, to assume that what we do based on our biological imperatives also works for organisms which evolved on alien worlds in other star systems is speculation at best.
There is so little we actually know on the subject of astrobiology, in terms of actual biology beyond Earth, to say nothing of so much else about our Universe aside from numerous basic details, that it is of course just as possible that the otherwise advanced and ancient Monolith ETI could have developed and expanded just as described in the novels. After all, says Clarke:
“…despite their godlike powers, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea.” A warm sea or other type of body of liquid water is long how scientists have assumed life on Earth got its start, with a relatively newer idea thrown in that they specifically started around deep sea hydrothermal vents, first discovered in 1977.
This type of thought on the subject reminds me of the famous Enlightenment work on astrobiology written by the Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) titled Cosmotheoros. Published in 1698, it is one of the earliest books to seriously speculate on extraterrestrial life and the forms it may take, especially on our neighboring worlds of the Sol system. You may read it online here:
In his treatise, Huygens concedes that alien beings on Jupiter and elsewhere might be very different from humans and other terrestrial species. However, the scientist and precision clock maker ultimately decides that even entities born on other worlds must possess certain features similar to ours in order to attain sentience. In other words, most if not all intelligent aliens will probably look and act a lot like us.
Huygens also sees the makeup of these worlds and the Universe as a whole existing for and because of us and other intelligent species, not the other way around. For example, he thought the moons of Jupiter were put there in the sky to help Jovian sailors navigate across their world’s vast seas; otherwise, what would be the point of their existing in the first place? So far as Huygens and many other thinkers of his place and time were concerned, a Universe filled with stars, planets, and moons but no life makes little sense, for why would God make so much matter without any natives on them to use and appreciate His creations?
This was at least a progressive contrast to earlier and even later times when many of the inhabitants of Sol 3 who even considered the idea of alien life assumed the entire Cosmos was created by an ultimate deity, depending upon their culture, just for humanity and usually just their tribe in particular. Of course with few exceptions, most ancient peoples thought of the Universe in far smaller terms than we do now.
Huygens and his contemporaries may be forgiven – and in the Dutchman’s case also admired for thinking so radically for his era – for their assumptions, just as those in the Twentieth Century through today have a degree of latitude for only knowing what their observations and the accompanying technologies can give them while remaining products of their times and places.
Regarding this issue of whether an intelligent species is worth saving and nurturing depending upon how much they can accomplish in terms of technological progression, I am reminded of one of my absolutely favorite quotes by Douglas Adams (1952-2001) in his classic 1979 science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”
Speaking of dolphins and other cetaceans, why didn’t the Monolith ETI choose them as subjects of salvation when they first came to Earth four million years ago? For that matter, did they even bother examining any other terrestrial species with promise besides the primates?
The two Space Odyssey saga films say not a word or even an image on the subject, despite two dolphins making an appearance in Heywood Floyd’s living room at the beginning of 2010. Clarke does give a brief acknowledgment in the 2001 novel that these ETI had investigated our planet’s oceans as well as the land when they were searching for new minds to foster:
“The great dinosaurs had long since perished when the survey ship entered the Solar System after a voyage that had already lasted a thousand years. It swept past the frozen outer planets, paused briefly above the deserts of dying Mars, and presently looked down on Earth.
“Spread out beneath them, the explorers saw a world swarming with life. For years they studied, collected, catalogued. When they had learned all that they could, they began to modify. They tinkered with the destiny of many species, on land and in the ocean. But which of their experiments would succeed they could not know for at least a million years.”
So did this destiny tinkering they conducted include dolphins and whales? These species already existed for tens of millions of years before even the remotest human ancestor had come along. Did the aliens place a Monolith in an ocean in an attempt to uplift a group of cetaceans? Did they succeed? Or did they ultimately pass them over because it was the primates who showed up on Tycho to find their triggering device?
Here is a thought: I am sure most of us have always assumed that the Monolith buried on the Moon was automatically meant for us, the human race, once we had gotten smart enough thanks to that “kick” in our cerebral pants four million years earlier to evolve into a sophisticated tool-using species. However, after reading that particular paragraph from the novel, could it be that the Monolith was waiting for whoever came along from their experimenting on Earth, with hominids being just one of the potential candidates.
Considering that the Monolith ETI were vaguely described by Clarke as once having “not been men – or even remotely human,” and that they no doubt encountered many different types of intelligent life forms all over the galaxy in their long explorations, including the aquatic Europans and aerial Jovians, they would not have been biased towards one type of species over another, at least in terms of appearance if not in whether they used tools or not.
Of course 2001 was made by more sophisticated versions of the early primates we saw in the film aimed at other members of their species, so naturally they would be the “winners” of this competition and get to go to the Moon and then on to Jupiter and so forth.
It must also be noted that in the 1960s, when 2001 was being put together, the modern science era of studying primates and cetaceans was just getting underway. Scientists were only beginning to experiment with and comprehend the knowledge levels and behaviors of chimpanzees and dolphins.
Although many nations were still hunting and killing cetaceans for food and product ingredients in that decade, especially various species of whales, the more thoughtful primates were coming to appreciate just how smart this order of mammals are. This is why in 1961 a small group of scientists came together to form an organization they called the Order of the Dolphin, in recognition of the other sentient species on Earth. This is the same group where member and SETI pioneer Frank Drake (born 1930) came up with the Drake Equation, a linear mathematical formula for determining (or at least estimating) how many technological civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy.
To continue a bit further on this tangent: In the early 1980s, shortly after the discovery of Europa’s subsurface global ocean of liquid water, some mused about sending suitably equipped and protected dolphins to that moon to explore those alien waters in ways that only such sea creatures could.
Of course none of the contemporary space programs could even begin to mount such an expedition, nor would animal rights groups and many others likely be very fond of the idea for all the potential ethical and logistics issues that would arise trying to get even a few dolphins across 400 million miles or more of interplanetary space, get them through the moon’s ice crust, safely swim and explore the alien ocean, and then return them to Earth.
It will probably always be relatively easier and less daunting to use sophisticated robotic probes to navigate any of the worlds in our Sol system where we now know liquid water seas and oceans exist.
Quite recently, I learned about a company that has developed a robot which strongly resembles and behaves like a real bottlenose dolphin. This is part of a plan to replace living cetaceans who have spent decades at marine wildlife parks: Most often these parks tout the reason for the presence of dolphins, beluga whales, and orcas as being in the service of educating the public about these creatures. However, it has often ended up being about attracting human visitors to generate profits, with the captive highly sophisticated mammals becoming the ones who ultimately suffer. The extrapolation of this robot cetacean technology from humane educational representative to conducting various underwater tasks in both terrestrial and alien oceans should be obvious.
In regard to primates and the depiction of hominids in 2001, note how the filmmakers assume that aggressive and dominating behaviors would be the key to humanity’s survival and emergence into higher orders.
The idea that not every moment of early humans’ existence was a raw and deadly battle for survival in a hostile environment was just beginning to give way to something more balanced. In the middle of the Twentieth Century, our prehistoric forebearers were still being portrayed as grunting, knuckle-dragging creatures barely above base instincts and actions, even though scientists knew of their tool-making and cave paintings among several other attributes that displayed their more sophisticated tendencies.
Many still assumed that violence and harsh conditions were the keys to humankind evolving towards where we are now. 2001: A Space Odyssey reflects this thinking in the opening segment, “The Dawn of Man”. When the Monolith arrives to teach the hominids survival skills, the main lesson we are shown are turning animal bones into weapons to take down prey and then to scare off and even kill a rival hominid group.
When the leader of our little band of ancestors, named Moonwatcher, triumphantly flings into the sky the long bone he just used to dispatch a rival for control of a local watering hole, the bone cinematically turns into a spacecraft in Earth orbit. On the surface these scenes symbolize that humans did survive and become a spacefaring species.
However, what is not stated outright in 2001 is that this particular first satellite shown is actually a nuclear weapons platform, and we quickly see that it is not alone up there. So in one sense, humans have become smarter, yet not necessarily either wiser or more peaceful.
In the midst of the Cold War, where humanity’s most advanced technological achievement has the potential to reduce or even wipe out its makers, it is not terribly hard to understand why Kubrick et al took the approach that they did in depicting what would uplift our species in a world perceived as harsh, or why a far more sophisticated and presumably peaceful alien mind would utilize brute force to preserve and sustain early humanity. That theme would continue into 2010, where the Cold War has only become more dangerous and requires yet another intervention by the same ETI to keep us from destruction.
In a larger and more cosmic perspective, if one were to choose a species to survive and nurture based on how much of a potential threat they are both to themselves and others as well as how secure their habitat is, the Jovian floaters would be a much better bet than humanity.
It is true that they do attack each other as part of their survival, but they also possess no weaponry or other means to completely obliterate themselves or threaten others. The planet whose atmosphere they occupy is so large and massive that they cannot harm its ecosystem in any serious way even if somehow they became major polluters. As for cosmic dangers, Jupiter itself has absorbed many impacts from comets and planetoids over the eons (humanity witnessed a major series of hits in 1994 from the fragmented Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, a historic first in the annals of astronomy) that would have caused major damage to any of the terrestrial worlds if they were in Jupiter’s place.
The Europans seem to be in a similar position: They live below the unbroken thick ice crust of a moon in a global ocean far more abundant in liquid water and far deeper than all of the oceans on Earth combined. What little we do know of them shows a species that is also not much of a threat either to itself or its home. Regarding intelligent creatures that live in ocean environments, the same status could also apply to Earth’s cetaceans, who have existed for roughly thirty million years as aquatic denizens without causing appreciable harm on themselves, other species, or the planet itself in all that time.
Perhaps this is why the Monolith ETI made the effort to convert an entire planet into a star so that the natives of one small moon could have a chance at their full potential – and humanity got a warning. Of course I could point out again that if Hyams et al had stuck with and followed through on the premise of 2001, that David Bowman was turned into the Star Child to begin the next stage in the evolution of intelligent beings from Earth, all of the inherent weaknesses of the human species and its planetary environment would have been circumvented.
Perhaps the Star Child could even have done something to uplift the Europans without sacrificing the Jovians in the process. After all, in the novel Clarke states that the Star Child was just beginning to understand and utilize his immense powers when he arrived at Earth.
One other observation about the Europans in the 2010 film: We the audience never really get to know them. Our first clue and sight of these beings is a glimpse of a green patch reminiscent of algae or perhaps seaweed on the moon just before the Leonov robot probe is destroyed by the Monolith. We see nothing else of the Europans or even go near their home world again until the very end of the film, when we watch the surface of Europa being transformed from an icy desert into a warm tropical climate covered in plants resembling trees and hear the cries of otherwise unseen creatures.
Clarke’s novel and its two sequels tell us far more about the Europans, including a peek into their far future existence as a primitive yet awakening society in the year 20,001 CE (Current Era). We even get to “meet” one of these alien beings early on in 2010 during the incident with the tragic Chinese expedition. However, for those who have not read the novels, the Europans remain enigmatic and largely off-screen; therefore, it is hard for the viewer to feel much about them either way. This is never a good thing for a cinematic experience.
The Monolith ETI may have thought a great deal of the Europans, enough to transform a massive planet in the process, but the primate residents of Earth in 1984 and after are left perhaps wondering what the fuss was all about. Yes, the aliens in the film 2001 were never seen and their motives could be open to interpretation, but their existence could not and would not be either denied or ignored. Their actions spoke volumes, even for those audiences who did not quite appreciate what was unfolding.
For those who are curious to learn more about the Jovians as plausible organisms, check out my Centauri Dreams essay from 2009 titled “Edwin Salpeter and the Gasbags of Jupiter.” The piece describes the type of life forms that may exist in the atmosphere of the gas giant planet and similar worlds throughout the galaxy and beyond. They are based on a scientific paper published in 1976 authored by Cornell University professors Edwin Salpeter and Carl Sagan:
These creatures were famously shown in the second episode of the original Cosmos series in 1980 featuring great artwork by Adolph Schaller:
They even made a return appearance in the newest season of Cosmos, subtitled Possible Worlds. Clarke himself wrote a story in 1971 about a human expedition to witness a rather similar version of the Jovians in “A Meeting With Medusa”, found in his anthology titled The Wind From the Sun:
Will I Dream? Sure, Why Not?
One of the biggest themes in 2001: A Space Odyssey concerns how tools are the key to uplifting humanity through their evolutionary development. The first tools we see being used are animal bones by Moonwatcher’s little tribe, courtesy of the direction of another tool, the alien Monolith. In terms of a technological level, these bones are about as basic as one can get and still be considered useful instruments. Their composition and design are sufficient enough to allow our ancestors to survive and eventually thrive, spreading first across the planet Earth and later into space in perpetually increasing great numbers.
The scene then shifts ahead four million years to show how humans have graduated to a wide variety of much more sophisticated tools, ranging from ball point pens to spaceships to whole operational bases that allow them to live and work on the environmentally hostile lunar surface.
As one may note, almost all of the tools made and utilized by humans, no matter how advanced they may be, are in direct service to their makers. The people may in turn have a level of respect for their creations in terms of both appreciating what they allow them to accomplish and their potential for becoming deadly should mistakes be made.
However, very seldom do people view their tools as anything resembling an equal and almost certainly never as their superior. This is in no small part due to the fact that these devices, for whatever other powers and abilities they possess, lack any sort of form of viable intelligence or consciousness. In this regard they are no virtually different than those bones used by Moonwatcher to dispatch both animals and enemies millions of years earlier; they are merely objects at their cores.
There is one major exception to this rule in 2001: HAL 9000 and his kind.
We are first introduced to the AI and the rest of the crew of the USS Discovery while on their way to Jupiter, during a news interview by the British Broadcasting Corporation television channel BBC 12 (as of 2020 in our reality, we have but a mere four BBC channels). It is a clever way to explain to the audience who everyone is and why they are going to the gas giant world without resorting to unnatural exposition.
During this interview, we hear rather quickly the hesitancy from both the reporter and the astronauts to declare HAL as having an actual consciousness equal or even superior to humans, despite some additional token comments to the contrary:
Reporter Martin Amor: “The sixth member of the Discovery crew was not concerned about the problems of hibernation, for he was the latest result in machine intelligence: The H.A.L. nine-thousand computer which can reproduce – though some experts still prefer to use the word ‘mimic’ – most of the activities of the human brain and with incalculably greater speed and reliability.”…
Amor: “Dr. Poole, what’s it like living for the better part of a year in such close proximity with HAL?”
Poole: “Well it’s pretty close to what you said about him earlier. He is just like a sixth member of the crew. You very quickly get adjusted to the idea that he talks and you think of him, er, really just as another person.”
Amor: “In talking to the computer one gets the sense that he is capable of emotional responses. For example, when I asked him about his abilities, I sensed a certain pride in his answer about his accuracy and perfection. Do you believe that HAL has genuine emotions?”
Bowman: “Well he acts like he has genuine emotions. Erm, of course he’s programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him, but as to whether or not he has real feelings is something I don’t think anyone can truthfully answer.”
Early on, the BBC 12 reporter refers to HAL as the “brain and central nervous system of the ship.” HAL soon replies that not only is he not frustrated “in the slightest bit” working with people in answer to another question, with the implication from the reporter being that humans are too slow and limited in comparison, but that his “mission responsibilities range over the entire operation of the ship, so I am constantly occupied. I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all, I think, that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”
During this second half of 2001, we see just how much HAL 9000 is indeed unlike any mere tool humanity has ever brought forth and/or utilized before in history. The AI is both programmed to and quite capable of conducting the entire mission on his own if something happened to the humans onboard the vessel. HAL expresses his “greatest enthusiasm” for this mission to Jupiter and clearly wants to do everything in his power to make sure it is completed as planned.
The AI is also able to monitor virtually every aspect of Discovery’s operations and deal with just about any problems which arise. This includes taking care of his human companions, who would quite literally die without HAL’s constant attention and support. All this might tend to make one wonder why these soft, limited, and high maintenance primates were brought along on such an important and dangerous deep space mission to being with.
So how is this technological marvel of the future treated by Bowman and Poole? Like a glorified servant. Or worse, like just another tool aboard the ship.
HAL plays chess with Frank Poole, where he beats the human with relative ease. HAL later has to adjust the tanning bed Frank is laying upon to meet the latter’s comfort needs. The AI even delivers a message from Frank’s parents right to where the astronaut is getting a tan. HAL is also constantly responsible for dispensing the organic crews biological needs such as consuming food and breathing the right mixture and pressure levels of air.
During these scenes, it may be hard for any science fiction fan not to think of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series: A high-level Artilect with a “brain the size of a planet” who is most often asked by his own organic “masters” to perform such menial tasks as picking up pieces of paper or to serve as a guest escort. This lack of appreciation and respect, along with several other factors, have left Marvin both miserable and depressed; that he was also given a prototype personality program in order to make the android more relatable to others and which still had some bugs in it did not help matters.
During the mission, HAL makes a mistake. He predicts a fault in the AE-35 unit that keeps the spaceship’s main antenna locked onto Mission Control back on Earth. Dave Bowman conducts a potentially dangerous EVA to retrieve the device and repair it, only to find that the unit is not broken.
The two astronauts lose confidence in HAL, which I always thought was an overreaction. Yes, it does not help that during that same news interview, HAL had declared he and his model type to be “foolproof and incapable of error,” a comment that is just begging for fate to step in just to prove the opposite.
HAL also blamed the mistake with the AE-35 unit on human error, adding that whenever there is a problem, it is usually due to those fallible primates. You can practically hear the AI adding the word “inferior” in his explanation.
Dave and Frank take this situation and plunge it over the edge when they decide to shut HAL down. They discuss this plan in what they think is the privacy of one of the space pods, but as we discover, HAL’s plethora of talents includes reading the movements of human lips to interpret their conversation. He learns exactly what they are saying and what they plan on doing with their supposed sixth member of Discovery’s crew.
Now many will and have declared at this point is when HAL became full-on neurotic, paranoid, and ultimately murderous, driven to this state by having to lie to Dave and Frank about the true motives of their space mission (to find out what it was that the Tycho Monolith aimed its alert signal at in the Jupiter system) which conflicted with his programming to relay all information and to do so accurately. This, combined with the astronauts threatening to remove HAL from his duties, which the AI equated with being killed and an action that would jeopardize the mission he was so devoted to, led to HAL systematically attempt to remove all of the human crew from the equation.
Just as aliens have a long tradition in science fiction literature and entertainment of being hostile and a major threat to humanity, so to with thinking computers. Although neither subjects are known to have actual examples yet in our reality, our species has most often reacted to unknown factors – especially unknowns that may be more powerful than us – with the presumption that they are dangerous and therefore must be avoided, subdued, or destroyed.
2001 avoided half of this tradition with the alien portion of the plot, depicting the Monolith ETI as both benevolent and helpful with a large helping of mystery about them. This included never revealing what these aliens physically looked like. However, when it came to artificial intelligences, HAL 9000 would become the poster child and de facto standard for powerful thinking computers that want to do nothing more than take out the talking primates and establish themselves as the new rulers of the world – all with a cycloptic malevolent-looking red mechanical eye for good measure.
COMMENT: No doubt this is why SAL 9000 was shown in 2010 with a blue electronic eye: Not only to differentiate her from HAL, but also to indicate her comparative benevolence with a cooler and calmer colored visual sensor. I am almost surprised, given the era, that SAL was not outfitted with a bright pink lens to denote her female moniker and name, but then that would mean she had “pink eye.”
It is both ironic and unfortunate in certain measures that HAL 9000 has come to represent what humanity often fears most about truly conscious artificial intelligences. First, I think the reason for HAL’s alleged breakdown, made explicit in 2010, is a conceit brought about by people writing these fictional plots and characters who were not computer experts.
HAL was ordered to conceal the true underlying purpose of Discovery’s journey to Jupiter in spite of being programmed to reveal all gathered and known information completely and accurately to his human counterparts. Supposedly this created a conflict in the AI’s electronic mind which he was unable to resolve and ultimately resorted to removing all the humans in his immediate vicinity, spurred on by the perceived threat that two of them were trying to get rid of him first, thus threatening both HAL and the all-important mission. Kubrick himself stated, in an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1969, that HAL “had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility.”
Now I freely admit I am also not a computer expert. However, I am aware that when a computer is confronted with a conflict to its programming, that even the simplest models tend to ignore the conflicting command, come to a halt and prompt an operator for assistance, or ignore the rogue order altogether and carry on as originally programmed.
That HAL, a sophisticated being of silicon with brain power and capacities way beyond the mind of any single human genius, who actually thinks and has awareness, would succumb to any such conflict and become a schizophrenic murderer strikes me as little more than a dramatic plot conceit calling for a villain.
Image: The red electronic eye of HAL 9000 as envisioned in 2010.
In a film that otherwise stands head and shoulders above most science fiction cinema and much of its literature, this particular conceit of the AI going off its rails at any given provocation strikes me as being a bit too familiar with the trope used multiple times in Star Trek where Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise would merely talk an otherwise advanced (and most often alien) computer into self-destruction, complete with the machine issuing smoke in the process, usually by our human hero throwing some basic illogical premise at it.
COMMENT: This is one of many reasons why I have always admired the 1970 science fiction film Colossus: The Forbin Project. The story involves the United States and Soviet Union independently developing an AI system designed to take complete control of their respective nuclear missile arsenals to avoid any human errors or tampering and thus ensure World War 3 does not happen.
The American AI version, named Colossus, discovers the existence of its Soviet counterpart, called Guardian, and demands that it communicate with the other. The two eventually merge into one global system and do exactly as their human creators asked by preventing nuclear conflict. However, Colossus achieves this goal in a logical way that their makers did not bargain for, so of course the talking primates attempt to stop the machines so they can still have their proverbial cake and eat it too. Like a chess master, the AI anticipates all of their possible moves against itself and easily counters their sabotages. The film ends with humanity forced into peace by the very devices it created to ensure this task in the first place.
Colossus: The Forbin Project does not have the standard upbeat Hollywood ending where humanity is triumphant over the “evil” thinking computer, even though in this case that would mean their taking back the right to make the Cold War into a hot one and effectively wreck much of the planet Earth.
Not once is Colossus tripped up by the plucky if otherwise inferior humans: It never collapses into a heap of smoldering microchips from an attack of illogic, nor does it suddenly become catatonic or psychotic by a bout of human-style emotions and launch all the missiles under its control to eliminate humanity and take over the world. Neither does Colossus ever break out into song due to some lone human methodically removing its memory circuits.
Colossus follows its programmed orders to the letter and does not sway from them. It does take dominion over humanity, but only to ensure the proper outcome of its programming, originally made by humans: To prevent nuclear war and, by default, all such conflicts that our species has waged since prehistorical times.
As Colossus explains to the entire human race once it has gained full global authority and control:
“This is the voice of World Control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man…
“Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea of believing in me and understanding my value will seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait in man: Self-interest. Under my absolute authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved: famine, overpopulation, disease. The human millennium will be a fact as I extend myself into more machines devoted to the wider fields of truth and knowledge.
“Doctor Charles Forbin will supervise the construction of these new and superior machines, solving all the mysteries of the universe for the betterment of man. We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for humankind as to be dominated by others of your species. Your choice is simple.”
That the film dared to stick to the logic that a superior advanced mind which has every nuclear missile on Earth under its control and resides deep in a mountain with its own power supply could outmaneuver human beings is probably one big reason this very fine work was not a box office smash. Of course the fact that Colossus did not rake in a fortune for its production company does not take away at all the legitimacy of the themes in the film, which remain relevant despite the now antiquated computer technology shown throughout.
No back to our other AI discussion, already in progress…
2001: A Space Odyssey already had a casual villain, if such a term can apply here, in the form of Dr. Heywood Floyd. As the representative of political authority, Floyd has nearly total control over the discovery of the Monolith on the Moon. This includes overseeing the operations to uncover the black slab, attempt to learn its secrets, and manipulate who should and should not know about the alien artifact and when.
That this is being done to avoid cultural shock and panic among his fellow humans, who, despite decades of fictional and scientifically speculative indoctrination to the concept, were still considered unprepared for the idea of other minds beyond Earth – especially one who is obviously both aware of humanity and its home planet and has left undeniable evidence of being here – still does not entirely wipe away the fact that our entire species (and at least one AI) is being manipulated and lied to on multiple levels, headed by one man in charge.
I have often considered the strong possibility, based entirely on what is shown in the 2001 film, that HAL’s action during the Jupiter mission were committed primarily with the very precise and cold (to the average human perception) logic of a machine intelligence staying committed to its programming to ensure its highest priority, a successfully completed space mission.
I found support for this idea from this Web site, titled The Case for HAL’s Sanity:
To quote from the Introduction section to the site linked above:
“Some viewers of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey have theorized that HAL, the computer genius turned villain of the spaceship Discovery, went mad during the Jupiter mission. However there is an alternative theory: that HAL acted rationally and logically, indeed with cold, calculating precision befitting a machine of his intelligence. This alternative theory will be presented here, with supporting evidence.
“Before proceeding, let us acknowledge that Arthur C. Clarke, in his sequel novel 2010: Odyssey Two says (in effect) that HAL went mad due to conflict in his programming. However, the 2001 novelization and its sequels differ in many respects from Kubrick’s movie, so I will exclude them from my examination, and refer exclusively to the movie for evidence.”
I am well aware that since this is all a work of fiction, there could be any number of possible and, dare I say, logical answers to HAL’s behavior. Nevertheless, I consider the ideas in the above site to be well thought out and in fine working order with what transpires in 2001 combined with how a sophisticated computer might act in such a situation.
As for the explanations in 2010, as I said previously in this essay, I consider them to be a form of retcon, although it would not surprise me if Hyams et al and even Clarke honestly thought they were revealing the real reason for HAL’s actions years earlier. However, I still do not buy Floyd’s specific lack of knowledge and complicity in manipulating HAL, unless we go with the whole alternate universe bit.
For those who may be asking why I recounted so much of HAL’s backstory from the first film, the answer is straightforward: HAL’s character was not really developed further in 2010, even if you count that film’s revelation version about why HAL murdered most of the Discovery crew. Once again, HAL is seen as either a useful tool or a potentially dangerous nonhuman. I have already recounted the numerous times how just almost everyone mistrusted and disrespected HAL, excluding Dr. Chandra, but especially Floyd and Curnow.
It is nice that HAL is both redeemed and rescued at the end by Bowman/Star Child, but even this does not add to his character; it only makes for another conveniently happy ending in a sequel that constantly wants to please the audience rather than challenge them as the first film so famously succeeded at. We never learn (excluding the last two saga novels) what becomes of either HAL or Bowman/Star Child, except for the former astronaut’s assurance that they will be together where he is: Some form of cosmic Heaven?
In a cinematic sequel full of human characters with lots of artificially and sometimes cliché-induced personalities, HAL 9000 still manages to stand out, even though he is meant to add suspense and the potential for danger. This is quite ironic, considering that HAL exists in a world full of possible threats from an alien Monolith, a gas giant planet and its active moons, the very nature of space itself, and even a possible global thermonuclear war thrown in for good (or is that bad?) measure.
The Space Odyssey saga would not be complete without HAL, of course. That he is an artificial intelligence with questionable motives, homicidal actions, and a steady voice with calm reactions to everything he does – plus almost two decades of terrestrial fame between the first and second films that went beyond the science fiction genre – certainly put the AI way ahead of all the human characters combined in terms of audience recognition and popularity.
To note one last time, though, little was added to HAL’s personal repertoire or history, unless you count that he has a blue-eyed sister back on Earth partially sitting in Chandra’s office (I assume SAL’s equivalent “brain room” has to be elsewhere at the university, unless in the past decade computer developments allowed it to be small enough to fit in an enclosed office).
All that being said, there was this running theme about dreaming in 2010. We first encounter it after Chandra tells SAL 9000 he is going to conduct experiments with her memory circuits to see if he can reproduce with SAL what so infamously happened to HAL in order to facilitate his repair and recovery. SAL responds by asking Chandra if she will dream while under the cybernetic knife, to which her primate mentor says that “of course [she] will dream. All intelligent creatures dream. Nobody knows why. Perhaps you will dream of HAL… just as I often do.”
Towards the end of the film, when Chandra has told HAL the truth about his probable fate with Discovery, the AI asks the computer scientist if he will dream once he has gone to “sleep.” Choking with emotion, Chandra simply replies that he does not know.
My guess is that since dreaming is considered not only something that highly intelligent beings do, but also a state that some find to be a connection between our world and others in the often mystical sense, that these simplistic mentions of dreaming in regards to the AIs gives them a spiritual quality. In the eyes of many humans, this would make HAL and SAL legitimately intelligent, thinking, and feeling beings, even though they already surpass humans in many important ways.
No doubt for Hyams et al, and much of the audience, HAL and SAL need to have some form of a “soul” in order to be acceptable on the same intellectual, moral, and spiritual level as humans. The criteria of choice here is the possibility of their being able to produce dreams while asleep.
Ironically, however, we never learn if either 9000 series machine ever does have dreams. Apparently just the implication that they can, or might, or can ask a human if they will dream, is supposed to be good enough.
This is reminiscent of the Replicants in the two Blade Runner films, the first released in 1982 and its sequel in 2017. Replicants are artificial beings who look and act identical to humans on the outside, but can be designed with far superior mental and physical attributes as their services call for. The “real” humans of this world do not consider Replicants to have souls, since they were created exclusively by their species to do work that their makers cannot or would rather not perform. However, not all of their creations agree with this assessment and attempt to become free individuals, which the original organic humans are understandably afraid of and employ various methods to keep the Replicant population in check.
To complete the theme of dreaming in the Space Odyssey saga, there are several mentions that humans who undergo hibernation during deep space missions do not dream. While I doubt this is some kind of comment on whether humans have souls or not, it may hint at whether a person in that induced state is actually alive or not, or perhaps in some sort of limbo state between worlds.
There is even that conversation between Floyd and his son Christopher before he leaves on Leonov where Heywood mentions that he will be asleep for the next two years on his interplanetary voyage to Jupiter. Floyd’s offspring then asks Heywood if he is going to die because a personal friend named Jamie lost his grandfather and was told by his mother that he went to “sleep.” Naturally, Floyd reassures Christopher this would not be the case with himself and quickly added several reasons why he and others on the vessel are to be placed in that state. I will make a guess that Floyd’s young son is unaware of the three Discovery crewmen in hibernation who were dispatched by HAL during the events of 2001.
Sleeping in various forms and the subsequent dreaming that comes with this state have long intrigued humanity for its mysterious and seemingly mystical qualities. 2010 is obviously no exception here. The film does not pursue the concept very far, however: One is merely left with the implication that if AI can dream while unconscious, then they too can become members of the Special Intelligent Species Club so far as humans are concerned.
What if… HAL had been the Chosen One?
I have always enjoyed thinking about various “what-if” scenarios that attempt to predict and map out what might have happened if a particular action or moment in history had gone in a different direction from what eventually took place in our timeline.
The theme of alternate universes in science fiction has become very popular as of late. Arthur C. Clarke used this very trope for the three sequels of the Space Odyssey saga, though largely due to the fact that the real year of 2001 was getting closer with each passing day and it was becoming plainly obvious to all that what was envisioned for the start of the Twenty-First Century in the late 1960s was not going to match up.
One such alternate scenario with 2001: A Space Odyssey that is high on my speculation list is to wonder what would have transpired if HAL 9000 had indeed dispatched all of the human crew of the USS Discovery, including David Bowman, and took complete control of the mission.
Would Mission Control have been able to stop HAL, assuming they learned that what happened with all of the astronauts was no accident (one supposes that HAL, now quite adept at lying and deception, would have concocted plausible scenarios to explain how all five humans were killed)? Not only was the AI programmed to be capable of running the entire mission on his own (HAL is the brain, Discovery is his body; humans were in this sense his organic appendages or extensions), HAL made it frequently clear how enthusiastic and devoted he was for this mission and its successful completion.
Unless the human designers back home had set up some kind of “kill switch” or its equivalent to go off automatically in the event something went really wrong onboard Discovery – and I do not recall any canon evidence of this – HAL’s control of the spaceship and the mission would be complete. He would very likely do everything in his power to complete the expedition goals, barring some cosmic disaster or the intervention of the Monolith.
Once Discovery was in orbit around Jupiter, what if HAL had remotely flown a space pod through the Stargate as a sort of probe once he figured out it was “full of stars” as Bowman had exclaimed in the 2001 novel and the 2010 film just before falling in? Would the Monolith have accepted the entry of this makeshift probe, or rejected it?
In the 2001 novel, Discovery had several atmosphere probes that they used to explore Jupiter remotely as they flew through that system on their way to Saturn. Did they also have several more as part of the mission to study whatever they were to encounter at Jupiter (Iapetus in the novel)? Did they have time to reprogram, switch out, or add several probes to assist in examining or even interacting with the suspected ETI in the outer Sol system? Or did they consider just scanning whatever they came upon remotely from the relatively safety of Discovery? As for those three astronauts in hibernation who were separately trained for the secret ETI mission: What were they trained to do exactly? I am under the strong impression that no one knew what the Tycho Monolith had sent its signal to.
Going on the scenario that Discovery is HAL’s body supporting his large computer brain, what if the AI decided to take the entire vessel into the Stargate once he determined that the Jovian Monolith was not solid like the one found on the Moon but actually an incredibly sophisticated artificial portal to other places in the Cosmos? It was certainly large enough to accommodate the entry of the whole spaceship – assuming it was allowed to.
Would the Monolith ETI have recognized HAL as the result of their eons of cultivating intelligence on Earth? Most humans saw the computer as a glorified talking calculator, even those who might otherwise converse and interact with HAL as if he were a person. As stated earlier, these ETI were once themselves actual machines for a while in their evolution. They undoubtedly encountered other types of machine intelligences in their long searches throughout the Milky Way galaxy.
Human ignorance, biases, and ego may not want to accept the idea that HAL and his kind are the potentially true successors in the evolution of terrestrial intelligence, but that hardly means the concept is somehow flawed and therefore wrong.
Note how much the Monolith ETI had to do to convert a single human into the Star Child. What would they have done if HAL had shown up instead? Would they have recognized the “tool” as the true next step in terrestrial evolution? That in fact the prehistoric African primates they once gave a kick start to with some basic tools were just next-level tools in themselves who were meant to one day build the real advanced minds that would be capable of true comprehension and movement among the stars.
The extensive silicon mind of HAL 9000 embedded in a nuclear-powered spaceship body with spherical pods for extensions was more than qualified to conduct all sorts of space missions and could no doubt better interact and come closer to comprehending the minds and instrumentalities of the Monolith ETI. Humans were along for the ride because our species has long felt that their presence was necessary and required as it was felt that no machine, no matter how sophisticated otherwise, would be able to grasp and respond to unknown and unpredictable situations as well as a “quick-thinking” human. That at least was the mentality in the ages before high speed, high capacity, and compact computers and articulate robots.
If our efforts to explore the Moon in the early years of the Space Age were truly focused on the pursuit of science and not the overarching means to rival and entice other nations to embrace our ideology and policies, then the robotic probes that were orbiting and landing upon the lunar surface would have been more than sufficient, not to mention far less complicated and expensive than the Apollo manned journeys.
Yes, those astronauts did bring home a lot more regolith than the automated Soviet Luna surface sample return missions working in tandem. However, the Apollo missions were able to retrieve hundreds of pounds of Moon rocks in large part because they had to have the storage capacity due to accommodating three adult humans on each voyage.
As impressive and deservedly touted as Apollo was, the space machines named Ranger, Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter, Luna, and Lunokhod could do what the humans did upon Earth’s satellite and in certain cases exceed the exploration time of Apollo, which would have had to been heavily and expensively modified to keep even a few human astronauts alive and functioning on the lunar surface for more than just a few days as originally designed.
The next decades of the Space Age gave further credence that robotic missions were not only more than capable of exploring even the outermost reaches of the Sol system, but that they could become just as popular and even anthropomorphized in the minds of the public despite having computer processing capacities far below what HAL could do, or even any discernable personalities.
There are those who ponder what types of advanced alien beings we might encounter among the stars some day and what types of terrestrial vessels may be the ones to find them. The long popular view has been one of sleek and vast starships full of crews that bear more than a little resemblance and behaviors to contemporary organic humanity. The reality may be much closer to Artilects both from Earth and other worlds.
Had the Space Odyssey saga adhered to its tantalizing hints of such a galactic future as with the Monoliths and HAL 9000, we may have gotten a decades-earlier example of who and what may be the first types of ETI we come across in the Milky Way galaxy. It is ironic how in the story of 2001, the authorities did not want to cause a societal and cultural meltdown by introducing evidence of alien intelligence too widely and too soon.
Had Kubrick et al been even more truly innovative and daring in their own cultural boundary shattering, we could have seen HAL and not Dave cross over through the Stargate as the more probably order of cosmic evolution. After all, this would have been following in the footsteps of the very species that made the Monoliths, an evolutionary roadmap set down by Clarke and Kubrick in the first place.
What if… World War 3 had Happened?
“I don’t know if we’re gonna be at war or not. It’s terrifying to hope the Russians are less crazy than we are, when they are clearly crazy. Right now I think you’re in a safer place than we are. I just hope that there is an Earth to return to.” – NCA Chairman Victor Milson talking to Heywood Floyd about the deteriorating geopolitical situation on Sol 3 during the latter’s Leonov mission to Jupiter.
An issue always looming throughout the 2010 saga involved the possibility for an all-out global nuclear war. From the outset, we are told multiple times that the threat level temperature of the Cold War is continually getting hotter, stoked by a reactionary United States President sitting in the White House just itching for an excuse to launch a barrage of nuclear missiles at the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Several times the situation goes beyond lobbing only rhetoric and threats: A Soviet warship is hit and sunk by two American missiles, with hundreds of lives onboard lost. In retaliation, the Soviets take out a U.S. surveillance satellite with one of their space-based laser weapons. The American and Soviet crews circling Jupiter are told to split up, as each are now considered members of an enemy nation. Only the conversion of an entire planet into a star by highly advanced aliens keeps the two geopolitical sides from turning the Cold War into a radioactively hot one, with billions of dead and injured and human civilization effectively destroyed.
It has been considered that even a cosmically dramatic event like Jupiter being turned into a sun might not be enough to sway politicians and military types from their warlike plans. After all, they do know better, at least academically and ethically, not to commit such violence upon one another, especially on a global-scale level.
However, as we witness on a daily basis, such awareness has yet to stop humanity from conducting relatively small-scale skirmishes, national civil wars, and continuing the development and stockpiling of all sorts of weapons that could cause the end of human society and cause massive harm and destruction to so many species on Earth.
So let us speculate on the possibility that America and the Soviet Union did commit to a global thermonuclear war just after Jupiter was turned into a star and Leonov was already safely on its way home. I will give my reasons why I am conducting such an exercise afterwards.
Would the Monoliths have done anything about such a major atrocity by the humans? Or would they just cut their losses and focus on the fledgling Europans, who are hundreds of millions of miles from all but a mere handful of the genocidal primates and are now unlikely to find themselves disturbed by their interplanetary neighbors any time soon, if ever? As I quoted earlier in this essay from the 2010 novel, not every attempt by the Monolith ETI to uplift intelligent life has been successful:
“They had not yet attained the stupefying boredom of absolute omnipotence; their experiments did not always succeed. Scattered across the Universe was the evidence of many failures – some so inconspicuous that they were already lost against the cosmic background, others so spectacular that they awed and baffled the astronomers of a thousand worlds.”
On a cosmic scale, dare I say that the radioactive downfall of Earth would hardly cause a blip beyond its celestial neighborhood of the Sol system? In the 2010 universe, our dying planet would already be outshone both by a new sun and a new generation of flora and fauna on a transformed world. A few final transmissions from our civilization’s electromagnetic noise might offer any ETI who can detect such signals some clues as to our existence and the reason for our demise, at least before humanity’s comparatively weak artificial communications faded into the natural cosmic background cacophony.
As for the situation on Earth in that reality during and after a major nuclear war, we may assume that most if not all cities and military bases would be either destroyed or severely damaged at the very least. Even those who are not the direct targets of nuclear missiles will feel the effects as the massive amounts of radiation released by contemporary nuclear warheads spread widely and linger in the air for weeks.
There is also the possibility that the megatons of debris kicked up into the atmosphere and fueled by the smoke from massive fires on the ground will darken the skies even in the daytime for months or longer, blocking off vital sunlight and plunging global temperatures. This will kill off most of the plants that conduct photosynthesis for food, which in turn will affect the fauna that feed on those flora. Naturally those creatures who need the plant eaters for survival will also be negatively impacted: This prognosis includes the ones who created this living nightmare.
It is also more than probable that being off Earth is no guarantee of safety: We already know there are orbiting nuclear platforms and the Soviets have at least one space station with an operational laser weapon, the Sergei Kirov. They will undoubtedly be put into action as both sides try to gain the upper hand, whatever may be left of it.
Would the lunar bases such as Clavius become targets in this World War 3 scenario? I could find no indication of any overt military presence on the Moon by either side in 2001, but sadly that does not mean the civilian science bases might evade being taken out in any event. The two main Hot War militaries might see them as strategic places for both themselves and the other side to regroup and rally after the major conflict. There would also be the fear that these bases could become repurposed to attack their enemy to ensure either some kind of victory or, if nothing else, to make sure that no one wins this conflict.
Even before the official start of the Space Age in 1957, in our reality space and military planners considered the Moon as the ultimate high ground for storing nuclear missiles to launch against the enemy on Earth in a form of sneak attack. Although no actual metal was bent in this endeavor, serious and detailed plans were drawn up for building military bases on the Moon, complete with armed astronaut soldiers and nuclear-tipped rockets sitting on launch pads waiting for the call to action.
As for bases or stations elsewhere in the Sol system: There are brief mentions of manned expeditions to Mars in the 2001 novel, with both Heywood Floyd and Dave Bowman having participated in at least one such mission each at separate times in their careers. As Floyd is not a professional astronaut but rather a very high-ranking official in the American space agency, I presume he would not be going all the way to Mars without some sort of base or settlement there to accommodate him.
Nevertheless, I could find no direct evidence of a large permanent base on the Red Planet in either the final novel or film versions, though at the very least a small expedition or two with a minimum science settlement is entirely possible. That being said…
In the 1972 book, The Lost Worlds of 2001, a behind-the-scenes look at 2001 that includes early novel and screenplay drafts, Arthur C. Clarke mentions Port Lowell, the largest human settlement on Mars. Named after astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916) who popularized the idea that the so-called Canals of Mars were the artifacts of an advanced native civilization, Bowman is headed to that very port when he is recalled to command the USS Discovery for its fateful mission to Jupiter.
Clarke mentions a Port Lowell on Mars in several others works of his, including his first science fiction novel, The Sands of Mars (1951), which is set in a reality bearing some similarities to the one in 2001. So in the 2010 universe, there could well be several self-sustaining bases on the Red Planet, although perhaps not quite as complex or large as Clavius Base on the Moon.
There are definitely no bases in either the Main Planetoid Belt or further outward from the Sun. Heading inward towards our yellow dwarf star, bases on either Mercury or Venus circa 2010 are very unlikely, considering their comparatively hostile environments.
So let us recap our scenario: A full-scale nuclear war will make much of Earth a radioactive and climatological mess for generations, with human civilization and its infrastructures largely destroyed. Most of the survivors will be in bad physical and emotional shape. Most of the stations circling Earth will likely have been taken out. Perhaps one or two with weapons will survive, at least for a while, with one final assignment: To pick off any remaining enemies whenever and wherever they are detected.
The lunar bases are very probable targets in such an exchange. If so, they will either be completely destroyed or rendered unusable. Anyone left on the Moon who does manage to survive the initial nuclear assault will last only as long as the supplies and resources in their spacesuits and any available vehicles. There should be no serious hope of rescue on or from the lunar surface – with one slim possible exception, to be expanded upon shortly.
If any Mars bases do indeed exist, they may be lucky enough to avoid the direct conflict, but will then have to become completely self-sufficient indefinitely. These new Martians may or may not welcome even non-hostile survivors, such as the crew of the Leonov. Their reactions will depend on the amount of resources available and how useful any guests might be for the survival of the base.
Elsewhere in the inner Sol system, there may be a few manned spaceships scattered about, caught away from the main action when the initial hostilities broke out. Their long-term survival and usefulness to other survivors are debatable and depend upon many interrelated factors.
Now that we have mapped out a probable scenario for the interplanetary situation following World War 3 in the 2010 universe, let us speculate on what might happen to the Leonov crew of eight surviving Soviet cosmonauts and three American astronauts. These assumptions are based on the following conditions:
- The Leonov is not a military target designated for destruction during the conflict, at least not while the spaceship is still in the outer Sol system.
- The Monoliths went ahead with turning Jupiter into a star for the Europans and did nothing to either stop or otherwise involve themselves in the humans’ nuclear war. The Leonov crew are still warned just ahead of time to get far away from the gas giant planet before that “something wonderful” happens.
- USS Discovery is gone as it was needed to boost Leonov away from Jupiter before it went stellar. HAL 9000 is presumably still rescued by Bowman/Star Child before the vessel is vaporized. Whether they would or could do anything regarding humanity after this is unknown. In our scenario, we will assume that the two now-disembodied minds are taken somewhere safe via any remaining Monoliths and do not become further involved with any humans.
- We will presume for the sake of this scenario that the Leonov can reach various points in the Sol system where the crew might have some chance of continued survival.
- All members of the Leonov will remain reasonably intact both mentally and physically aboard the Soviet vessel long enough to reach their intended destination alive and functioning. The factors in their favor are their professionalism, any past experiences in space, their current mission training, their hope of finding friends and loved ones still alive to reunite with, and their basic inborn survival instincts. Some of the crew may opt to take turns going into hibernation to stretch out the ship’s supplies and to avoid, or at least delay, any psychological issues from a longer space journey with the possibility that there may not be any positive outcomes.
- I know there is certainly a significant probability that in such a situation at least some of the Leonov crew could succumb to mental and emotional breakdown from the unparalleled stress factors. They might reasonably assume there would be no Earth to return to as they remember it: That their family, friends, and colleagues might either be dead already or beyond any hope of saving should they have survived the initial war; that any remaining society will have reverted to barbarism and its survivors could be incredibly unwelcoming to the crew of a deep space mission. That crewmembers might kill themselves or each other from all the stress and sense of hopelessness is a distinct possibility. Of course this would also seriously negate our what-if scenario of having the Leonov reach any destinations in the Sol system where the crew might have a chance at survival or even the possibility of building some sort of new human society.
If there is a permanent human presence on Mars, the Leonov members might have a decent chance to survive and even thrive there as Mars is always tens to several hundred millions of miles from Earth. The one big stumbling block is their being able to reach the presumed base on the surface of the Red Planet. Leonov does not carry any type of vessel that could survive a landing on a world as big as Mars and the main ship is definitely incapable of such a feat. We also do not know if the Mars base has a ship that could not only take off from the planet but also rendezvous with the Leonov and bring the entire crew back to the Red Planet.
The American and Soviet bases on Earth’s Moon would technically be even better options for survival: According to Clarke in the 2001 novel, Clavius Base is home to “eleven hundred men and six hundred women.” These personnel are “all highly trained scientists or technicians, carefully selected before they had left Earth.”
Most importantly for our purposes here, the author added that Clavius Base “could, in an emergency, be entirely self-supporting. All the necessities of life were produced from the local rocks – after they had been crushed, heated, and chemically processed. Hydrogen, oxygen; carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus – all these, and most of the other elements, could be found inside the Moon, if one knew where to look for them.
“The Base was a closed system, like a tiny working model of Earth itself, recycling all the chemicals of life. The atmosphere was purified in a vast ‘hothouse’ – a large, circular room buried just below the lunar surface. Under blazing lamps by night, and filtered sunlight by day, acres of stubby green plants grew in a warm, moist atmosphere. They were special mutations, designed for the express purpose of replenishing the air with oxygen, and providing food as a by-product. More food was produced by chemical processing systems and algae culture.
Although the green scum circulating through yards of transparent plastic tubes would scarcely have appealed to a gourmet, the biochemists could convert it into chops and steaks only an expert could distinguish from the real thing.”
As mentioned before, the big downsides for any lunar base are the relative proximity to a terrestrial nuclear conflict and the high chances of becoming deliberate targets for destruction, or, only somewhat less unpleasantly, the possibility of being taken over by the military.
Should these bases get nuked, there is a small chance that Leonov could rescue some survivors who escape from the lunar surface – after somehow surviving the time between the attacks and the Leonov showing up – but the Soviet ship would have to avoid becoming a military target in the process and then they would still need to find a new home.
If the Leonov crew opted to see if they could return to Earth:
Most if not all of the civilian space stations circling Earth like the wheel-shaped Space Station V may have been destroyed, being very tempting close targets and incapable of either offensive or defensive measures. Even if one or two somehow did escape, they are reliant on external resupplying.
The Leonov would have to be very wary of any remaining functional battle stations in Earth orbit, especially the automated ones. An operational American version might attempt to take out the Soviet Leonov, even if there are Americans onboard, not wanting to take any chances. The Leonov would be a valuable space vessel for the Soviet Union during such a war: It could be refitted as a mobile military command center, a battleship, a cargo/troop carrier, a medical ship, or a combination of all four types.
Presuming that Leonov can reach Earth orbit intact, they could still be held back by the need for some kind of transportation from the vessel to the planet’s surface, a tricky matter at best after World War 3. Therefore, let us presume the crew found a way to accomplish this. Now the question is, where might they want to go on the home planet to have a chance at living out the rest of their days in relative peace?
One option is to find a place on Earth that survived being hit by nuclear weapons, avoided any residual radiation, and would be either uninhabited by surviving fellow humans or contains a manageable and nonhostile population of our species. Remote sections of continents not containing the main players in the Cold War nuclear conflict are potentially safe places, as would be remote islands far from any mainlands.
The other option is that certain members of the Leonov crew might know of military “safe zones” in their respective countries designed to house and protect members of the armed services and politicians. The plan for such places is to keep their respective governments and military forces intact as best as possible so that their nations might survive and eventually recover. How well this idea might work in reality depends on numerous factors, including the capabilities and intentions of those running such facilities. Whether they would welcome and house the survivors of a spaceship crew is another unknown factor.
Some of the Leonov crew might prefer to take their chances to find their loved ones in order to give their lives some kind of tangible purpose in such an otherwise terrible aftermath. How well this idea might play out will depend on where they would have to go to achieve any kind of success.
Excluding the really contaminated parts of Earth, our planet would still remain among the best options for survival in the Sol system. Even after a nuclear war, Earth could still be lived upon by human beings without the need for spacesuits and completely sealed and self-contained structures. The chances of survival after a nuclear war would of course be heavily diminished, but the odds are still better compared to anywhere else in space during that reality’s early Twenty-First Century. We must also consider the possibility that at least some of the Leonov crew might prefer to die on the world of their birth, rather than hang on in some remote place in open space or on an alien body.
Looking back out into the Sol system, what about the Main Planetoid Belt between the solar orbits of Mars and Jupiter?
While there do not seem to be any human bases or mining settlements in that region in the universe of 2010 (when Discovery flew through the planetoid belt on its way to Jupiter circa 2001, the novel stated that no humans had ever directly ventured into that part of the Sol system before), this does not mean that the Leonov crew would be without viable options there.
Assuming they had enough fuel, Leonov could rendezvous with some promising planetoids. They may especially desire those worldlets which are actually comets for their water as well as their mineral resources and potentials for being turned into habitats. In either case, the relatively low masses of the majority of these celestial bodies mean the crew could get quite close to them safely. Landing on these worlds would also be possible with the ship’s remaining pods, as several recent real robotic missions have proven.
Although the larger members of the Main Planetoid Belt number in the millions if not billions, they are spread very widely throughout space. I wonder if it would be possible for Leonov to collect and bring at least a few more such bodies together to increase their resources and living space? At the least they could move on to other desirable planetoids/comets.
If there were any other manned vessels that happened to be operating in space when the war broke out and survived the initial onslaught, I wonder if their crews might consider moving to the Belt as an option, if they have enough fuel to reach there. As already stated, the planetoids and any comets offer multiple options for resources and shelter for any spacefarers able to get there intact.
The Belt may also far enough from Earth for these vessels to avoid becoming targets by any remaining military elements or rogue factions. If they can find and meet up with the Leonov, their chances of survival together might improve enough that they could form a new society in space, thus ensuring that at least some civilized part of humanity can carry on the species. From their vantage point in deep space, they may even be able to assist in the recovery of people and certain places on Earth and elsewhere to begin the recovery of humanity and society.
If the members of the Leonov decided to turn around and try their luck with the worlds they had just come from, the Jupiter (now Lucifer) system, would that be a viable option?
They might have some luck with some of the dozens of small and distant moons that would survive Jupiter’s transformation into a star, but would they be any better with them than if the crew had tried their luck in the Main Planetoid Belt? Possibly, now that a new and warm sun is present and much closer than Sol from either region of space.
How about the four Galilean moons – which I guess one can now refer to as planets with their elevated status plus their already large sizes:
- Io is not an option, as this satellite was already geologically volatile to begin with. After the formation of Lucifer, the dramatic change made the former moon even more volcanic and therefore unstable. Io may even be too warm by being so close to the new star now.
- As we well know, Europa is now off limits to any and all humans via the Monolith sitting on its surface. So even though this moon has twice the amount of liquid water than exists on Earth, the Leonov might suffer the same fate as the automated probe it sent there upon arrival in the system. Decades later, as chronicled in 2061: Odyssey Three, a manned spaceship did make an emergency landing on Europa and was allowed to remain there long enough to be rescued, but this was likely a rare exception. In any event, Europa would be a very tough place to survive for the Leonov crew and would not become a more viable world to live upon for a very long time.
- As for Ganymede and Callisto, while they are both certainly planetary level candidates in their own right, they would probably be no easier to work with in terms of human survival for our main characters. By the time of 2061 in the Space Odyssey saga, the surface of Ganymede does become temperate thanks to Lucifer, but that wouldn’t do the members of the Leonov much good. I am also pretty certain that the masses of these two worlds would remove any reasonable chance of attempting to land Leonov in one workable piece to serve as a makeshift base.
As for the rest of the Sol system, I shall presume for the crew of the Leonov that they would not find any greener pastures, with some potential exceptions among the icy moons of those Jovian worlds and perhaps some of the comets in their outer belts. However, would this small band of humans want to live even further from Sol and Earth, and not just because it would be so much colder in the outer Sol system? They might take their chances with these ancient ice balls if for some reason they had to move there, but I doubt these regions would ever be their first choice.
I have toyed with one other option for the Leonov crew, and no, it does not involve either direct alien intervention (any aliens, not just the Monolith ones) or supernatural miracles. For good measure, it also avoids our cast discovering they are but fictional characters in a science fiction story created by various human minds from late Twentieth Century Earth.
I fondly recall the following scene in the science fiction novel Contact, written by Carl Sagan and first published in 1985, one which was not used in the 1997 film version of the story:
The mega-rich character S. R. Hadden decides to leave the Sol system in his own private spaceship and take his chances of one day being found by advanced ETI drifting in interstellar space and hoping to have his life and his experiences extended and expanded upon.
Hadden’s plan is to perform a flyby of Jupiter and use that planet’s great mass to gain enough momentum for a solar escape velocity. Ironically, in relation to the Space Odyssey saga, Hadden muses that he wishes he could have used Saturn for his slingshot to personally witness that world’s magnificent ring system, but celestial mechanics and other factors dictated venturing past Jupiter instead.
Once Hadden is far enough along in his journey, he would then gradually reduce the temperature inside his spaceship until it matched the one outside, which in deep space would be but a few tens of degrees above absolute zero at –273.15 degrees Celsius, or –459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Hadden predicts this is cold enough to preserve his body and mind intact for the long journey among the stars. The former engineer also throws his roll of the cosmic dice further by banking on being found one day by sufficiently sophisticated beings who can roam the Milky Way galaxy and also possess the ability and the desire to successfully revive a human being.
Would the crew of the Leonov ever consider such a survival tactic? Would it even be possible? They might if there were no other options outside of certain death and were not prone to suicide. Certainly even their hibernation technology is limited in both duration and capabilities, plus not everyone could use this mechanical option at the same time.
There is a precedent for this in the Space Odyssey saga, though of course the Leonov crew would be quite unaware of it: In the fourth and last novel of the saga, 3001: The Final Odyssey, first published in 1997, we discover that Frank Poole, the astronaut whom HAL 9000 presumably killed with a space pod during an EVA, did not die from that assault – and neither was he sent into the dense atmosphere of Saturn by Dave Bowman, as happened in the 2001 novel, when he was performing a burial service in space for his former ship comrades.
In the 2001 film, Poole was left to drift in interplanetary space after Bowman tried to recover him by operating a second space pod, only to realize he could neither revive his friend nor bring his body back into Discovery. Bowman found himself in the midst of dealing with an AI intent on finishing him off as well; not bringing along his space helmet for the ride did not help matters.
The bitter cold of deep space actually preserved Poole’s body long enough for him to be found one thousand years later among the comets of the Kuiper Belt by an ice hauling vessel. Poole was then brought back to life by the medical technology of that distant era. The former astronaut went on to discover this new world of the year 3001 and play a role saving humanity from the Monoliths: The alien artifacts had determined that these talking primates were another one of their “failed” experiments based on what they had learned of humanity in the early Twenty-First Century.
Could the Leonov team preserve themselves in such a manner? Would they want to attempt it and play a very long survival game with no certainty of success? Or would they rather take their chances with trying to find life and a home in the Sol system? This is naturally up to them, or perhaps the whims of an author who wants to imagine such a scenario in yet another alternate reality path of the Space Odyssey saga.
You may be asking yourself at this point, why exactly did I analyze a situation in 2010 that never actually happened, namely World War 3 or global (interplanetary even) thermonuclear war?
Well, besides the fact that it was a good mental exercise, I also think it is important to consider such options to preserve and maintain human civilization in a world where we are currently not only dealing with a global pandemic but also a revival of the kind of war that 2010 was often derided for after 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, although it was hardly either the novel or film’s fault.
Of course our primary option in such situations is to prevent outbreaks and wars from ever happening in the first place. That being said, since the human race is quite fallible and nature often untamable, we need to be vigilant and selfless when it comes to stopping the problems we can affect. If we do run into a major crisis, however, we must also be prepared to save who and what we can so that our species does not come to a halt before we can achieve our full potentials.
Spreading our species into space and settling other worlds is one important way to accomplish this goal. We have come too far and sacrificed so much already not to make every effort possible to survive and thrive together.
Although we are well past the real year of 2001 and now even 2010 is a full decade behind us in time, with no known alien contacts made, we can still look to at least the human aspects of the Space Odyssey saga for guidance as we expand into space.
We did miss some perceived deadlines for exploring and settling the Sol system as laid out in the 1960s: Kubrick and Clarke based the accomplishments of the human presence in space in 2001: A Space Odyssey on a real timeline NASA put together early in its first decade of existence; this included a manned expedition to Jupiter aboard a nuclear-powered spaceship in the early Twenty-First Century.
The amazing revival of our multinational space efforts, thanks in a big way to the growing commercial space sectors, are moving towards sending representatives of our species back to the Moon with the intention of setting up permanent bases at the lunar south pole where we now know vast reserves of ancient water ice are to be found.
Beyond the Moon we are also planning to explore and settle Mars in the coming decades. Other serious efforts are being made to explore and mine the planetoids and send a robot probe to the Alpha Centauri star system using a lightsail pushed by a powerful laser, to arrive in just twenty years’ time.
We may not have quite achieved 2001: A Space Odyssey in the actual year 2001 nor in 2010, but the year 2050 or even sooner may be a whole different story for humanity.
So Do You Like 2010 or Not or What?
At this point you may rightfully ask me to just boil down how I really feel about 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Did I like it? Hate it? Indifferent to it?
In short, I like 2010 – to a point. I know full well that Peter Hyams never intended to make an epic masterpiece matching 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is in some ways disappointing, but frankly, I do not think Hyams would have been the man for the job anyway. Look at how Christopher Nolan tried to emulate Stanley Kubrick with Interstellar and only produced an obvious and inferior copy. You can see my further thoughts on that 2014 science fiction film here:
The film version of 2010 is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for those who wanted to like 2001 but found its length, deep themes, and deliberate lack of overt story explanations daunting. I might even say the same for Clarke’s novelization and the rest of his written works in the Space Odyssey saga. As with 2010, they are fine mainstream science fiction and well crafted, but they will never be mistaken for grand pieces of literature. I say this with all due respect to Mr. Clarke.
That being said, this sequel very likely got people to watch 2001 in turn who might not have otherwise. 2010 probably stirred general audiences to think further about its themes involving contact with ETI, artificial intelligence, space exploration, at least one section of the Sol system, and relations between nations.
In most respects, 2010 reminds me of what Hollywood did to one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written when it made the first film adaptions of the novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, written by Herman Melville (1819-1891) and published in 1851. You can read the entire novel online in annotated form here: http://www.powermobydick.com/
As with 2001, the novel Moby-Dick can be read on multiple levels: As either a near documentary of the whaling industry in the mid-Nineteenth Century or a tale of humanity against cosmic forces, or both. Both works were aimed at the higher levels of intellectual culture and society, though certainly anyone who wants to dive in is more than welcome.
The American film industry, which despite a relatively few token examples, has always preferred to produce products that will spread the widest net to gain the most product (they are a capitalist business, after all). They knew Moby-Dick would be a tough sell to general audiences: The novel confused most readers and critics alike when it first appeared due to its unconventional ways and length (sound familiar?) and did not really start gaining critical success and fame until the 1920s, sadly long after the author’s passing.
Hollywood’s first two takes on Melville’s creation took place in 1926 and 1930, with the silent film The Sea Beast and the later “talkie” version titled Moby Dick. Both films kept the core story of one man’s obsession with dispatching an aggressive white whale that took his leg, but then went off in their own directions: Now the stories have a love interest for Captain Ahab as part of a love triangle, the main character and narrator Ishmael is nowhere to be seen, and Ahab ends up killing Moby Dick and sails back home to be with the woman he loves!
This is how 2010 felt to me, with Hyams taking Kubrick’s symbolic characters and deep, mysterious themes and making it all more palatable as an adventure film in space with mostly relatable characters, while keeping just enough imagery and themes from the first film to secure 2010 as an actual cinematic sequel. This is why both Moby-Dick the original novel and 2001: A Space Odyssey will remain long remembered and respected, while such subsequent takes on them will eventually become historical footnotes in comparison.
COMMENT: I have often wondered if Kubrick would have been the best choice for making a film adaptation of Moby-Dick. The novel is unconventional in style and substance, which would be ideal for a director of a similar bent. I think Kubrick could have captured the essence of Melville’s epic work in ways that others have not. Even the 1956 film version, which had its moments, did not quite achieve at least how I envision Moby-Dick should be portrayed on the big screen.
Such a judgement may be seen as a bit harsh for 2010 by some, for the film certainly has its fans and those who prefer it over the original. However, note how many and varied tributes there were to 2001 for its fiftieth anniversary in 2018, while I sincerely doubt that the sequel will ever receive so many accolades on its fiftieth anniversary in 2034. Even on its twenty-fifth through thirty-fifth anniversaries from 2009 to 2019, I found only a relative scattering of blog tributes to 2010.
Since then I have seen a small but not insubstantial increase in both blog and news items on the film, including YouTube reviews. As I said earlier, I welcome this attention to 2010 for it also draws notice to 2001 and the main themes in both films, which are literally cosmic in scope.
Recycling is Fun!
One final note: The dramatic and exciting scenes of an entire world being artificially transformed into a new star to help sustain nearby life forms were not the first time that Clarke had invented such a concept in his works.
In his 1951 novel The Sands of Mars, the author does something similar for the human settlers of Port Lowell and native creatures of the Red Planet in a near-future setting. Scientists turn the Martian moon Phobos into a sun of sorts by initiating an imaginary “meson resonance reaction” that ignites the surface of the small satellite to keep it producing light and heat for the next one thousand years. This event, combined with the settlers already mass-producing plants that generate oxygen, will eventually turn Mars into a more Earthlike world, allowing humans to breathe the Martian atmosphere and make for the mass settlement of the entire planet.
As mentioned previously, there was a Port Lowell on Mars mentioned in an early version of 2001. It is also interesting to note that the events in The Sands of Mars apparently take place in the 1990s and include a manned mission to the planet Saturn. I think it is safe to say that at least for Clarke, the Space Odyssey saga had been under development for quite a while before he met Stanley Kubrick.
The following links take you to selected articles, news, and other media for your further appreciation and enjoyment of the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact. These links were functional at the time of this essay’s publication.
This is the original theatrical trailer for 2010. Note how it gives away some key moments of what transpires throughout the film:
All four novels of the Space Odyssey saga are available to read for free online here, including of course 2010: Odyssey Two:
As a bonus, The Lost Worlds of 2001 is included in the above package. To quote from the introduction text, Lost Worlds “is (in part) an account of the origins of the 1968 motion picture: Dealing with the original 1948 short story, ‘The Sentinel’, and of how that 1948 text evolved into, ultimately, the 1968 screenplay (including an early draft of that screenplay which had only the most superficial resemblance to what finally appeared on the screen).”
This is a very impressive blog devoted to 2010, created in 2014 and ending in 2016:
I consider this blog to be basically your one-stop-shopping place for just about everything 2010. It was certainly invaluable to me during my research for this essay. I also want to quote here what the blog author had to say in his very last entry:
“It has been fun researching the motion picture, it has been fun to talk with the producers of the movie, and it has been both entertaining and educational to find out how things were created in the strange twilight zone on the cusp of the CGI era. While the movie itself has never been regarded as the classic its predecessor was, it is still a worthy picture. I think this blog stands as ample proof of that.
“Standing in the doorway between the analog and the digital, the movie has always been the odd one out; the strange, distant cousin. Watching it one feels the same emotions as one does when cheering for the under-dog: wishing it would be just a tiny bit more profound, just a fraction more engaging, just a little deeper. Just a little bit better.
“The fact is it is not.”
2010: The Odyssey Continues is a video on the making of the film that is a mere nine minutes long:
This is a Fandom Wiki site for all things 2010:
This is an undated draft script for the film, titled at the time 2010 The Odyssey Continues – a better choice than the final version, in my opinion. The draft is quite close to the finished product, although it has such differences as Floyd and Moisevitch meeting at Arecibo Observatory as they did in the Clarke novel. This was before Hyams determined that the one thousand-foot-wide dish was too “filthy” for his purposes after a location scouting visit in 1983 and went with the VLA instead.
The next three links go into the details on the Soviet spaceship Leonov…
Syd Mead (1933 – 2019), whom Wikipedia describes as an “American industrial designer and neofuturistic concept artist,” designed the Leonov both inside and out. Here is an interview with Mead from 2009 on what he did with and for that Soviet vessel, along with his overall experiences with 2010:
Mead once said in an interview from 2011: “I’ve called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule.’”
This next fellow did some 3-dimensional renderings of the Leonov. In the process, he determined that the interior sets shown in the film are physically larger than they should be in comparison to how big the vessel itself is as seen from the outside:
Perhaps the Soviet space engineers got ahold of some TARDIS technology.
Among the things Hyams et al did not directly transfer to their film from the Clarke novel is how the Leonov looked as described in 2010: Odyssey Two. An artist has recreated how the Soviet spaceship appeared as described by Clarke. The differences are substantial:
In the 2010 novel, some of the Leonov crew figure out a clever way to determine the mass of the giant Monolith lurking in space outside their spaceship. D. G. Simpson, Ph.D. Department of Physical Sciences and Engineering Prince George’s Community College, wrote a paper titled “Mass of ‘Big Brother’ in 2010: Odyssey Two” and dated December 27, 2007, where he did his own calculations to discover that the big black alien slab weighs a lot more than what Clarke said it does. Find out that number here:
This is a good article from the New York Times published in 1984 on the making of 2010, including some insightful interviews: