Many regard it as one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces. I’d heard about it. It created a meme. It’s intro music has been used in pro wrestling for nearly 4 decades. But I’d never seen it before. Not until last night.
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A movie I went into near-blind, only knowing as much about what happens as you could grasp from a trailer or an advertisement. And my oh my was I astounded by what I saw. It literally shook me to the core, but more on that later.
This post will inevitably contain spoilers. Proceed at your own risk if you haven’t already seen the movie, but I highly recommend that you see it first.
The start of the movie was pretty slow, but given that it was a prologue of the events to come (I use that very, very loosely) I was willing to give it a chance. Knowing how highly people regard Kubrick, I figured at this point that he wouldn’t have included it if it wasn’t deemed relevant. And it was, particularly the last few scenes of the section, where the initial setup and perhaps the key theme is first introduced.
Onto Act 2, and the main setup for the events to come, and things started picking up a little bit as the main setting was established. Again, we see the same setup we did in Act 1, but again, no immediate explanation for it, and very little extra knowledge of why it’s there or what it’s purpose is.
Act 3 is where the meat of the story happens: the actual space mission, the titular “odyssey”, with astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, along with 3 cryogenically sleeping scientists, on a mission to Jupiter, on which they haven’t been entirely briefed upon. They are accompanied by HAL 9000, a supercomputer capable of human thought, decision-making and emotion. HAL is the only one that knows the full detail of the mission, and has been assigned to brief the others upon reaching proximity of their destination. However, knowing what the mission entails, he fabricates an error in a communications module, and instructs the astronauts to repair the fault. Sensing that nothing’s wrong, Dave and Frank conspire against HAL and plan to shut it down. However, HAL lip-reads and plans his own revenge against them, to try to save himself and preserve the mission.
Frank goes out as instructed to repair the communications link and is killed by HAL, and Dave goes out to try to rescue him as he’s floating through space. As he’s out there, HAL locks down the ship and terminates the life support for the still-sleeping scientists, killing them also. Dave finds a way back in through the manual airlock, and shuts down HAL by force, prompting it to convey the message detailing the mission and why they were sent in secrecy.
Dave proceeds with the mission alone and.. well, I’ll not ruin that for you.
I watched this for the first time and the first thing I noticed was that the choice of music really made the whole thing come together. From the opening music before the film even starts, to its notable use of Also Sprach Zarathustra in both its intro, outro, and select moments throughout the movie, and its use of The Blue Danube (which pretty much forever associated that classical piece with space travel and the concept of weightlessness), the sound is what really makes the movie, given how very sparse dialog can be in it. Those and others really come together to set the atmosphere (or lack thereof, it’s space, remember?) and really help make the movie what it is.
The visuals appeared to me to be somehow quasi-dated. Some of them are really dated, yet some of them are really ahead of its time. The first is the almost seamless transition between Acts 1 and 2. It’s a scene that really speaks a lot of volume about Kubrick’s thoughts at the time about history and its irrelevance in modern, and in effect, futuristic times. As well as that, the rotation of the camera and perception of gravity were pretty ahead of its time, and certainly makes the likes of Inception’s “city folding in on itself” and walking 90 degrees up walls look less impressive, considering that Kubrick done this all 40 years ago with very little input from computers. However, the notions and appearances, especially the outer space stuff, and Frank floating through space after HAL having killed him, do look dated and, dare I say, unrealistic. Hey come on, I’ve not been in space, I’m no judge on what looks authentic or not in that respect!
The ending though.. oh my. Literally at points throughout the movie, I clammed up in fear, not knowing what was going to happen or what to expect. Some choice words I tweeted at the time were: “Hairs on my back are tingling, my palms have seen more moisture than Africa has all year”. I literally have never felt like this watching ANY movie before. That’s how I know that this is special. Sure there’s other movies that cash in on fear and terror, but they’re usually the ones that are out for a quick shock and a cheap thrill, you know they’ll happen before you even watch, they’re the movie’s subject title, or the obvious basis of events that you can see coming a mile off. But this was.. different.
I really could not have predicted how this movie panned out, aside from the parts about HAL that I’d already read about in magazine columns and blogs long before I even watched it. I was genuinely scared at points where the movie had developed such a rapid pace that i thought one of these cheap thrills was coming but it just kept accelerating to the point where it hit a brick wall, and the last 10 minutes really drove it home, what the real message and story of the movie is. That was a point where I was truly scared, as it moved to an unfamiliar environment, where neither you or the character had any knowledge of what was going on, and was stumbling through his own thoughts to comprehend the situation before it finally clicked.
I thought I’d struggle to find the words to describe what I saw, but clearly it’s almost the polar opposite. I can’t get its thoughts and themes out of my head, I’m literally shuddering at the thought of it, but at the strange time, I really want to watch it again, just to see if the experience is any different at the beginning knowing what I know from seeing the movie from start to finish, knowing what it’s really about, and what message it’s trying to convey.