2001: A Space Odyssey

Year 1968

Keir Dullea   as   Dr. Dave Bowman
Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole
William Sylvester as Dr. Heywood R. Floyd  
Douglas Rain as HAL 9000 (voice)
Director - Stanley Kubrick
Screenwriters - Stanley Kubrick
  - Arthur C. Clarke
Short Story Author   - Arthur C. Clarke

Whenever I see the name 2001: A Space Odyssey, I immediately think of the Mad Magazine send-up titled, "201 Minutes of a Space Idiocy". In some ways, that sums it up. The movie is long, for starters. Not 201 minutes but 160 minutes with very little excitement during that time. The length of the movie might be sheer torture for people who want a thrill a minute. Even the 140 minute version, which is the only one available these days, can seem long in places.

My advice? Resolve yourself to watch the movie and keep from getting bored by attempting to think through the scenes. Every scene means something, either symbolically or as a piece interwoven into the plot.

There are four parts to the movie and each has its own plot. Part one is how a tribe of primates manages to cross the boundaries between being an animal and being a cognizant creature that learns how to use tools. Part two is a trip to see something that been uncovered on the moon. (Has it been unmooned as opposed to unearthed?) Part three is a trip to Jupiter for reasons of exploration. Part four is the trip one man must take so that humanity can continue to evolve.

The theme of the movie? The crossroads of mankind's pursuit of perfection are examined and invented.

As for the experience of watching the movie, remember that Kubrick takes his sweet time. This is closer to his Barry Lyndon than it is to his Dr. Strangelove in terms of pacing. There is a rule that states that if something does not move the plot along, then it should be removed. Kubrick doesn't believe that. Many scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey fail to move the plot along. They are there for pacing or providing credibility for the world that Kubrick created.

For an example, the second part of the movie could have been cut by more than half without any loss of plot points. But the second part shows the space station and we get to hear the Blue Danube Waltz. The docking of the space shuttle with the space station is actually one of the iconic scenes in the film. But it's really not necessary. It adds nothing. But it looks cool, it's actually as beautiful as a ballet or waltz, and I doubt if anyone will complain about its inclusion.

A lot of the movie is like that. Dr. Poole (Lockwood) is keeping in shape by running around his spacecraft. Something like centrifugal force has introduced an artificial gravity in the ship, so he runs around in circles on the inside hull on a ring of artificial gravity. This dialog free running thing goes on for a while.

There's hardly any conversation in the movie. Mostly, the movie is a series of cool scenes with occassional interruptions of conversation. The first part of the movie? Not a word is spoken. Animal noises, yes. Words, no. The second part of the movie has three scenes with dialog. Mostly, it's pretty things being shown. The last part of the movie is also without dialog.

The MGM special version released in 2001 is the one that I watched. It's 19 minutes shorter than the original release but still includes about five minutes of a blank screen at the start. I suppose this is to get you in the mood to not be impatient. There's music playing, if you call the chorus of György Ligeti's "Atmospheres" music, but the screen is black. It's intended to be that way. There's also an intermission in the short version.

Way back when I saw this originally in theaters with a friend, he commented that even then there were changes betwee what we saw and what he'd seen the week before in New York. He commented on the removal of the intermission. I suspect that there were more changes. If you don't mind spoileres, see http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/brown3.html for some details about what was removed.

This paragraph contains some spoilers. Two things that I remember being different between what I saw in the theater and what is on DVD were the death of Dr. Poole and the duration of the trip into the space warp. I remember the pod coming up behind Dr. Poole, grabbing him, and killing him. In the currently available version, the death pod is shown moving but how it kills Dr. Poole is never shown. I remember hating HAL at this point. The second thing is how long Dr. Bowman goes on his trip. I seem to remember that signs of other intelligent extra-terrestrial life were shown. In the current version, there's one scene with seven diamond shaped objects.

Let's recap what happens. First, a tribe of super apes encounters a monolith, a tall, slim, deeply black structure. Thanks to the monolith, they grow in their ability to manipulate their environment. This culminates in murder. Then we jump to 1999 where there are space stations and permanent moon bases. On the moon, another of these monoliths is found. It sends out a signal. Then we move to 2001 and a space ship on its way to Jupiter. The cast of charcters on-board includes Dr. Poole, Dr. Bowman (Dullea), and a computer named HAL. HAL goes insane and in the process becomes one of the most memorable villains in screen history. Finally, Dr. Bowman encounters yet another monolith and begins a long journey. It's a personal journey but it affects all of mankind.

Before getting on with the good stuff and the reasons why you need to see this movie, let's go over the bad. The most glaring is in a message that Dr. Poole receives from his parents on his birthday. His parents are dressed as if they lived in 1955. All through the movie, there is an attention to detail regarding how things will change between 1968 and 2001. Yet, the writers ignored frumpy clothes and spit-curl hairdos. I'll tell you, it was jarring.

Gravity is also not applied universally. On the moon, where the gravity is one-sixth that of earth, things fall at earth gravity rather than float down. On the ship to Jupiter, the ship is named Discovery One, there is gravity where contrifugal force keeps things pressed to the hull. The main living area of the ship is being spun to provide gravity. But the pod bay is not being spun. Yet there's gravity there.

Last of the bad stuff is the light. In a vacuum, there is no lens flare. Lights are not diffused by air because there is none. Beams of light should not be hazy or have a soft spread. They should be harsh and direct.

Small quibbles, all.

Because there is so little dialog, you don't need a great actor for any of the characters. There isn't a lot of range of emotion needing to be exhibited. Dullea, Lockwood, and Sylvester are all credible in their roles.

There is incredible attention to detail. I don't doubt that NASA used 2001: A Space Odyssey as a reference source when designing the cockpits of their spacecraft. The movie correctly predicted flat panel screens, for example. It also predicted corporations getting involved in space travel. Although this really hasn't happened yet, it's likely to happen in the future.

I loved the fact that there is no noise in space. Rockets don't make noise, doors are silent when opening, tools don't click against metal, etc. when there is no air to transmit sound waves.

The special effects are wonderful. It's obvious that miniatures were often used but they were tweaked so that there is live action movement inserted into the miniatures. The technology used in the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey broke new ground. The use of 70mm film means that the movie looks as fresh today as it did in 1968. It does not appear dated.

HAL as the computer that goes insane is one of the most, if not the most, memorable things about the film. The monolith is imposing, but it's just a hunk of rock. HAL as a computer with emotions is something else again. You almost feel sorry for it when Dave Bowman starts disabling portions of it.

One thing that Kubrick and Clarke intended was that people who see this movie think about it. Not all of the answers are given in the movie. When I first saw it, I came away wondering what I'd seen. What was the point? What did it all mean? Some of my comments earlier will fill in a lot of those gaps for you. I mean, I wasn't even sure where the monolith came from when I saw the movie. I don't even know if the title cards breaking the movie into parts were included in the version that I originally saw.

The movie is easier to understand today than it was when it was originally released. That's because it was so imaginative, fresh, and unexpected back in 1968 that it trod realms that were completely new. I remember borrowing a copy of "The Sentinel" from my friend to try and puzzle out the movie. Yes, the heart of 2001: A Space Odyssey is from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke. The book 2001: A Space Odyssey had not been release in paperback when the movie came out. Today, you can read either the short story or the novel to try and figure out the movie. Back then, it was just the short story that was available.

If the movie prompts you to read either of the two works by Arthur C. Clarke or entices you to watch it again, then Kubrick did what he set out to do. In case you're wondering, the reason HAL goes insane is hinted at in the movie. You need to put the clues together for yourself, though, because no answer is handed to you on a silver platter in this movie. It is in the sequel 2010, but that's a lesser movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey is the movie where science fiction grew up. Every science fiction movie made since has been affected directly or indirectly by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's that important.

No blasphemy, profanity, or nudity. Not a lot of chick flick potential. There are four main characters, and none of them are women. The concept of the movie and the artistry and elegance of the scenes may appeal to the right gal, though.

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