One line review: FETUS!
Movie Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Actors: Keri Duella, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Douglas Rain
Director: Stanley Kubrik
Method of Viewing: Netflix Online
Location of Viewing: Home
Viewing with: No one
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% – One of the most influential of all sci-fi films — and one of the most controversial — Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is a delicate, poetic meditation on the ingenuity — and folly — of mankind.
My rating: ***
My assessment (the first 101 words at least):
Every warning you’ve heard about this movie is true. It’s long, it’s very slow paced, and the true plot of 2001 is difficult to figure out without someone explaining it to you. While there are tons of beautiful shots of space and unique perspective shots, those beautiful shots also drag the movie’s pacing down. This movie is the granddaddy of all SciFi, and thus has earned itself respect. On top of that, it’s a movie that has an incredibly powerful message from beginning to end. Unfortunately I needed someone to explain that message, as I was clueless from beginning to end.
From the very beginning to the very end this movie will remind you of references made by later works. The opening theme, above all else, is possibly the most memorable thing from this movie (with a close runner-up being HAL).
1:15 – The Dawn of Man
Those expecting us to go straight into space will be quite disappointed, first we have to play with monkeys for about 15 minutes. Enjoy!
In all seriousness, these scenes properly prepare us for the rest of the movie. We obviously can’t have the monkeys talking, so we simply study their behavior to understand the plot so far. Later in the movie our human protagonists won’t be saying much either, so train yourself here. We are shown a scene of a group of monkeys (along with our protagonist monkey, Moon-watcher) at a watering hole, who are then driven away by an opposing group of monkeys. This Moon-watcher group of monkeys is now forced to hide and scavenge for food on its own. However, a mysterious Monolith shows up. By touching this Monolith, the monkeys seem to gain the intelligence, learning how to use bone weapons, and drive off the opposing monkey tribe with bone technology.
Todd Alcott recently did I write up for this movie (and is a good source for a serious look at this movie). He helped me understand that while the Monolith gave these monkeys the necessary intelligence to survive, it also turned them into murders, a theme that will continue for this entire movie. In either case, this scene does what it needs to in establishing the Monolith as the origin of all mankind, and compared to the rest of the movie, actually does it quite quickly. I was also amazed that even though the HAL 9000 is the most memorable character from this film, the scenes at the Dawn of Man were frequently referenced and spoofed by different medium, even Cartoon Network:
Yes, I’m serious. Cartoon Network took all of their monkey cartoon characters and referenced 2001: A Space Odyssey. Who the hell watching Cartoon Network would have even gotten this reference?
16:57 – We’re finally in Space!
While the monkeys may have had some entertainment value, you’ll most likely be excited that we’ve finally gotten to space, because now the movie is going to start for real, right? Wrong. For the next 15 minutes we’re going to need to establish life in the year 2001. That means plenty of slow shots of Dr. Floyd (protagonist for this subplot) as he lazily flies in a commercial space shuttle going to a space station. These shots are extremely long, slow, and deliberate to try to drive home the idea that space travel is commonplace in the year 2001. It’s here where you can see that A Space Odyssey manages to hold up even today with its special effect shots. It’s simply camera tricks, but I still can’t figure out how they managed to pull off some of these effects. This is a quality that is lost in modern cinema, there’s something so much more pure when filmmakers were forced to depend on special effects and not a computer.
After 15 minutes of establishing how boring space is in 2001 (and trust me, you’ll be bored of it by now too) we finally get a taste of the plot. As Dr. Floyd addresses a group of other officials in a secret meeting about some mysterious discovery on the moon, you’ll once again discover how Kubrick builds suspense without any words. Or in this case, no words directly address what exactly has been found and why it must be kept so secret. Kubrick uses this throughout the movie, sometimes to great effect, and sometimes leaving me simply confused. If you aren’t able to read the subtext of what’s going on, you’ll be lost too. There is no rehashing plot points, or even explaining some plot points. Characters will never simply state their intentions or feelings, all of it has to be interpreted. It’s rewarding for the observant watcher, and frustrating for anyone who misses the mark. After Dr. Floyd assures everyone that the cover up of what’s been found on the moon is reasonable, he and his colleagues fly to the moon. It’s during this scene that Floyd mentions how tasteless space food is. I’ll always wonder who or where the concept of bad food in space comes from.
Dr. Floyd takes his colleagues to a dug up crater where they discover the Monolith from the previous act. Upon touching the Monolith, a high pitched frequency stuns all of the men, and drops them to their knees. This is the last we’ll see of Dr. Frank (awake at least). Perhaps his plot having such an abrupt ending would explain why this scene seems to be almost never referenced. We’re quickly taken away from this subplot to….
18 months later – Jupiter Mission
Here’s where the closet thing to the “meat” of the movie can be found, though it still feels like it’s another subplot in the larger scheme of things. We find ourselves on a ship that bares a remarkable resemblance to the bone that Moon-watcher used. We seen Frank and Dave living out their normal routine on the spaceship
I’m still watching in awe at how they managed to pull off some of these shots. As well, the ship still looks futuristic despite being filmed 40 years ago. I feel that you could probably take some of the scenes from this movie, splice it in with a modern SciFi movie like Star Trek (2009) and you wouldn’t notice a difference. A credit to how well this movie holds up.
Once again Kubrick wants to drive home the theme of how complacent everything is in space. The astronauts are simply amusing themselves, passing the time as they slowly fly towards Jupiter. We’re introduced to the HAL 9000, the height of computer technology. It is so advanced, that it even seems to have feelings and act human. It’s so much fun to hear each creepy phrase from the robot. Somehow that completely uncaring tone creates one of the most chilling villains ever.
HAL asks Frank and Dave if they are worried about their 3 mysterious passengers who are currently in a hibernation state. These 3 are part of Dr. Floyd’s colleagues from Act II, however HAL, Frank, and Dave were apparently told that they were trained separately and will simply have their part of the mission once they reach Jupiter. Soon after this, HAL alerts Frank and Dave to a problem outside of the ship. It’s during this adventure to retrieve the piece that Kubrick delights the nerd within me when he portrays space as silent, and does a fantastic job with the anti-gravity effects. The supposedly broken part is infarct not broken, which HAL says must be human error since no HAL unit has ever made a mistake. Dave leads Frank to one of the pods with a fake need for maintenance in order to give him a HAL free zone to talk. They agree that if the “broken part” proves to be fine, then the HAL has made a mistake and will have to be taken offline. However, this entire scene is watched by HAL, and he can apparently read lips. When Frank goes out to replace the non-broken part, HAL causes his space pod to malfunction, sending Frank spinning into space. Dave calmly walks to the second space pod, and calmly asks HAL to prepare the pod so he can go for a rescue missing. I realize astronauts are trained to stay calm, but it seemed so odd for our hero to not express any real emotion during this scene, except maybe a bit of tension. Once Dave is in space, racing towards Frank’s floating body (with the speed of a glacier), HAL cuts the life support on the three silent passengers. No dramatic stabbing, no dramatic explosion, just a bunch of graphs monitoring their life signs turn red one by one. When Dave returns to the spaceship with Frank’s body, he asks HAL to open the pod bay doors. This is where the famous line, “I can’t do that Dave” comes from. This is also where I start to become more and more frustrated with Kubrick’s stoic characters. After being refused over and over again, you’d think that Dave would at least yell out, pound the console, something. Instead, he just stays calm. It feels like Dave is more of a robot than HAL sometimes.
Dave plans to open an emergency hatch and allow the pressure inside his space pod to push him inside. Once inside Dave plans to shut the door, and return the emergency hatch to normal pressure so he can breathe. Unfortunately. he doesn’t state any of this, you simply have to understand it. He’s forced to let go of Frank’s body so he can operate the emergency hatch with his pod’s arms. He expresses no sense of loss, no frustration, he simply acts. I don’t want characters this silent and stoic, especially if no one can explain their actions for me. Does this make me a simply movie monkey, wanting all of the actions spelled out? I don’t know, but I feel that Kubrick’s biggest failing is just assuming the audience is along for the ride and understanding where it’s all going. Dave pulls off his fantastic stunt, and makes it inside the spaceship. Dave walks through the ship with a full spacesuit on, not saying a word as HAL tries to explain his actions and more or less begs for mercy. Dave goes to the memory core and begins to shut HAL down. Dave begins to shake as he does this.
Why does he shake? Is he scared? Nervous? Cold? Sad? Angry? Giddy? Who knows. Dave has been silent for the past 15 minutes and continues to be silent, leaving us to guess at every action and emotion. It’s just frustrating. As HAL slowly loses his mind, he begins to sing the Daisy song, which has also been referenced in a thousand different works.
Only after HAL is dead does an automated message come on, meant for Frank and Dave. It explains that 18 months ago, an Monolith found on the Moon sent out a signal, pointing towards Jupiter. It is now Dave’s mission to find the origin of this signal.
The final act start out near Jupiter, as Dave takes off in his Space Pod towards a floating Monolith. Upon touching it, a 15 minute sequence of strange images begins, with an occasional shot of Dave wincing in pain at the sight of it. The movie ends, showing Dave aging in a strange hotel like area apparently built for him by the Monolith. The final scene shows an extremely old Dave, reaching out for the Monolith. Upon Dave’s death, he is apparently reborn, as a space Fetus looking out on the universe. Todd Alcott explained this as being reborn, evolving to the ultimate form. The aliens started humans on their evolutionary path, murdering each other to reach higher status. And now, eons later, they murdering humans are advanced enough to fly into space and discover their own source, but only after murdering their own ultimate evolution, the ultimate computer.
That’s all well and good, but it’s still a Giant Space Fetus.
Final Verdict (Should I watch this movie): Only true film buffs and absolute nerds need enter here. Film buffs for obvious reasons, it’s a classic, with shots that will make you scratch your head and a message that is reinforced every time you think back to another scene, another shot. For nerds, it’s like finding the source for all the references they never understood. Every piece of music, every major scene, even minor lines have been parodied, or mentioned somewhere in something you have watched. It’s almost maddening how many references you feel that you’ve missed out on when you watch this movie. Just be sure to bring something to keep you occupied during the 10 minute long perspective shots.
Coming up next: Die Hard