2001: A Space Odyssey

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

5 October

 

 

Steve Jobs dies, 2011

On this day in 2011, Steven Paul Jobs died in Palo Alto, California, aged 56, of metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Famously fired in 1985 from Apple, the company he had started along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, he went on to co-found Pixar, before being dramatically taken back by Apple in 1996, taking the company from near-bankruptcy back into profitability in two years. Jobs is often described as a visionary and regardless of whether you believe this was hype he had two insights which set him apart from his rivals. First, that the future of computing was not as a geek tool used by people who loved to code but as something which could be used intuitively. Second, that the computer could become the cornerstone of people’s lives if it was tied to leisure – games, music, movies. Jobs was also the first to understand that his company was perfectly placed to revolutionise the mobile phone market – not by producing a phone that did lots of other cool stuff (which is what everyone else was doing) but by producing a tiny but powerful computer which also made phone calls. Before Apple’s graphical user interface revolution (developed from work done by Xerox) of the early Macintoshes, computers relied on precise written commands, rather than point and click, or drag and drop. Before Apple’s launch of the iMac in a variety of candy colours, computers were beige and serious. Before iTunes and the iPhone – well, it’s almost like looking back into prehistory.

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir: Stanley Kubrick)

Telling no less of a story than the journey of humanity from the defining moment when it violently split from the apes to its subsequent eventual mutation into a mind at one with the cosmos, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi film certainly doesn’t lack ambition. “In space no one can hear you scream”, ran the tagline to Ridley Scott’s Alien, released 11 years later. But the thing about most films set out in space is that you can. Not in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 you can’t – spaceships move noiselessly through the vacuum of space, just one instance of the purpose and vision of Kubrick and writer Arthur C Clarke. Another is HAL 9000, surely the most famous and influential computer in screen history. HAL, soft of voice, veiled of intent, is on the American Film Institute’s list of film villains, coming in at number 13 between Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell) of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the Xenomorph (ie the Alien, played by Bolaji Badejo) in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Which isn’t bad considering he’s little more than a voiceover (by Douglas Rain). In fact it could be claimed that HAL is the most significant character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL certainly has more personality than the other contender, the astronaut Dr Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea – about whom Noel Coward had famously and cruelly quipped, “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow”), and even has an emotional character arc, going from being patronising, to wheedling, to pathetic (“Dave, stop. Stop, will you?”) in very short order. The sentient, malevolent computer has since become a meme, recurring in Logan’s Run, The Forbin Project, Alien, Terminator, The Matrix, Moon (in which Kevin Spacey’s voiceover of Sam Rockwell’s computer quite deliberately mimics HAL), and plenty more. And as we all spend increasing chunks of our lives stuck in front of screens, banging away at keyboards, it’s easy to understand why.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Along with Metropolis, the most important sci-fi film ever made
  • Douglas Trumbull’s revolutionary SFX – he’d go on to work on Close Encounters and Blade Runner. He turned down Star Wars
  • This is why some people believe Kubrick filmed the moon landing
  • The final “Stargate” sequence – a rite of passage at the time for any self-respecting user of psychoactive recreational drugs

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “2001: A Space Odyssey”

  1. Sometimes reading the user comments on IMDB fills me with despair for the species. For anybody to dismiss 2001: A Space Odyssey as "boring" they must have no interest in science, technology, philosophy, history or the art of film-making. Finally I understand why most Hollywood productions are so shallow and vacuous – they understand their audience.

    Thankfully, those that cannot appreciate Kubrick’s accomplishment are still a minority. Most viewers are able to see the intelligence and sheer virtuosity that went into the making of this epic. This is the film that put the science in "science fiction", and its depiction of space travel and mankind’s future remains unsurpassed to this day. It was so far ahead of its time that humanity still hasn’t caught up.

    2001 is primarily a technical film. The reason it is slow, and filled with minutae is because the aim was to realistically envision the future of technology (and the past, in the awe inspiring opening scenes). The film’s greatest strength is in the details. Remember that when this film was made, man still hadn’t made it out to the moon… but there it is in 2001, and that’s just the start of the journey. To create such an incredibly detailed vision of the future that 35 years later it is still the best we have is beyond belief – I still can’t work out how some of the shots were done. The film’s only notable mistake was the optimism with which it predicted mankind’s technological (and social) development. It is our shame that the year 2001 did not look like the film 2001, not Kubrick’s.

    Besides the incredible special effects, camera work and set design, Kubrick also presents the viewer with a lot of food for thought about what it means to be human, and where the human race is going. Yes, the ending is weird and hard to comprehend – but that’s the nature of the future. Kubrick and Clarke have started the task of envisioning it, now it’s up to the audience to continue. There’s no neat resolution, no definitive full stop, because then the audience could stop thinking after the final reel. I know that’s what most audiences seem to want these days, but Kubrick isn’t going to let us off so lightly.

    I’m glad to see that this film is in the IMDB top 100 films, and only wish that it were even higher. Stanley Kubrick is one of the very finest film-makers the world has known, and 2001 his finest accomplishment. 10/10.

  2. For all those bewildered by the length and pace of this film ("like, why does he show spaceships docking for, like, 15 minutes?"), here’s a word you might want to think about:

    Beauty.

    Beauty is an under-rated concept. Sure, you’ll often see nice photography and so on in films. But when did you last see a film that contains beauty purely for the sake of it? There is a weird belief among cinemagoers that anything which is not plot or character related must be removed. This is depressing hogwash. There is nothing wrong with creating a beautiful sequence that has nothing to do with the film’s plot. A director can show 15 minutes of spaceships for no reason than that they are beautiful, and it is neither illegal nor evil to do so.

    ‘2001’ requires you to watch in a different way than you normally watch films. It requires you to relax. It requires you to experience strange and beautiful images without feeling guilty that there is no complex plot or detailed characterization. Don’t get me wrong, plots and characters are good, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of everything. There are different KINDS of film, and to enjoy ‘2001’ you must tune your brain to a different wavelength and succumb to the pleasure of beauty, PURE beauty, unfettered by the banal conventions of everyday films.

    "All art is quite useless" – Oscar Wilde.

  3. Instead of writing a paragraph, I’ll give four good reasons why 2001 is the greatest cinema experience of all time: 1) It is a visual Odyssey that could only be told on the big screen. The special effects that won Kubrick his only Oscar are the most stunning effects before that age of Jurassic Park and T2. They allow Kubrick to give an accurate (or at least are the most accurate) depiction of space travel to date. The silence that fills the space scenes not only serves its purpose as accurate science, but also adds to the mood of the film (to be discussed in a later point with HAL). The fact that Kubrick shot the moon scenes before the Apollo landing is a gutsy yet fulfilling move. Many have said that upon its original release, it was a favorite “trip” movie. I can think of no other movie that has such amazing visuals for its time and even of all time (sorry Phantom Menace fans!) 2) Kubrick’s directing style is terrific. As in all his films, Kubrick likes to use his camera as means to delve into the psychology of his characters and plots. His camera is not as mobile as other greats, such as Scorsese, but instead sits and watches the narrative unfold. Faces are the key element of a Kubrick film. Like classic movies, such as M and Touch of Evil, Kubrick focuses on the characters’ faces to give the audience a psychological view-point. Even he uses extreme close-ups of HAL’s glowing red “eye” to show the coldness and determination of the computerizd villain. I could go on, but in summation Kubrick is at the hieght of his style. 3) HAL 9000 is one of the most villainous characters in film history. I whole-heartedly agree with the late Gene Siskle’s opinion of HAL 9000. Most of this film takes place in space. Through the use of silence and the darkness of space itself, a mood of isolation is created. Dave and his crewmen are isolated between earth and jupiter, with nowhere to escape. Combine this mood with the cold, calculated actions of HAL 9000 and you have the most fearful villain imaginable. I still, although having see this film several times, feel my chest tighten in a particular scene. 4) The controversial ending of 2001 always turns people away from this film. Instead of trying to give my opinion of the what it means and what my idea of 2001’s meaning in general is, I’d like to discuss the fact that the ending serves to leave the movie open-ended. Kubrick has stated that he inteded to make 2001 open for discussion. He left its meaning in the hands of the viewer. By respecting the audience’s intelligence, Kubrick allowed his movie to be the beginning, not the end, of a meaningful discussion on man’s past, present, and future. The beauty of 2001 is that the ending need not mean anything deep, it can just be a purely plot driven explanation and the entire movie can be viewed as an entertaining journey through space. No other movie, save the great Citizen Kane, leaves itself open to discussion like 2001. It is truly meant to be a surreal journey that involves not only the eye but the mind. Instead of waiting in long lines for the Phantom Menace, rent a widescreen edition of 2001 and enjoy the greatest cinematic experience.

  4. A review I have put off for far too long….

    Bluntly, 2001 is one of the best science-fiction films made to date, if not the very best. Stanley Kubrick was a genius of a film maker and this is one of his very best works. And although it is misunderstood by many, and respectively underrated, it is considered one of the best films of all time and I’ll have to agree. Back in 1968, no one had done anything like this before, and no one has since. It was a marvel of a special effects breakthrough back then, and seeing how the effects hold up today, it is no wonder as to why. The film still looks marvelous after almost forty years! Take note CGI people. Through the use of large miniatures and realistic lighting, Kubrick created some of the best special effects ever put on celluloid. This aspect alone almost single-handedly created the chilling void of the space atmosphere which is also attributed to the music and realistic sound effects. I can’t think of another film where you can’t here anything in space, like it is in reality. Not only is the absence of sound effects in space realistic, it is used cleverly as a tool to establish mood, and it works flawlessly.

    Aside from the magnificent display of ingenious special effects, there are other factors that play a part in establishing the feel of the film. The music played, all classical, compliment what the eyes are seeing and make you feel the significance of man’s journey through his evolution from ape to space traveler.

    The story, while seemingly simple, is profound. Sequentially, several mysterious black monoliths are discovered and basically trigger certain events integral to the film. What are they? Where did they come from? What do they do? These are all questions one asks oneself while watching the story develop and is asked to find his own way. While most come away with a general idea of what took place in the story, each individual will have to decide what it means to them. Any way one decides to answer these question results in profound solutions. It’s not left entirely up to interpretation, but in some aspects it is. Experience it for more clarification. The end result is quite chilling, no matter your personal solution.

    While it is a long film, and sometimes slows down, it has to be in order to accurately portray the journey of man. It’s not a subject that would have faired well in a shorter film, faster paced feature. Those with short attention spans need not apply.

    Last but not least, is the epitome of a remorseless antagonist, HAL 9000, the computer. Never has a machine held such a chilling screen presence. Which reminds me, for a film with such profound ambition and execution, there is surprisingly little dialogue. Another sign of Kubrick’s genius.

    All in all, one of the best films made to date and one of the very best science fiction films made. A personal favorite. Everyone must see this film at least once.

    Very highly recommended.

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