Now that the new millennium arrived promptly at midnight, January 1, 2001, and his films re-release and high definition I had to revisit the classic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only one of the best space movies of all time but a true classic movie on any genre. Stanley Kubrick's direction and the (then) state of the art special effects make this one of the best movies ever made. It is even on the AFI's top 100 list. I remember seeing this movie back in 1968 in a theater with a wide screen and 'quadraphonic' sound. Some may say that this film is boring. After all, in the two and a half hours running time there is barely 30 minutes of dialogue and the first spoken word does not even occur until some 25 minutes into the film. Still, what set this film apart from every other Sci-Fi movie made are the many rich layers of the story. Much of the story relates to the works of Fredrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, particularly ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. The first clue to this is the now famous three notes form the musical composition ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ by Richard Struass. This also sets up an important theme in this film, triads. From the dimensions of the monolith, 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers to the three main divisions of the film triads play an integral part of understanding this film.
In the work by Nietzsche he espouses the idea that man must go through three stages in order to achieve the goal of the overman, or the perfect being. The first he likens to a camel in order to survive. The next is the lion, to master his environment and the last is the child to be a new beginning. In 2001 these stages are clearly demonstrated. The proto-human apes are the camel stage. They have to discover the use of tools to survive. The lion stage is shown with man mastering the environment of the earth and travelling to the moon. Then there is Dave Bowman’s transcendence into the star child, a new beginning for mankind. Each stage is heralded by two things, the appearance of a monolith and the conjunction of solar bodies such as the earth the moon and the sun. There is also the depicting of eating as part of what precedes each important event. The apes are eating leaves before they master a tool and meat after the first murder. Dr. Floyd consumes food on the way to the moon and again just before the second monolith. Then there the elaborate dinner the aged Dave eats before he changes into the star child. What Kubrick has done here is taken a short Sci-Fi story from Arthur C. Clarke and woven into one of the seminal philosophical works known. Kubrick even manages to place one of the director’s trademark bathroom scenes in the film. This movie has it all.
The actors in this film have the most difficult of tasks, playing their roles with the barest amount of dialogue. The only real human roles in this film are Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester), Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and of course, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea). Of them only Dullea has any real lines. Still, the actors do better than most could with the carefully crafted limitation on the spoken word. This is a showcase for non-verbal performance worthy of the highest praise.
Perhaps one of the most important directors of all time was the late Stanley Kubrick. His works span almost every film genre and are without exception ground breaking films. Perhaps the best known of his impressive films is 2001. While films before this used special effects no one has used them to tell a story like Kubrick. Now we have the Matrix, ID4, Star Wars and so many more but the grandfather to the all is 2001. Effects here do so much more than set the place and mood of the film, they tell the story. From the mysterious monolith to the shapes of the ships, every detail has meaning. For example, the star child is created after the sperm shaped Discovery comes into contact with the ovum shaped Jupiter. The half-built space station depicting the progress man has made and yet there is still more to come. The master crafts each scene with precision.
The view of the future is now a more than a decade in the past, even showcasing an airline transitioning from intercontinental flight to traversing almost a quarter of a million miles to lunar orbit, where a shuttlecraft transfer the passengers from the luxurious space station to the lunar base. A scientist, Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester), has been dispatched from the authorities on earth to investigate exceptionally strange occurrence on the moon. A monolith, like the one we previously seen on the prehistoric Earth the same the size portions 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers, has been found on the moon. While investigating it a rare configuration of the planet occurrence bringing them in what appeared to be a straight line above the monolith at that point, a loud shrieking noise is heard that vibrates through the astronauts helmets. He later discovered the single is headed, direct reports, the largest of all planets, Jupiter. Of course, most of the scenes and follow have been committed to memory by the millions of loyal science-fiction fans. Your powerful computer Hal – 9000 is in effect God over the three astronauts in suspended animation and the two little men remaining awake in terms prescribed by Nietzsche what Dave has to do was overcome the last hurdle for mankind to ascend to over man, transcend the need for God. By disabling the higher cognitive functions of Hal, the in effect manifested another major theme in Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy; the death of God. While all of this seems incredibly deep for science-fiction movie, is nonetheless, what has made this such a pivotal work in the artistic expression of cinema. It remains true that a film can be entertaining, enigmatic and thought-provoking on a deeply philosophical plane retaining its status as a part of movie history and, an integral component of our culture.
Referring to this film as groundbreaking as a gross injustice and underestimation of the impact it has had not only in the movies that followed in our lives. The video phone that Dr. Heywood used was not only realized but surpassed by the time this movie took place. Unfortunately mankind abandoned the personal exploration of the lunar surface on the conclusion of the American Apollo program, but our research of our nearest neighbor and indeed, much of the cosmos has continued. Undoubtedly, many of the men and women for pivotal to this research was sitting in the theater in 1968 completely in all of what were presented by this film. As a predictor of history the film did have a number of obvious shortcomings. Pan Am didn’t last long after its clipper class transatlantic jets. But what has persisted is the fact that several airline companies are seriously investing in the commercial use of manned space travel. The incredible visual experience of this film more than makes up for the very unusual lack of dialogue, understandably, placing the onus of the storytelling on the imagery. Stanley a Kubrick was more than up to the challenge, having always been one of the more visually interesting and innovative filmmakers of his time. The year 1968, year this film was released, has been remembered by historians as one of the most pivotal 12 months in the history of our society. With two political assassinations, urban riots in a war raging in Vietnam of society were splinted, divided into two mutually exclusive factions along generational lines. Younger generation actively protested against the war, embracing love as the answer and using various psychotropic substances to alter their experiences and perception of reality. This movie became a mecca for many of this niche of this generation. The segment of the audience predisposed to such pharmacological enhancement of the cinematic experience had the timing of each scene down with such precision; you can look around and watch various classes of drugs being consumed at specific points in the movie, so as to make certain the maximum effect is achieved at precisely the correct moment.
My first exposure to this film was in a very high scale the other in Manhattan that featured state-of-the-art optics and quadraphonic sound. Subsequent viewings will in less ideal settings, but there was still something special about seeing this film on the big screen. In the early 80s I was able to own my first copy on VHS. Despite being state-of-the-art for that moment in time it was a great disappointment; with the aspect ratio reduced the 4:3 and the audio which you to stereo. Then over a decade later came the introduction of DVD which did improve the technical specifications, at least to some degree. A widescreen edition was available in the audio has been boosted up to 5.1 Dolby. Still, there was something missing. Even with the significant improvement in resolution and audio watching it was a pale comparison to that initial viewing so long ago. Recently there has been several Kubrick collections released in Blu-ray, a high definition release with a far more robust audio than ever was available right there in our living rooms. With the 1080p high-definition video and spectacularly robust 5.1 DTS Master audio, not only were fans able to revisit the movie we remember but in many respects the audio and video technical specifications actually exceeded those we had an even the best theaters.
Commentary by Keir Dullea
and Gary Lockwood