For nine years the Americans have been using radio telescope to listen for any indication from outer space regarding the fate of Discovery a spaceship which was abandoned in 2001 near Jupiter; its commander David Bowman, is presumed dead. Dr. Floyd (Roy Schneider), the scientist who originated that project, learns from a Soviet official about an impending voyage to Jupiter. Since the Russians cannot legally enter Discovery and an American mission to the planet is still years away, a joint venture is now planned.
Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren) heads the Russian crew of eight aboard the Leonov. The Americans present are Dr. Floyd, Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) an engineer who is frightened of heights, and Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), a computer wizard. The goal of the journey is to retrieve the data in the memory of H.A.L. 9000, to bring the discovery back to Earth, and to determine the purpose and significance of the huge black monolith hovering near Jupiter.
In stark contrast to the space operas of the past ten years, 2010, based on Arthur Clarke's novel, is what the science fiction writer calls "a realistic interstellar story." Great care has been taken to make the film as scientifically accurate as possible. Photographs from the Voyager space probe were used as models for the story's scenes of Jupiter and its moon. The look of the Leonov is based on the latest spaceship technology. The director and screenplay writer, Peter Hyams, is to be commended for his efforts to make 2010 something other than another escapist fantasy flick about the conflict between the forces of good and evil.
There is conflict in this film — but it takes place on Earth where a nuclear war has broken out between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. When Dr. Chandra succeeds in bringing H.A.L. 9000 back to life, it becomes apparent that human nature is the cause of such catastrophes. 2001, which focused on H.A.L.'s revolt, underlined our tendency to fear technology. Here technology is wise and it is left to H.A.L. to deliver the message of world peace in a surprising finale. The monolith, that unknown entity of 2001, turns out to be a source of wonder rather than an instrument of doom. This is a satisfying sequel to 2001 and one that seems particularly relevant given our revised views of technology in the 80s.