Friday, July 20, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I came home from work and decided to watch my DVD of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Growing up, my father was a big Stanley Kubrick fan, so I think I was around ten when he brought the VHS home from the video store and I watched it for the first time. It was a pretty exhausting film for a ten year old to sit through, although I remember really liking the prehistoric Neanderthals and, of course, the Jupiter Mission.

Over the years, I have grown to become a huge Kubrick fan, and have seen the film several times, including once on the big screen at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Each time I've seen it, I've learned to appreciate it more and more.

The film is really ahead of it's time. It was released a year before man had even reached the moon, and almost ten years before Star Wars, and yet the special effects are way ahead of anything made at the time.

Also, stylistically, it defied everything that was being done in contemporary film. The pacing was slow and tranquil, and the overall plot was mysterious, and incomprehensible. Even this time watching it, I still find my brain trying to wrap itself around it. It seems to me, that it's a film which probably requires one to read the book (which I haven't) in order to have a better understanding of what's really going on.

The film is basically broken up into four different parts, and is centered around a large, black, extraterrestrial monolith that appears and seems to have some sort of mysterious interaction with mankind.

The first part, is the Dawn of Man, in which a group of prehistoric Neanderthals (or whatever form of prehistoric man they actually are) struggle to survive in the rough climate of the time. One morning they wake up and discover the monolith. They are drawn to it, and touch it. After that, man transforms, when an ape man picks up a large bone and figures out that it can be used for hunting and as weapon to fight off other men... the birth of technology.

This brings us to the second part, which is now the year 2000. I have to say that it's almost humorous to see how ambitious Arthur C. Clark's view of man's technological progress was for that year, and what actually ended up being. In fact, it's now 2012 and we're still not even close. But in the world of Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick, it is now 2000 and we basically spend this part of the film watching a scientist on a secret mission to the moon, where they have uncovered a monolith buried 40 feet below the moon's surface. They are convinced that they have found the first sign of intelligent life outside of earth. This time, when a scientist touches it, it gives off a signal (which we find out later is toward Jupiter) and seems to pierce the ears of the scientists.

This brings us to the third and most entertaining part of the film, the Mission to Jupiter. It is now 18 months later (I'm presuming this part takes place in 2001, since it is the space odyssey.) A group of astronauts and scientists are on a secret mission to Jupiter, following the signal of the monolith. Most of the scientists have been put in a state of hibernation,  except two, who are awake, and tend the spacecraft. The spacecraft, and the scientists in hibernation, are being monitored and controlled by the HAL 9000 supercomputer, which seems to be one of man's biggest technological advances of the time, and considered to be flawless. He talks like a real person, and was built in 1992 (Ha, ha, ha.) Anyway, I don't want to give it all away, but I will say that the HAL 9000 series is not all that it's cracked up to be, which allows for some great suspense and the classic dialogue of the film.

Now the last part of the film, which is the most psychedelic, is the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite part. In this part, the surviving astronaut (yes, I'm giving it away, sorry) takes a trip down to what seems to be Jupiter. Here we find a monolith floating in space and lining up with the planet and it's moons. The Astronaut takes the long voyage down, incapsulated in lights and lots of glowing visual special effects, and ends up in a large elegant chamber where he seems to watch himself transform into an old man. Then on his dying bed, the monolith appears again, and reaching out to touch it, he is transformed into an embryo, floating in space above the earth.

What does it all mean? I would be lying if I said I could put my finger on it exactly, but it definitely has something to do with the evolution of mankind and his control over technology, or should I say, technolgy's control over him.

It is not a film I would recommend to just anyone. It's not spoon fed, sci-fi entertainment. It's an art film. So if you're looking for quick thrills, you got Star Wars, and Aliens, and Battlestar Galactica, and that stuff. But if you really want to see something different... and can just allow yourself to slow down and zone out to a great soundtrack with great visuals, and a strange and mysterious plot... I encourage you to check it out.

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