IN THE BEGINNING, Arthur C. Clarke created "2001: A Space Odyssey." The next 15 years, he rested. Now Peter Hyams presents the sequel to the metaphysical cliffhanger, a larger-than-life work based on Clarke's "2010: Odyssey Two," a cerebral story of second genesis.

Keir Dullea returns as John Bowman, the astronaut who made contact with the Eerie Beings in the classic directed by Stanley Kubrick. And Canadian Douglas Rain reprises his role as the voice of H.A.L 9000, the computer who went mad on the original odyssey. Bowman's last transmission from the now-silent Discovery, "My God, it's full of stars," gives us the starting point in "2010."

A team of Russian and American scientists takes the Soviet spacecraft Leonov to investigate the Jupiterian monoliths that turned Bowman into thebig Star Baby. Is Bowman a god, the Messiah, a close relative of the Kwistaz Haderach? And what about H.A.L.? Who was behind the secret message in his circuits? Was it the CIA or IBM? And what is a higher life form anyway?

They'll learn the Big Answers to the Big Questions in this chapter of the cosmic soap opera. But the revelations are equivocal, faithful to the ambiguity of the original. The major difference between films is "2010's" greater emphasis on people. The performances are all excellent, but Helen Mirren is utterly convincing as the formidable commander of the Leonov. Roy Scheider costars as the former head of the Space Agency, with John Lithgow as the enginer of Discovery and Bob Balaban as the father of H.A.L.

The great Lithgow's bout with acrophobia as he crosses the void from Leonov to Discovery is one of the film's best, most human moments. Balaban's relationship with H.A.L. is also tender. (He cries.) But an attempt to warm things up by including Scheider's family and pet dolphins just slows things down.

Space is slowww. And it is vast. Like the original, "2010" is a celebration of spaciousness and tomorrow's technology. But current technology has surpassed the author's imagination for now. Sometimes the crew looks out on Io or Europa and gasps at the wonder of it. But it really isn't as interesting as a live Voyager transmission.

Much of the science of "2010" is questionable in the face of what we knew, know and are learning. A new star appears in the solar system and earth escapes without a tremor. The Leonov embarks without enough fuel to either return or slow down. They do "air braking" (without air) to slow Leonov as she whips around the planet and into a new orbit. How's that for science friction.

Still "2010" is a respectable production despite the disappointments. But sometimes a movie just cries out for a wise old rubber Muppet. But no, not so much as a hairy paw. 2010 -- At area theaters.