This has been a really great year if you don’t count everything that happened. Frankly, the movie was a lot better. And that’s just the problem.
If you compare the last 12 months to 2010: The Year We Make Contact, you’ll be disappointed by the astounding list (seven) of really great things that everybody loved about the movie that never made it to the year.
To help us understand in what ways 2010 sucked compared to the movie, here are seven prominent things from the movie that failed to materialize during the last 365 days:
1. Roy Scheider
Where the hell is Roy Scheider? Before I get to the fascinating answer, a little background.
In the movie, Scheider plays Dr. Heywood R. Floyd, an ex-New York-cop who gives up his dazzling life of paperwork for the chance to vacation near Jupiter with some “Russian” friends (led by big-time commie Helen Mirren.) Joining them are two other Americans, John Lithgow and Russell Dalrymple.
Their mission: to try to make sense out of the last 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider’s motivation here was obvious. He was on LSD when he saw A Space Odyssey in 1968. It wasn’t until years later that Scheider realized he’d been confusing it with Planet of the Apes all along.
The sad fact is Scheider died two years ago. So despite his enthusiastic performance in the movie (as measured by the number of times he says “hell” and “goddamn” during the scene where he recites the Lord’s Prayer) Scheider hasn’t even landed so much as a cameo in 2010. There’s still some time left for him to do a quick walk-on, however, so keep your fingers crossed.
2. The Soviet Union
Movie producers have been clamoring for the Soviet Union’s return to the silver screen, and with good reason. The Soviet Union was a tremendous box office draw throughout the 1980s, serving as the bête noire to every Hollywood star from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sylvester Stallone to legendary leading man C. Thomas Howell.
The Soviet Union features prominently in 2010. You can almost forgive Hyams for thinking that it would still have a career thirty years on. It was, after all, one of the most over-rated actors of its time.
In this movie, the Soviets and Americans take the world to the brink of nuclear war in a dispute over some Costa Rican timeshares. The conflict at home strains relations between the cosmonauts and astronauts in deep space , who must learn to get over their political differences if they’re ever going to survive Helen Mirren’s fake Russian accent.
In a ridiculous plot twist that in no way reflects current reality, the Russians and Americans actually do cooperate, sharing a single vessel to accomplish a mutual spacefaring goal. Like that’s ever going to happen.
3. The Exploration and Colonization of Space Beyond Low Earth Orbit
Let’s face it. This planet sucks. There’s nothing to do except go to the mall and watch tv.
Everyone wants out. But where can we go? Walking down the street, you always hear people saying, “I wish I lived on a space station.”
And if Hyams’ predictions were even close, we’d all be in outer space right now. Watching tv.
We’d be taking regular shuttles up to the moon (see #7) or traveling the 365 million mile mean distance from Earth to Jupiter.
But the reality is different. Sure, a lucky few of us get to ride the Space Shuttle 500 miles above the Earth, and others of us get to float around the International Space Station (173 miles from Earth), and still others can sniff modeling glue out of a brown paper bag.
But the vast majority of humankind living in the year 2010 must be content with trampolines and other assisted-leaping apparatuses for much-deserved, however brief vacations “off-world.”
4. Chlorophyl on Europa? Eureka!
There doesn’t seem much hope of discovering moss on Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa, like what happens in the movie.
In fact, it’ll probably be another decade before anyone sends a probe out there to look for signs of life. Of course, Hyams made it all look oh-so-easy.
So, no Europa probes this year, though that would have been a nice way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jovian moon’s first observation by Galileo.
5. Computer text that makes chirping sounds as it appears on screen
Why doesn’t my computer make a chirping sound as it slowly prints out text across the screen?
That’s how computers are supposed to work in 2010. That is, according to 2010.
You see this effect in a lot of sci-fi movies whenever a character is reading off a computer, or when some vital information is superimposed over an image at the beginning as part of some important exposition.
For example, imagine the below passage appears at the beginning of my movie, superimposed over an establishing shot of a smoggy, rainy Los Angeles:
It was the year 2010. Earth had become intolerably dull. Some people wanted to live on a space station. Others watched Blade Runner again. The re-release. The one without narration. It was better that way. We already understood the noir motif without Harrison Ford’s voiceover beating it into our heads.
But you have to imagine all this text appearing to the accompaniment of a “chee-chee-chee-chee” or “deet-deet-deet-deet” sound as each letter pops up on screen.
My computer is not capable of providing this sound, as opposed to all the computers in 2010. So most of the time, I am forced to make the deet-deet-deet sounds with my mouth while I type.
6. Domesticated Dolphins of New Mexico.
I used to hate those kids in my neighborhood who had their own pet research dolphins. They were spoiled little show-offs.
The only time I got a pet research dolphin was when one got snagged in a drift-net, only to show up later mixed in with my tuna surprise. Granted, it was always a pleasant surprise. But when it comes to frolicking in the living room, chunks of dolphin meat just don’t stack up to a living, intact dolphin. For one thing, drift-net dolphin chunks start to stink up the house after a few hours and your mother makes you bury them in the back yard next to the potatoes.
Of course, thanks to Hyams, I had expected to have my own intact dolphin by now. His movie indicates that Roy Scheider’s character lives in New Mexico. In the opening scene, we see Scheider working on one of the radio dishes at the Very Large Array, which is in the middle of a semi-arid plain in New Mexico.
Then in a later scene we see Roy Scheider’s bratty little son feeding not one but two dolphins in their home aquarium.
So, if people in the middle of the New Mexico desert can keep dolphins at home, the movie strongly suggests anyone can.
But, as things turned out, these are the only dolphins you’ll find in New Mexico now.
7. Pan Am
The now defunct airline Pan Am makes a cameo in this flick in a tv commercial that features stock footage from 2001, with a narrator who announces, “convenient non-stops to the moon and all major space stations…On Pan Am the sky is no longer the limit.”
Poor Pan Am. The airline suffered a lot through the 1980s, from helicopter disasters on the roof of its Park Avenue Headquarters to the Lockerbie Bombing to all kinds of management and route problems. The company started out the decade selling its headquarters to Met Life, though its famous logo remained hovering high above Grand Central Station until 1991 or 1992 when the airline effectively gave up the ghost.
I don’t remember exactly what year that happened, but I do recall feeling a part of my childhood had been erased when the Met Life logo went up.