The Return of Hal
Main Cast: Roy Scheider, Bob Balaban, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren
Director: Peter Hyams
Following up on a classic is tough, especially one that did well both inside and outside the sci-fi community. There’s always the sense of “ground already covered”, and in a way the sequel does travel a rutted road. But it also adds to the story, explaining many things while also leaving other stuff intriguingly ambiguous.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, we were introduced to the mysterious black obelisks. One was found on the Moon while another was detected out in the Jupiter system. A spaceship, the Discovery, was sent to investigate, commanded by two human crew members and had aboard HAL-9000, an AI.
Something went wrong during the voyage, and nine movie years later the director of the program, Heywood Floyd (Schieder), is approached by an unexpected source. The Russians! (Okay, so there is no more USSR in our world, but go along with this different timeline. Certainly we have no black obelisk up on the Moon!) An agreement is hammered out between the two superpowers and Floyd, along with two other Americans (one the creator of HAL), go up in a Russian spaceship to make a rendezvous with Discovery.
Much drama is centered around tensions between the Americans and Russians. The mysteries of Jupiter and Europa are explored. The science is very well done, especially the spacewalk sequence, and character development is economical but deep among the handful of crew members.
Things aren’t as strange as the original, at least the ending, but it’s mysterious enough to hold attention. The acting is solid, brilliant in places, and HAL is not your cliche “insane computer” of lesser fare. Definitely worth your time.
(Oh, yes: the author of the book, the science writer Arthur C. Clarke, makes a cameo appearance.)