2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY(1968)
With Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Douglas Rain (voice of "HAL")
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Reviewed by JB
One of the most influential science fiction films in history, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, written by director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke, still retains its power to mesmerize and confuse. The film takes us from the "Dawn of Man" through the age of space travel, a span of over 2 million years, without ever explaining exactly what is going on. The film proposes that mankind was been influenced by outside forces since prehistoric days, and those outside forces have set up signposts throughout the solar system to monitor our progress as a species. But who or what is watching us, and to what end, remains unclear.
2001 is deliberately slow and lacking in action, yet because Kubrick was at the height of his powers as a director, the film is fascinating. It is divided into several sections as it leaps through time and space to tell its story. The most famous leap has often been noted whenever people write about the movie. One ape man tribe, having discovered the use of tools (in this case, an old animal bone), begin to dominate over both other species and other tribes. After a successful raid on a rival group, one ape man celebrates by throwing the bone up in the air in triumph. The camera follows the bone, and on its descent, a cut that covers millions of year turns it into a floating space platform. We go from the Dawn of Man to the Future of Man in one single edit, and Kubrick and Clarke follow this up brilliantly by making Future Man so deadly dull. Dr. Heywood Floyd, as played by William Sylvester, is a scientist called on to investigate a strange occurrence on the moon, one that could change the course of civilization itself. Yet, man of the future is all briefcases and smalltalk, most of the dialogue consists of tedious chatting amongst friends and colleagues, with nothing being said and little emotion displayed. The casting is perfect, with both Sylvester and Keir Dullea, who enters the film later, superbly representing blank, almost robotic representatives of Modern Man. This is evolution? (I always suspected William Sylvester was chosen for the role not just for his acting abilities but for his uncanny resemblance to Hugh Beaumont, the "perfect" father in the 1950s TV series Leave It to Beaver.)
The most interesting character in the film is not even human. HAL, the ship's computer of the Discovery One bound for Jupiter, may be the deepest character in the whole film. We only know HAL as a soft, friendly voice (Douglas Rain) and a red camera lens, yet he dominates the second half of the film, as his supposedly flawless programming goes awry, leading to two astronauts on board to decide it is time to shut off his higher functions. It is at this point that HAL becomes paranoid and decides that the mission of the Discovery One is too important to be put at risk by pesky humans. Yet, even in the aftermath of his decision to do away with the entire crew, he is still all too human in his apology, spoken in the softest of voices, to the one crew member remaining alive: "I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal." Is HAL a villain, a confused child or just a machine with bad programming? Or all three?
Kubrick tells his story primarily through visuals and music rather than dialogue. In fact, not a single word is spoken for nearly the first half hour of the film. The film opens with a twenty minute sequence of the ape men and how they discovered the use of tools, and is followed by a beautiful sequence of a space shuttle maneuvering to land in a floating circular space station, to the tune of "The Blue Danube Waltz". The groundbreaking special effects are still impressive today, and even if some of the models of space ships, transmitters and satellites are two-dimensional (we only see them from one angle, no turning or banking), Kubrick uses this limitation as an asset to his smooth flowing editing of the sequence. The larger models are amazingly detailed, and would later influence such films as STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and the entire STAR WARS series.
The final twenty minutes are among the film's most fascinating and confusing, as we follow astronaut David Bowman (Dullea) through a "star tunnel", traveling God knows how many light years to God knows where and finally ending up in a home with Louis XVI furniture, where he apparently lives out the rest of his life in a matter of minutes and is then sent back to Earth transformed into... well, God know what. Kubrick and Clarke allow us to make up our own minds as to what is going on. The aliens (if there are indeed aliens) are never shown, and the fate of both Bowman and the Earth is left literally hanging in space. For this sequence, and the Blue Danube montages, 2001 became one of the great "head" movies of the sixties (where young audiences members would enhance their experience with various drugs), along with YELLOW SUBMARINE and the rerelease of FANTASIA.
A unique film that should never have been sequelized, 2001 nevertheless received a followup with 1984's 2010, based on Clarke's own book. A fine sci-fi adventure in its own right, starring Roy Scheider, 2010 explains too much about the black monoliths which represent a higher power in 2001, and takes away some of the mystery of the original film. Still worth seeing, though I am sure all 2001 fans hope the day never comes when Hollywood decides to remake 2001, with today's "new and improved special effects and "new Millennium wow factor". - JB
SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR GOOD MOVIE QUOTES
"HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!"
"Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."
YES, TO BE LIKE THE HU-MAN!
While watching the film again for this review, I once again noticed how many of man's machines resemble human beings, sometimes comically so, like this Moonlander descending on a platform.