I'm going to commit an act of total heresy here and now for a science-fiction fan. In my, admittedly humble, opinion, 2010 is a better film than 2001. There, I said it, and I'm going to stand by it in this post. Now, none of this is to knock 2001 as a cinematic tour-de-force, but at the end of the day, it's actually a fairly dull film to sit and watch. Legendarily, the Christian Science Monitor labelled it the 'Ultimate Acid Trip', and that's a fairly good assessment of large chunks of the movie.
Let me get one thing straight; I actually am a Kubrick fan, but I maintain that after Dr. Strangelove, he started to take a nosedive, and that it is possible that he was one of those artists who actually needed restraints to push against, needed someone with the authority to hold him back, at least at little – and that he didn't ever truly realize that. 2001 drags, and the actors – good, good actors, for the most part – aren't really given much to work with.
2010 is a different matter. Yes, the 'Cold War' plot is a little hackneyed – though strangely, I could make an argument that it might yet end up oddly prescient, and that if the film had been titled '2020', it could present a reasonably accurate picture of future great power politics. It comes down to two elements. Story, and character – which is the true test of any creative work, film or novel, in my judgement.
2010 is a 'haunted house' tale. The Spaceship Discovery is lost, abandoned in orbit around Io, with a strange alien artefact floating next to it, and a crew flies out to investigate the mystery. There are no real action sequences, other than the escape from Jupiter at the end of the movie, and possibly the aerobraking sequence – which actually is pretty accurate. That's something else that this film rarely gets credit for – it's as scientifically accurate as 2001, without being as, well, dull about it. The Alexei Leonov has rotating gravity, and looks damn impressive to boot, and even the slightly dated feel of the interior works when you remember the appearance of Soviet/Russian technology when compared to American.
As for characters, well...2010 has Roy Schneider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban...all of whom put in great performances, and all of whom are well worth watching. They have character, there are moments of actual humanity, and that's what is missing from 2001. Yes, I know that Kubrick was trying to make a point about the soulless nature of technological man, I get it, but that doesn't make it more interesting to actually watch, and I maintain that such a plot could have been conjured which would have engaged the audience rather better.
I make this strong case because, well, 2010 has to be one of the strongest influences I have in the creation of the Triplanetary Universe, aside from the 'Terran Trade Authority' books I have referenced before. The Leonov looks like my idea of a spaceship, and the feel of the plot – which is perfectly happy to assume that the audience understands what a 'Lagrange Point' is – is sound, with no over-reliance on spurious action sequences. It's true to the novel, but the actors add a lot of themselves to the work, and the 'alien' influence is, well 'alien', without being over the top about it. I'd have liked to see some portrayal of the 'life in a gas giant' you saw in the book, but the budgetary costs would have been overwhelming, I admit.
2010 is an oddly overlooked movie, and undeservedly so; I can definitely recommend snagging a copy and watching it again; definitely one of the better post-Star Wars science-fiction films, up there with 'Alien', and probably one of Hyams' best works.