tek's rating:

2001: A Space Odyssey (G)
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Caution: spoilers.

This came out in 1968 (seven years before I was born), after several years of development. I guess it was sort of co-written by director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke. I think for most of my life, I was under the impression that the movie was based on a novel by Clarke, but actually he wrote his book at the same time that the movie was being written. Anyway, I haven't read the book, as of the time I finally saw the movie in 2019. So I can't speak to the differences between the two mediums, but I certainly would like to read the book, and its sequels, someday. (The first sequel to the book was adapted into a movie sequel in 1984, which I'd also like to see someday.) Despite how long it too me to get around to watching the original movie, there are a lot of elements to it that I've been aware of practically as long as I can remember. And of course the movie influenced lots of other science fiction movies that came after it, some of which I'd seen before I saw this. So I can sort of retroactively see its influence in those movies. I must say, it's pretty much impossible for me to understand what it must have been like to see this movie when it first came out. I know different people, including movie critics, had very different reactions to it. Some saw it as boring and/or pretentious, and I can totally understand those feelings, even if I don't share them. (Though I dare say some of the movies that were likely influenced by this one, I absolutely would feel that way about.) Other people found the movie to be... like, profound. Deeply philosophical, thought-provoking, whatever. And I can understand that reaction, too, even if I don't entirely share it. And I'm sure a lot of people just found it confusing, which is probably the reaction that is closest to my own. Still, I appreciate the movie in large part because of how iconic it is. Probably I like it more than I would have if I had seen it when it was new, just because I'm able to be aware of its iconic-ness. And because of how familiar some of its elements are. But I still can't really see it as being as amazing and transcendent as its most hardcore fans see it.

Well... the movie is 2 hours and 28 minutes long. For about 3 minutes, the screen is just black, though there's some music playing. Then we get to see the Moon and Earth and Sun lining up as Richard Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (one of the iconic pieces of music from the movie) plays. That just leads to the title screen. Then we have the actual first act of the film, "The Dawn of Man." In that, we see some primitive primates going about their lives... and one group gets attacked by another group, though really there wasn't any violence, just posturing. (I sort of thought, "Is this the first war, or the first dance party?") Anyway, the first group runs away and hides. But later, they discover a black monolith. (The monolith is another of the iconic aspects of the movie with which I was familiar, though I always thought of it as white. In fact, the day after I watched the movie, I remembered it as white, so when I read online that it was black, I was kind of surprised. Rewatching bits of the movie later to write this review, I saw that it was black, but I think probably most of the parodies of the monolith that I've ever seen have been white... such as an animated sketch from Sesame Street that I would have seen when I was far too young to know what it referenced.) While the primates try to gather their courage to actually touch the monolith, some eerie vocal music plays, and I'm really not sure whether it was actually emanating from the monolith or is just part of the movie's soundtrack. Either way, they eventually touch the thing. And later, one of them gets the idea to use a bone as a weapon, and teaches the others to do the same. (This epiphany is accentuated by "Thus Space Zarathustra," which is really how the music became indelibly associated with this movie.) So they go back to their watering hole that's now controlled by the second group, and use weapons to drive them away and reclaim their territory (after killing one of the usurpers). Then, at nearly the 20-minute mark, comes an iconic bit of imagery, when one of the triumphant primates tosses his bone club into the air, and as it spins, the scene flashes forward to the distant future (2001), where we see the bone replaced by a satellite orbiting the Earth. And we hear the opening strains of the movie's other iconic piece of music, Johann Strauss II's waltz "The Blue Danube." (I suppose we can assume the monolith was placed on Earth by some extraterrestrial intelligence to help mankind evolve or whatever. But the movie never really makes that clear. In any event, the next stage of our evolution is soon to come. I guess.)

While the music plays, we see a leisurely-paced scene of a Pan American spaceplane going from Earth to a space station. Its passenger is Dr. Heywood Floyd, who has a brief layover on the station before continuing on to Clavius Base, on the Moon. While on the station, he makes a videophone call to his young daughter on Earth, whose birthday he's going to miss. (I suppose this scene is just meant to show another detail of futuristic technology. Imagine, being able to see realtime video of someone while talking on the phone!) Later, he has a casual conversation with some other people on the station, who are interested in why he's going to the Moon, but he's not at liberty to discuss it. Then there's another scene of a ship going from the station to the Moon, while "The Blue Danube" plays. When he reaches the base, he addresses a group of people to talk about... whatever. He mentions a cover story, which is rumors of an epidemic (which the people on the space station had heard about). The real reason for his trip to the Moon is top secret, and while I'm sure everyone in that meeting knew what it was, it's not actually specified by Floyd or anyone there. (I must say, most of what we see in this act, and the way people talk, seems to me like this futuristic society is a lot like the 1950s.) After the meeting, Floyd takes a Moonbus with a few other people to a site where another monolith had been discovered. (I don't know for sure, but I very much doubt that anyone who knows about this monolith had any idea that there was one on Earth, eons ago.) The same eerie vocalization is heard in the movie, but once again I have no idea whether or not the characters hear it (though I tend to doubt it, this being an airless environment, and all). At one point it looks like one of the people examining the monolith is going to take a picture of the other members of the group as they stand in front of it. Suddenly they all seem to hear a screeching sound inside their helmets, which seems painful, I guess. But suddenly the movie jumps into the next act, with no explanation of what was happening in the previous scene or what happened immediately after it.

Incidentally, I want to say that the first act actually had the words "The Dawn of Man" on the screen, but the second act didn't have any onscreen title. However, the movie's wiki calls that act "TMA-1," which is the designation of the monolith that was discovered on the Moon. The movie's third act does have a label on the screen. It says "Jupiter Mission" and below that "18 Months Later." This will be the longest segment of the movie, and the one that is most familiar to me from... you know, all the decades of my being aware of the movie before I actually saw it.

A spaceship called Discovery 1 has been sent to Jupiter. There are five crew members, but three of them are in suspended animation. The two who are awake are Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole. There's also an AI computer called HAL 9000, who is probably the most famous "character" in the movie. I don't want to say too much about this part of the movie, but at one point HAL informs the crew of a malfunctioning antenna on the outside of the ship. So Bowman has to go out in an EVA pod to retrieve the device and bring it onboard the ship for examination. They find nothing wrong with it, so they think HAL made an error... which isn't supposed to be possible. Bowman and Poole then have a private conversation inside a pod, with the sound turned off so HAL can't hear it. They discuss shutting HAL down. However, it seems like HAL is lip-reading what they're saying. I found that odd, because it looked to me, from inside the pod, like HAL's view of both of them should have been obscured, but I guess it wasn't. (As a side note, not long before I watched the movie, I had seen something that mentioned lip-reading, and said it wasn't real. By the time I wrote this review, I couldn't remember where it was I'd heard that, like not even whether it was on a show or in a movie or online. Or maybe it was something I read. But it sounded reasonable to me, at the time. But whatever it was, it was probably not true. Of course, none of this has any bearing on the movie, I just thought it was interesting timing.)

INTERMISSION

So... Bowman has to leave the ship in a pod again, for a reason I don't want to reveal. But when he tries to get back into the ship, HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors, in what is probably the most iconic verbal exchange in the movie. (And in another case of interesting timing, not long after I watched the movie, I saw this Google ad.) Anyway, Bowman has to find a less orthodox method of reentering the ship... which is very risky, since he doesn't have his spacesuit's helmet. (I have no freaking clue why he wouldn't have had his helmet with him, it seems to me like a completely unrealistic detail with no explanation, that only exists to increase the drama of the scene.) But of course he succeeds in getting back into the ship, and proceeds with the plan to disconnect HAL, which leads to the AI doing some pleading, which (whether despite or because of it being in his normal, calm monotone) I found rather amusing. It also leads to another iconic bit, HAL singing "Daisy Bell" (which has been in various ways parodied or referenced in any number of other shows and movies). Once HAL's shutdown is complete, a message is triggered that finally explains the nature of the Jupiter mission, which none of the human crew were aware of. But it has to do with the monolith that was found on the Moon.

The next act is called "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite." There's another monolith orbiting Jupiter, which kind of reminded me of a portal to the Phantom Zone. Of course that's not what it is, but it is a portal to somewhere, and Bowman goes through it, I guess. (The visual effects of the star gate are pretty neat, and I'm sure they influenced similar effects in other movies and shows.) But I'm not going to reveal anything that happens when Bowman comes out the other side, partly to avoid spoilers, but mostly because I didn't understand a single thing that happened.

Well, I'm sure you can find countless analyses and theories about the movie online. I intend to avoid them, as much as I'd like to know what ANY of this means. I'm hoping I can figure it out if I read Clarke's books, and/or see the sequel film. I know a lot of fans of this movie love it a lot more than I did. In fact, I think "love" is a rather strong word for my reaction to it. I rated it one heart, "kinda loved," just because of my appreciation for all the artistry involved, and for the influence it's had on other things, and, I dunno, for the familiarity of it. I feel like the movie does a good job of living up to my expectations without really adding much to them. You might think I'd be a bit disappointed, after all these years of wanting to see the movie, by the fact that I don't really know much more about it now than I did before I watched it. But somehow I'm not disappointed. Even if I can't quite share in the philosophical speculation and fascination that some fans do... at the very least, I can believe that such reactions are genuinely warranted. Which is more than some viewers could say. And I do like the idea of works of art, whether books or movies or whatever, having a deeply philosophical bent, and making people think about them. So, whatever, I'm just really glad to have finally seen it.


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