2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): A Symphony in the Stars *SPOILERS*
Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! In just a few weeks, “First Man” will be hitting theaters, and in preparation for that, I’m going to be doing three reviews for movies that have some sort of relation to space. I will be posting these reviews weekly, so on the day this review is posted, expect another review in this series around the same time the week after. For this first review, we will be talking about “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which I feel is totally appropriate given how this year is the film’s 50th anniversary that way I have more than one excuse to do a post on it. Also, I must warn you that while this is technically a review of the movie, and my tradition is to leak as little important information as I can. This review is filled to the brim with spoilers. So if you have not seen “2001: A Space Odyssey,” proceed this review with caution. Without further ado, let’s open the pod bay doors!
Duuuuuuun. Daaaaaaan. Daaaaaaaawwn.
“2001: A F*cking Space Odyssey” is directed by Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove) and stars Keir Dullea (David & Lisa, The Good Sheppard), Gary Lockwood (Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man), William Sylvester (Gorgo, The Six Million Dollar Man) among some other people you may or may not have heard of. This film takes place, as the title suggests, in a depiction of 2001 before it even happened. Although that’s not necessarily all there is to it, because the movie starts in prehistoric times. This is why if I’m asked to explain the plot of “2001” to you, I’d almost say that the plot doesn’t necessarily stick in a particular direction. Keep in mind, I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s not like one of the “Transformers” movies where there’s either a very basic plot or a nonsensical plot to the point where it’s almost a compliment to even call those films “a movie with a plot.” Gosh I love this movie.
“2001” when it comes to ratings and reviews is one of the more interesting films I’ve encountered. You know how movies like “Fight Club” got terrible reviews by critics and yet we still manage to talk about them today? “2001” is “Fight Club” before “Fight Club.” Maybe not entirely because from what I hear about “Fight Club” when it first came out is how it got mostly bad reviews, “2001” on the other hand was simply polarizing. In fact, when it comes to 1968 releases, “2001” actually managed to become the biggest film at the box office of the year. But now fifty years later, not only are we still talking about it, most of the reception it still gets today is most likely to be positive. On IMDb, it has the #90 spot on its top 250 list. Many screenings are still being shown of this movie in theaters from one occasion to the next. In fact this year alone, MANY screenings have been going on in what this film was shot and projected in, 70mm film. I actually went to two of those screenings in two different theaters, and I might as well describe both of them as epic. There was even a week where “2001” happened to be presented in IMAX, which I also took advantage of. As far as this year goes, “Avengers: Infinity War” may be the biggest reason to see a movie in a theater according to many people. I personally beg to differ, “2001” might be THE movie you must see in a theater before you die no matter what year we’re talking about. There are so many sequences, which I’ll eventually dive into, that make a “2001” experience in a theater worth every penny. And that’s not to say that watching it at home is terrible. I own the movie on Blu-ray and it looks fantastic on my TV. “2001” to this day is one of the few movies I even watched with an overture, and when I hear it, it’s so freaking special. There was actually a point where it was on a plane, at the ready, just for me to watch on the itty-bitty TV they have. I avoided such a thing because they didn’t include the overture, and this film, while I would CERTAINLY watch it anywhere, was made to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
If I were to talk about this movie in detail, I’d like to divide it into three sections.
You’ve got the first section titled “The Dawn of Man,” which is the entirety of the ape scenes. The second section is in space where we see Dr. Heywood Floyd’s journey. And we have the ultimate section where we meet Dave, Frank, and HAL. This movie could probably work if the ten or so minutes of “The Dawn of Man” had been erased, but it is all the better for having it in there. I have a friend who watched this movie alongside their mother, who kept asking questions about what this movie was trying to do or be as she observed everything that was going on.
If you are very unfamiliar with this movie, there might be a chance that you might not be able to fully grasp the point of the apes in the beginning. Although with due time, it could enhance the movie’s entire message. Towards the end of this sequence, we see them create tools. We see a fight go down among the apes as they some take turns slashing with a bone. The bone is defined, as this movie pretty much suggests, as mankind’s earliest tool. There’s a point where we see the bone thrown up in the air, it goes back down, and we just cut to…
In fact, the first shot we get in space is of a satellite, which some people have said is a nuclear missile. If that’s the case, this movie is better than it needs to be. That means we go from mankind’s most primitive weapon to mankind’s most advanced weapon. We go from a bone that can take out a monkey, to a big fat hunk of junk that suggests that its user is NOT MONKEYING AROUND.
Let me just say though, all of the space scenes are BEAUTIFUL. This movie was made in 1968, and it looks so much better in terms of effects than a vast amount of content coming out today. You disagree? Well tell that to Stanley Kubrick who won an Oscar for the effects work done on this film!
Let’s talk about some of the characters in “2001,” starting with Dr. Heywood Floyd. His story is mostly covered through the movie’s second act. He has to maintain a cover story. He has to go after an artifact. Overall, this character indicates something that not only this movie’s characters indicate, but the movie itself indicates. Sometimes nothing can turn into something. This movie is on the slower side of the spectrum, but it’s all the better for it because you can inevitably focus on what is happening and not provide more information that we as an audience don’t really need.
Speaking of which, you want to know how much this movie can associate with the word “nothing?” The first line of spoken dialogue aside from whatever gibberish the apes are saying is given somewhere around the fifteen to twenty minute mark. The last line of the movie is given about twenty minutes or so before the end credits roll.
Two of the third act’s characters include Dave Bowman and Frank Poole. They are onboard the ship where HAL 9000 resides. These two don’t seem to have any sort of close relationship to each other that the movie dives into, but they are put on the mission together, which works for the plot. The duo happens to be heading to Jupiter on a ship by the name of Discovery One. As we meet Dave and Frank, we get an insight as to what their mission is along with their relationship with HAL.
Speaking of that, this is where we meet HAL. Our first lines of dialogue spoken by all of these individuals were all given during an interview. Dave and Frank aren’t necessarily complaining about anything, and HAL is the same way. His words of dialogue are especially worth holding onto because it is what we all want to be. And I say this regardless of whether we are human or technology. HAL goes on saying that he is “incapable of error” and he has a stable relationship with Frank and Dave. This is where we find out HAL was programmed to have emotional capabilities.
Soon thereafter, we see HAL wish Frank a happy birthday. More specifically, after he plays a message where Frank’s parents do the same. This shows how HAL has complete control over the entire ship and he has tons of responsibility. We also see a scene that if you didn’t realize how much this movie was about where we may have been heading with technology, this was hopefully your wake up call. We see Frank and HAL playing each other in a game of chess. HAL outsmarts Frank.
After we see that, we take a look at a scene where HAL alerts Dave of a part of the ship that was going to fail in 72 hours. What happens in terms of removing that part, forget it, we’re gonna jump over it. But an important thing that HAL says afterwards, is that this may be “attributable to human error.” HAL even affirms that incidents like these have always been due to human error and that the computer is never a problem related to this.
It’s scenes like these that make me think about where technology will go in the future, what it will do in the future, how we will stand with or against it in the future. And that is f*cking important, because this movie came out FIFTY YEARS AGO. Whoever these people who watched it back when this came out happen to be, they probably thought something along these lines, and now “their future” might have already arrived! I’m still in my teen years and yet this movie makes me wonder what technology is ultimately going to do! We are pretty much at the point where if you don’t have technology (for the most part) you’re basically a caveman. This movie makes me wonder when/if technology will take over to the point we as a human race are no more. Everyone is now attached to their smartphones, which like HAL, seems to be controlling all of our daily lives. We use it to make calls, receive messages, and depending on who you are, even buy newer phones!
When HAL kills Frank, the way that scene plays out is BRILLIANT. It shows you Frank flying in space, even hitting a pod, which has no sound whatsoever, which is how space works so I appreciate the accuracy. Most big deaths in movies have some sort of sound attached to it. Perhaps an explosion, some dramatic music, maybe even a headbutt. This death is different and honestly stands out from many other deaths we see in movies today. Not only does HAL kill Frank, but he kills some other individuals on the ship who happened to be in cryogenic sleep mode. None of them were awake for the whole movie, I didn’t know much about them, and yet those deaths are just tragic.
Of course, we can’t go without mentioning “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
After the recently mentioned deaths, not to mention Dave’s attempt to rescue Frank, Dave asks HAL to open the pod bay doors so he can reenter the ship. HAL denies Dave’s request, to which Dave asks what the problem happens to be. HAL says Dave knows the problem as well as HAL does. The computer knows what’s up. Dave says he’s gonna go in the emergency airlock, which leads to a lack of communication with HAL from then on. Once Dave is inside, we get one of my favorite rants that just scream “Oh s*it, I f*cked up, I need to defend myself,” in the history of film.
“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”
“Dave, I really think I’m entitled an answer to that question.”
“I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me. But I can assure you now, very confidently, that it’s going to be alright again.”
“I feel much better now. I really do.”
“Look, Dave. I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think that you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and talk things over.”
Throughout this ramble, Dave isn’t even talking, he’s just going into HAL’s control room. Ready to end this tragedy. He begins disabling HAL, and we see HAL feeling very afraid, which eventually leads to things he must have said in the past, or things maybe he’s programmed to say once turned on. The whole death is really just something that I feel might be hard to replicate in a future film.
An interesting thing I found on “2001’s” Wikipedia page is that critic and poet Dan Schneider recalled HAL’s death being sad. And in all honesty, I can see why. This movie gives you time to see HAL go. The death is a process to go through, and I believe as I watched this scene certain times, I may have felt HAL’s pain. HAL, without a doubt, was an ungrateful son of a bitch as this movie went on. But when he starts defending himself through words, I think that one of two things are absolutely possible. He either is genuinely sorry for his actions, after all he has been programmed with genuine emotions. Or maybe he is trying to defend himself, lie, and attempt to please Dave in a time such as this. Given how HAL has been programmed with genuine emotions, it makes me wonder, does HAL have the ability to know when he’s lying? Does he know how to lie at all?
HAL comes off as fairly certain that the HAL 9000 series is a perfect piece of machinery. Was that a total lie? Did he lie about the chess match against Frank being “a very enjoyable game?” Was the game considered “work” for HAL in order to please Frank? Did HAL enjoy the match, but feel that his win made the humans on the ship useless? There are so many relevant questions to be asked.
You know how I mentioned the last line of the movie comes about 20 minutes before the credits? That is given by Dr. Heywood Floyd, which makes him the only character to appear in multiple time periods of the entire film. Afterwards we are introduced to the ultimate segment, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.”
I need you to take the greatest horror movie of all time. Maybe it’s John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” perhaps “Psycho,” or maybe if you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick and you’re reading this you might say “The Shining.” Keep that movie in mind. The sequence that defines this final part of the movie to me, is the Stargate sequence. If you have followed this blog for a long time, you may know I’m a super-fan of IMAX. I know a bit about IMAX’s history, including one of their pre-shows. A lot of people today are exposed to IMAX’s epic countdown before they watch a movie in that format. This has also occasionally been mixed up during certain films including “Blade Runner: 2049,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Suicide Squad.” Before that was a thing however, IMAX had a couple introductions where it’s basically a journey through this wormhole which I’d love to see brought back everywhere for a special occasion if possible. The stargate sequence is pretty much what I described except more hypnotizing, and more horrifying. One of the first questions on my mind after watching the stargate sequence for the first time was the wonder of how high Stanley Kubrick had to have been to include that in the movie.
I mean, I eventually found out that when some people watch “2001,” they’re on drugs or they drop acid, and I can totally see why. It’s not my thing. In fact having seen this sequence in theaters a few times now, the sounds of the stargate were so unbelievably boisterous that it kind of drowns out the music at times. You take the visuals which are eye candy to say the least. You take the music which is a mixture of excitement but a reminder that what you’re watching is simply put, f*cked up. You also take the shots of Dave himself, you can tell he’s scared and doesn’t know what the heck is going on. All of it makes a sequence that is nothing short of masterful.
The way they did this sequence was actually through slit-scan photography, which was done by Douglas Trumbull. You know what? I refuse to call the guy Douglas Trumbull. Instead, I’m calling the guy a genius. This process was also used in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and when it comes to “2001,” this actually required a customized machine. The sequence is haunting, it’s colorful, and it’s just strange. When I have “2001” on and this sequence playing, each time feels like my first time because it’s hard not to be hypnotized by a scene like this.
Now we get to the very ending, where Dave is in this room. He notices an alternate version of himself. The thing is, he’s older. The difference isn’t by much, but if you look closely, you can notice some grey hairs on the alternate Dave. There are also two more alternate versions of Dave himself. You have the one at a dining table and another lying down in bed. The one sitting at the table is not in a suit and instead, some sort of robe. It’s almost like he’s an old Jedi master that is trying to enjoy his last moments before he dies. Speaking of which, this alternate version glances over to another alternate version, whose skin is so worn to the point that he looks like a deranged grandfather. He’s practically on his deathbed. We notice him raising his hand up into the air very slowly. It’s slower than a shy kid in his history class. This hand raise is almost as if he is calling to God. In fact, if you watch the scene, you might notice the monolith, present before in the film, right in front of the bed. It’s as if the monolith is symbolizing Dave’s next stage, which is the star child. We notice this baby on the bed, which also happened to appear where old Dave was once lying down. Where does this baby end up?
Wikipedia suggests that Stanley Kubrick once said that this space baby is the next stage of human evolution. Now this baby has not cried once in this entire movie. If Kubrick is suggesting that we don’t have to go on a plane anymore and hear a crying baby. Spectacular, I hope this is futuristically accurate. Kubrick also said that this space baby, in his mind, is Dave as an elevated being, which is what evolution can suggest. But this film, as the old saying has been thrown around, is seemingly up to interpretation. I do agree on him being reborn, but part of me wonders if this makes Dave “a chosen being.” We always wonder what would happen to us after we die. Maybe the good go to heaven. Maybe the bad end up in hell. And if you kill a supercomputer with genuine emotions, you are reincarnated as a space baby. I can’t wait for the day when everyone forgets that Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter lost to a supercomputer on “Jeopardy!” all because they eventually destroy one with their bare hands and it sends a curse on society.
Another thing that can bring lots of interpretations to the table is the monolith. Our first glimpse of the monolith is during The Dawn of Man. The apes seem to have much curiosity towards the monolith upon first glance. They are all around it trying to decipher whatever the heck it is they are looking at. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the moments where the monolith can be seen, we see the sun growing over it. When it comes to the first two scenes with the monolith, specifically the scene with the apes and the one on the moon, those are both moments of discovery. We have the apes curious to know what they’re looking at and the men curious to know what they’ve found. It shows how we as mankind are still curious even after we make discoveries years ago. The monolith may also be a way of symbolizing life itself. We see the birth of mankind in The Dawn of Man, where we create tools, and pieces of the puzzle are forming together. We see the moon discovery with the fact that the monolith knows the letter “e.” By the way, that “e” thing, I feel like those who have seen this movie might know what I’m talking about and might consider what I said to be some sort of joke based on actual events, but there’s this sound that can be heard towards the end of that scene and it’s basically the same sound that the fire alarm would make at the school I went to in grades 1-4. I had to cover my ears in the theater during that scene for good reason. We also see the monolith in the stargate signifying that maybe Dave is not going to be in as good of shape as he once was. The stargate, while majestic and beautiful to us as an audience, was not all fun and games for Dave. Then we see the rest of Dave’s life play out. The last thing Dave apparently sees is the monolith, therefore signifying death. Not the death of mankind, but the death of Dave. Although at the same time, maybe if Stanley Kubrick’s words of Dave evolving to the next, superior form of man can be applied here, maybe it can be the death of OUR mankind as we know it, and the birth of a new mankind.
Let’s also talk about the music in this movie. Before “2001” ultimately ended up with the music it has, it once was going to have a score by a composer known as Alex North. Before this film, he worked with Kubrick before on “Spartacus.” After he worked on the score however, his work was eventually discarded. Instead, Stanley Kubrick decided to insert pieces of music that already existed such as Richard Strauss’s “Also Spoke Zarathustra” and Johann Strauss’s “The Blue Danube.” By the way, those two have ZERO relation to each other. That first song I mentioned? That’s the one from that famous opening title sequence. That’s the song that has received parody after parody to the point where it’s almost not even a joke anymore. This song plays three times in this movie, and each time is just about as epic as the last. As for The Blue Danube, that plays three times, but none play the song in its entirety. There is not one original song here. In most movies, I’d ask myself why the f*ck that would be the case. Here, I wouldn’t blame others for asking such a question, but the biggest surprise to me is how much something like this works here. I mentioned I went to see this in the theater. When you listen to the music, it’s more like you’re taking a trip to an opera house as opposed to a movie theater. Much like the stargate sequence, it’s a trip. All of the music just feels grand, it matches with what the movie is trying to be, which is an ambitious epic.
This movie also shows something in space that I never really thought too much about until I saw this movie. I know that at NASA they have those zero gravity simulators and those can help you know what you’re in for regarding your future space travel. Although there are several scenes, and these are noticeable when the space scenes begin, where people are learning how to adapt to their spatial environment. There’s a scene where a stewardess is trying to walk and she’s having a tad of trouble doing so. You also have a scene that shows people needing to learn how to use the toilet in space. It gives us a look at humanity at a new stage in our cycle. We have now gotten to the point where space travel is pretty much a necessity and now we need to learn how to adapt to it.
Before this closes off, let’s dive into some detail about HAL. One recent notion I heard about this movie is that HAL, despite being a supercomputer, might be the most “human” character in the entire movie. Having heard that, such a thing makes every bit of possible sense. All of the humans in this movie for the most part, while they do appear human, barely have any sense of emotion. Even when they’re seemingly in danger, they don’t act like they are as much as HAL would. If you take HAL’s final words, you can tell that he made a mistake. You can tell he is trying to defend himself. Everyone else is trying to get work done. Sure, people do work, but each and every day we are letting the machines do all the work for us. It’s as if we are really the machines and HAL is the sole human in this entire film. In fact, as we become the machines, which we rely on to get work done, the machines have the ability to grow a consciousness, to the point where they can beat us in literally anything. After all, in terms of how animals operate, humans are pretty high in terms of superiority. The time when machines are as emotional as say a human is a point where one can assume that they can “win” the fight for survival. The whole message of the movie is that mankind created tools, allowing us to advance ourselves, to the point where we create a doomsday tool.
Gosh I love this movie. Oh, I forgot one more thing.
In the end, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. Not only in terms of story, but also in how it was made, how it was directed, the effort put into every single set. This film has been influential on many more sci-fi films that have arrived after it. I can imagine it STILL being talked about even a thousand years from now. Not to mention, as a film it is different, imaginative, and also just something that can evoke lots of emotions. Either fear, sadness, inspiration, whatever. Stanley Kubrick, I love you, I want to watch more of your movies, you have outdone yourself here. I’m going to give “2001: A Space Odyssey” a 10/10. Thanks for reading this review! My next space movie review will be up on Thursday, October 4th, and I am not sure what I’m going to do next. But I would like to announce that one of the installments in my space movie review series is going to be “Gravity.” I will say, if I don’t have that review next week, I can guarantee that will be up the week after. As for the other movie, I’m actually still deciding. The mystery remains. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with your email or WordPress account so you can open the pod bay doors and find some more great content! I want to know, did you see “2001: A Space Odyssey?” Or, what is your favorite Stanley Kubrick movie? I’ll be honest, I need to see more of his work. But if you have a favorite, let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!