Saturday, August 24, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY"

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke


One of the things that most people don’t realize about the best of the Star Trek series, particularly the original and “..The Next Generation,” is that they aren’t about space travel, what they are about is what can happen when one expands the human limits of the mind. The capabilities of the structure, and trying to find the most faraway point within us; what Roddenberry did were use the metaphor of traveling through space to illustrate this thought. This is a strange way to begin discussing Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but in it’s own magical way, this movie is about the same concept, only here Kubrick dares to illustrates one more radical thought, that the human race as it were is about to evolve and be reborn into and enter a new level of the expansion of the mind, once unseen, or for that matter, unthought-of. Actually, it’s a very radical thought, which long after the year in the title has come and gone, and long after the boundaries of space, and well after the increase in familiarity with special effects has waned our ability to be amazed by them, “2001…”  still manages to enthrall us with it’s visual beauty and amazement.

Of Kubrick’s 13 Oscar nominations, he only won one, and it was for this film’s special effects, which along with Douglas Trumbell, who was the brainchild of the effects (though he didn’t share the Oscar with Kubrick), he worked on the film in secrecy for years before releasing it to an unsuspecting 1960s audience. The movie begins at the beginning of time with apes walking on Earth, until they discover an object that transfixes them. The same object will appear eons later buried on the moon. The way to read this is that the apes realized that the object was made, and also placed on the earth, and this enlightens them to kill and control and build, and eventually become modern humans (or human of the future, technically, but still modern humans). The humans, who find the object on the moon, come to the same conclusion. These findings eventually lead to the Jupiter Mission, where 5 astronauts, and the HAL 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain) begin their voyage to Jupiter to find what they hope is the source of the object.

The scenes on the spaceship are really the most memorable. For once, for being a year older than the moonlanding, it’s scary to see just how much like some of NASA’s actual footage they are, but they’re not showy, in fact the banality of them is quite a contrast to most portrayals of space travel. There’s a few astronauts, most of them are in a deep sleep for the long journey and only two, Dave and Frank (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, Kubrick purposefully casting actors who were unknown and nondescript) are the only ones awake on the ship. One of them jogs, another plays computer chess with HAL or eats dinner. These are images of striking beauty, and the score, renown for using only classical music, including Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” as the great opening as well as well as Johann Strauss’s “The Blue Danube” during the famous scenes of the ship getting ready, songs that are now cliché to use for similar effect in movies and shows now, but it’s use here is still breathtaking. Then of course, the machine, the manmade object, will eventually attempt to overtake its creators, in the movies most famous sequences. What one astronaut eventually will find, and the journey to get there, I will leave for you to find out, and you can interpret the ending anyway you want. I don’t even know completely what it means, but you will be exhilarated.

The movie recently ranked #6 by the Critics and #2 by Directors on “Sight & Sound” magazines Greatest Movie polls, strange considering how the reaction was mixed originally, and panned by many. It was definitely an anomaly in its time. A film that asked us to think and consider, and didn’t lay out the story in the ordinary language of film, yet used the language to convey ideas and thoughts, perhaps better than any film up ‘til that point. The movie is separated into two parts, and barely has more than, maybe at most a couple thousand words of dialogue, and I’m being generous.  This movie is a unique work, technically, years ahead of its time; yet, there’s nothing like it then or now, and is still one of the most amazing experiences cinema’s ever done.  
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