Before Interstellar – 2001: A Space Odyssey

Interested in watching 2001 in an authentic, period-accurate 1970s setting? 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with 4 other Kubrick masterpieces: Lolita (1962), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Spartacus (1960) will be screening starting 10 Jan to next Sunday, 18 Jan at The Projector (Lvl 5, Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road, Singapore 199589)Showtimes for the programme are available here. Seats are available on a first come first served basis, and entry fees are on a pay as you please basis. (We recommend a contribution of $5, or more if you can afford it.)

By Zhang Yuchen (15S06E)

spaceodyssey1

We’ve all seen Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Now, let’s take a backward glance at one of the most classical pieces of film: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.

2001: A Space Odyssey may be one of the greatest films ever made, but fair warning: you’ll either switch off your screen halfway in frustration, or finish with the knowledge that you’ve just experienced what is unarguably one of the greatest cinematic pieces ever created.

Based on “The Sentinel”, a 1951 short story by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 tells the story of mankind’s discovery of strange black monoliths during the dawn of humanity and in a fictional year 2001, where space exploration began to take off. It also tells the story of Man’s maiden voyage to Jupiter, a journey led by astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole. Also aboard the ship is the Artificial Intelligence unit HAL 9000, a system which interacts with our protagonists and oversees the operation of the ship. Together, they attempt to uncover the mysteries of our universe and realize our true place in the emptiness of space.

spaceodyssey2

When it was first released, the film was praised and criticized in equal measure by the audience. Today, it is critically adored, having made countless “Top 10 movies of all time” lists and broken new grounds in cinematography and special effects. However, the slow transitions and sequences, predominant silence and ambiguous storyline continue to exasperate and baffle even the most patient of movie watchers. Stanley Kubrick chose not to simplify this work of art for the sake of the audience. Every shot, every sound and every special effect is made to perfection, stimulating the imagination and invoking messages that are equally as sublime as the plot.

First of all, let’s talk about the shots. Almost every sequence is slowly paced, giving the most urgent of situations a strange serenity. While this may give the audience plenty of time to think about what they are witnessing, it borders on dullness. Though these sequences ran slowly, they highlighted the desolation of the planet that our ape-like ancestors inhabited at the beginning of the movie, as well as the deafening silence, the terrifying environment and the vast emptiness of space. Exciting spaceship chases and the familiar “pew pew” sounds of lasers from Star Wars might keep us at the edge of our seats, but that depiction of space is far from representative compared to the far more authentic portrayal in 2001. Here the audience just about steps into the shoes of an astronaut going on a spacewalk, allowing us to absorb the simultaneous tranquility and frightfulness of space. The sense of nothingness awakens you to an understanding of your insignificance in this vast universe that is more mysterious than we could ever imagine, and it is humbling and magnificent.

spaceodyssey3

The soundtrack is flawless. Kubrick boldly scrapped composer Alex North’s commissioned score upon realizing that the classical works used as guide tracks during editing synergized with the movie perfectly. Indeed, North’s fast paced tracks would not have fitted 2001’s abstract, deliberate mood as well as classical music transpired to. The opening soundtrack, “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896, does a fantastic job of building drama and preparing the audience for the spectacle about to unravel onscreen, and inspires fear, mystery, and uncertainty in apparently inert, unexciting shots. As critic Roger Ebert has noticed, Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, played during the docking procedure of a space shuttle, reflects the extreme caution and careful slowness of space travel in its measured pacing. In fact, the tracks, despite being written decades earlier, suit the film so well, it feels almost as if they were written specifically for the film.

There is no music during dialogues, and most scenes are silent. Yet this silence speaks volumes. It highlights the characters’ solitude by throwing us in the same noiseless environment they are in. During the climax, the only sound audible is the heavy breathing of the astronauts in their spacesuits. Despite their slow movements; the silence, the breathing and the difficulty of movement in their situation generates a worrying sense of urgency.

The multiple messages which Kubrick imparts onto us are mind-boggling. A good film frequently manages to tells a good story and sends thought-provoking messages, and some would argue that 2001 fails to achieve the former objective. Indeed, the film’s complex and seemingly disjointed plot, divided into four acts with each act jumping years and even millenniums at a time, is difficult to comprehend. However, this utter incomprehension is exactly what Kubrick wanted the audience to feel. 2001 is intended to depict something so advanced and futuristic beyond the realm of our imagination and understanding. Once you get past the nonlinear plot progression and abstruse scenes, the film achieves its purpose well. The use of time jumps highlight how much humanity has changed throughout the ages and one can only look in disbelief at how much man has accomplished since the time of the ape-man. By giving away just the right amount of information after each act, the film also creates both realization and suspense at the same time.

spaceodyssey4

2001 is a film that is laden with cautionary warnings of man’s ambition and capabilities. In dealing with concepts such as evolution, artificial intelligence, alien life forms and space exploration, Kubrick redefines the way we look at the universe and our place in it, and gives us a glimpse of humankind’s potential to achieve greatness. This is by no means a fairy-tale, as the film also takes us through the dangers of our quest to advance our species and our attempt to reach the stars, things never considered before the film’s release. 2001 is not simply a good film. It is a better film.

I was thoroughly impressed with this classic epic. I cannot deny that it will be a rather tedious and unenjoyable film for some. However, for those who crave a marvelous adventure beyond earth, or those looking to stimulate their imagination, this movie is cinematic gold. 2001 is helped along by phenomenal actors and multi-layered characters. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a science fiction film unlike any other. It is a piece of art that revolutionised the way people thought about space travel and continues to inspire works today – such as Interstellar. It is a spectacle capable of leaving you speechless and filled with wonder for its subject: the stars above and the space beyond.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s