2010: The Year We Make Contact

January 20, 2010

Wikipedia | 2010: The Year We Make Contact is a 1984 science fiction film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Peter Hyams. 2010 is a sequel to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and is based on Arthur C. Clarke‘s novel 2010: Odyssey Two, a literary sequel to the film.

The film is set nine years after the mysterious failure of the 800 foot exploration spacecraft USSC Discovery One‘s mission to Jupiter (depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey) in which four astronauts died and another disappeared mysteriously into a large, alien Monolith orbiting Jupiter. Dr. Heywood Floyd – who had been the Director of the “National Council on Astronautics” (NCA) during the Discovery mission – has been made the scapegoat, and has since left the NCA to become a university chancellor.

Friction is growing between the United States and the Soviet Union, and both nations are preparing missions to determine what happened to Discovery One. But although the Soviet Alexei Leonov will be ready before the new American spaceship, the Soviets need Americans astronauts to help investigate the problems with the HAL 9000 on-board supercomputer system, and to ease the diplomatic problems associated with boarding an American spacecraft. The US government reluctantly agrees to a joint mission, since Discovery’s orbit destines it to crash into the Jovian moon Io within a few years.

Floyd, who feels responsible for the failed mission, volunteers for the mission himself and recruits two experts on Discovery: Dr. Walter Curnow, one of its designers and builders, and Dr. Chandra, who created the HAL 9000 series of artificial intelligence supercomputers.

The aim of the joint mission is threefold: to find the reason for the mission’s failure, to investigate the Monolith in orbit around Jupiter, and to explain David Bowman‘s disappearance. They suspect that much of this information is locked away in the abandoned Discovery One spaceship and her on-board HAL 9000 computer.

Upon the Leonov’s arrival in the Jovian system, Dr. Floyd is awakened early from his hibernation by the Soviet crew because they have detected the chemical signatures of life on the moon Europa. An unmanned probe detects something suggestive of life, but is inexplicably destroyed in a burst of electromagnetic radiation before close-up photos can be taken. Dr. Floyd suspects that it is a warning from someone — or something — to keep away from Europa.

The Discovery One is found abandoned but undamaged, orbiting Jupiter close to the moon Io. After space walking over to it, Curnow reactivates its on-board systems, and Chandra restarts the HAL 9000 computer (“HAL”), which had been deactivated before the Monolith had been found. The Monolith is then rediscovered in the Lagrange point between Jupiter and Io. Cosmonaut Max Brailovsky travels to it in an EVA pod, but is killed by a burst of power that emerges from the Monolith and heads into outer space towards the Earth.

A series of scenes follow in which Dave Bowman, who has been transformed into an incorporeal being, travels to the Earth. He appears on his widow’s TV screen and says his final goodbyes and visits his terminally-ill and senile mother in a nursing home, combing her hair, much to her delight, as he had done during his boyhood. She is shortly found dead in her bed.

Chandra discovers the reason for HAL’s malfunction: he had become paranoid after his NSC controllers ordered him to conceal from Bowman and Poole the knowledge that the Discovery mission was about the Monolith mystery. This had conflicted with HAL’s basic function: the accurate processing and distribution of information without concealment or distortion. Dr. Floyd is disgusted and denies any knowledge of the secret directive.

Meanwhile, the tensions between the United States and Soviet Union have escalated to what is “technically a state of war”. The U.S. government orders Floyd, Curnow and Chandra to leave the Russian spacecraft and move into the Discovery One. On board, Dave Bowman appears to Floyd, warning him that they must leave Jupiter within two days because “something wonderful” will happen. The Monolith suddenly disappears, and a growing black spot appears on the Jovian surface. Telescopic observations reveal that the spot is in fact a vast population of Monoliths, increasing in number at an exponential rate, shrinking Jupiter’s volume, increasing its density, and modifying the chemical properties of its atmosphere. Since neither ship can reach the Earth with an early departure, the two crews work together to use Discovery as a booster rocket for the Leonov. Tension arises when HAL is not told that the Discovery will be left stranded in space, and probably destroyed; Chandra fears that another deception may cause a repeat of HAL’s malfunctions. During the countdown Dr. Chandra tells HAL the whole truth, and much to everyone’s collective relief, the computer understands that it must sacrifice itself for the human beings on board the Leonov.

The Leonov leaves Jupiter just in time to witness the swarm of Monoliths engulf Jupiter and increase its density to the point that nuclear fusion occurs, transforming Jupiter into a small star. A wave of hot plasma erupts from the forming star, incinerating the Discovery, but failing to destroy the Leonov.

As the Leonov exits its Jovian orbit, HAL is commanded by the mysterious extraterrestrial intelligences to repeatedly broadcast this message toward the Earth:

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE. USE THEM TOGETHER. USE THEM IN PEACE.

Over a montage of images of two Suns in the sky of Earth, Floyd, in voice-over, explains that this miraculous occurrence inspired the American and Soviet leaders to end their stance of war. The film ends with a montage that depicts Europa gradually transforming over millennia from an icy wasteland to a humid jungle covered with plant life and with primordial sounds emanating from the trees. In the final shot, the camera pans across the jungle, eventually settling upon a lagoon where a lone Monolith is standing upright, waiting for intelligent life forms to evolve.