Posted on 12/31/09 05:23 PM
2001: A Space Odyssey
Is it a sermon? An account of the history of mankind? An exploration of man's futile attempts to advance technology only to have technology destroy him? Is it about the fragile balance of time and space? A lesson in evolution? Or is it just a spectacular effects show; a film Kubrick made only to show us the limitless possibilities of the motion picture and present to us the truth that images are exceedingly more powerful than words?
2001: A Space Odyssey is all of these things. One of the most interpretable films ever created, it's almost more fun to dissect and discuss the ambiguous plot design and events of the film, than it is to actually watch. But it's left open to discussion intentionally; if Kubrick had explained the meaning to his wondrous 1968 classic (ranked #22 on AFI's list of the greatest 100 films ever made, my personal 7th favorite film?currently--, and nominated for 4 Academy Awards: Director, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, and Visual Effects which it won for) it would have lost half its fascination, all of its complexity, and a good portion of its cinematic worth. We would only be left with the technical ingenuity; which in itself is worth praising.
Because every shot is worth taking the time to look. And there is plenty of time. 2001 is very elegiac, and also coolly distant; detached. The emotional remoteness and slow pace pay perfect tribute however to the unique visual experience; 2001 begins with mankind's ape ancestors, who upgrade from scavengers of the planet to hunters and toolmakers after discovering a giant monolith in the midst of their desert home, then (in one of motion picture history's most inspired jump-cut edits) as a bone is tossed into the air and becomes a satellite, jumping forward a couple thousand years into space, where astronauts have discovered a similar object on the moon, and next the film following a crew of space traveler's mission as they follow the monolith's signal through space, accompanied by their untrustworthy computer HAL, who attempts to sabotage the shuttle and kill the crew, before finally the lone survivor is launched through space and time (in a flurry of drug-induced colors that probably gave hippies an epileptic shock back in the day) to grow old, die, and be reborn a "Star-child". Whew.
This pacing and emotional blankness, is also in sharp contrast with the film's most ironic scene; the destruction of HAL. As the crew's final explorer shuts the machine down, bathed in the holy aura of red light Kubrick has always used as a repeat motif, HAL singing a lovely tune, it is a strangely emotional experience. And it's all genius.
Other notable aspects of Kubrick's masterpiece is the memorable voice of HAL (a calm, somehow sinister, Douglas Rain), the minimal use of dialogue (Kubrick was wisely trusting of his images to propel the film; giving only banal, unhelpful lines to his actors. The most famous being "Open the pod bay doors HAL"), satellites dancing around in orbit to unorthodox music, and that first, awe-inspiring shot of earth; slowly revealing the glare of the sun in front of it, played to the sound of blasting, triumphant horns.
2001 shall always remain a mystery, and will forever be a testament to the cinema's strongest point: visuals are more powerful than writing. It's all from one of film history's most legendary and best directors, whose unique vision, was always his own. 10/10