A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 530 – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey – August 12th, 2011

I do not want to review this movie. I’ve been staring at a blank page for days now, holding up my other reviews (because I might be a little obsessive about doing them in order) and drawing a complete and utter blank. Even writing about drawing a blank has had me drawing a blank. But what on Earth can I say about this movie? It feels somewhat pointless to even try to review it. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said? I don’t really have any personal reflections about the movie or its content. It didn’t move me or amaze me. It didn’t blow my mind (and I’m sure Kubrick would be sad to hear that) and it didn’t bore me.

This is the trouble with reviewing classics. I came up against it with my Neon Genesis review too. This is the sort of movie people write about. This is the sort of movie nerds and geeks much like myself have been talking about and discussing and debating for years and years. And I’m not so egotistical as to think that I have something revolutionary to say about it. It’s a good sci-fi suspense movie with a big enough dose of Meaning to keep people talking. And that’s great. I’d put it up there with stories like Solaris and Moon, the latter of which was certainly making allusions to it, and not subtle ones at that. But it’s been around long enough and been on enough lists and been seen by enough people – even people who profess to not like science fiction – that I admit I feel a little defeated by it. Anyone inclined to like it has seen it or will see it, and anyone disinclined to like it will avoid it or have it forced on them by well-meaning friends. What I say here isn’t going to change that.

I’ve mentioned my aversion to watching overhyped things before and I’m lucky that I watched this well before anyone had a chance to tell me it was the be all and end all of science fiction movies. Because the thing is, while I enjoy it and appreciate it, it’s not top on my list. It’s not even second. As a piece of art, well. That’s different. As something I’ll choose to put in randomly, just because I’ve got time to watch something? Not so much. It’s sort of an investment of a movie. It’s something that to appreciate you really should be spending some time and attention on. At least until the end. Go ahead and zone out for the end. I think that’s required.

It’s the story of an object. A black slab that appears and causes change by its existence. By some undefined quality or mechanism. The opening of the movie implies that early ape-like humans evolved some instincts and skills due to its influence. And I’m sure that there are all sorts of parallels to be drawn between the early human contact with the monolith and its later appearance and the deaths of the astronauts. I’m sure essays have been written on that. I’m not bothering. Anyhow, the monolith really is the centerpiece to the story. The trouble is that while it figures in quite largely early on, and it’s clearly a part of what happens later, I’ve always felt that it turns into a bit of a spectre for the majority of the movie before showing up at the end. We’re left to assume that its presence plays a role, without its presence being terribly apparent. While I’m not advocating for movies to spell everything out for viewers, I do feel that it could have been worked in just a bit more.

So, we evolve from apes (instead of the other way around) and skip over the development of the ancient world and modern world and what have you, zipping straight to The Future! And as is the case any time you date your Future, eventually your Future will be outdated. But it’s such a neat Future, I don’t really mind. There’s a very smooth feel to this movie that keeps it from feeling too spectacularly dated. Sure, the computer pops out punch cards as readouts for the astronauts, but it’s also a so-close-to-sentience computer that controls a huge space ship that’s flying to Jupiter. And besides, the ship itself, and the ship we see earlier in the movie, are so very cool. The movie’s look and feel make it a little timeless to me, and I consider that a true achievement for the movie. I’ll snicker at the punch cards, but I’ll snicker quietly.

Everything up until we get on board the Discovery feels like set-up to me. The movie is presented in chapters with fairly well defined borders but I’ve always felt like the section on the Discovery is where the heart of the movie is. Sure, people remember the apes and the bone in the air and the big black monolith. And people remember that the last section is super trippy. But what moments from the bit in transit to the moon do people remember? Blue Danube? Hardly essential to the plot. Really, what comes to mind for me, and what seems to get mentioned when I read about this movie, is HAL, the computer on board the Discovery, and the struggle between HAL and the astronauts, specifically Dave Bowman. And for good reason.

There are, again, implications that mysterious things are afoot. The core of this section, and in my opinion the movie, is HAL and his actions on the ship. Andy tells me that his reasoning (or difficulty with reasoning) has more obvious roots in the book, but I’ve never read it. What he told me seemed perfectly logical and fit what I’d always assumed, but why should I assign meaning to it? Make your own assumptions. Draw your own conclusions. It doesn’t change the outcome, which is that HAL deliberately sabotages the mission, at least to the point that he kills the three hibernating astronauts and attempts to kill the two who were awake. Ostensibly he succeeds with one (though Andy also tells me he shows up in a later story – whatever) and the other has to try and disable HAL in order to save himself. And then the movie drops some LSD and we all go on an electric kool-aid acid trip.

I’m not even going to try to dissect the last portion, with its rainbowy special effects and ornate bedroom and aged Dave Bowman. After all, Kubrick himself has said he didn’t intend for people to understand it, and to be honest? That kind of crap just makes me roll my eyes. Fine, you don’t want people to understand it. You want people to have questions. But it’s always struck me as a somewhat juvenile attitude. And it just invites pseudo-intellectual sci-fi snobs to prattle on about the true meaning of it all. I don’t care about that. I’m not writing academic articles about all of this. If I was, I’d do a critical viewing of this and the two I mentioned above, including the books and all the versions of Solaris and I’m not in college or grad school. So I’m not in this for academic critical viewing. I’m in it for fun, and like I said, while I enjoy this movie, it’s not something I pop in for fun.

August 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

2001: A Space Odyssey

August 12, 2011

2001: A Space Odyssey

One of the things I really enjoy about our collection is the variety of movies that it contains. We have some unusual and not so well known gems, like Russian Arc or Diva. We have big budget summer movies from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings. We have a wide range of musicals, animated films, science fiction and pure low-budget garbage. At the same time we have some acclaimed cinematic masterpieces – which is the category this movie very nicely fits into. The trouble with classics like this is that it’s hard to find anything new to say about them when I set out to review them. They’re so widely known and so universal that anything I could think to say about them has already been said a thousand times over.

I’ve watched this movie before of course. Not many times, because it’s a dense and very stylized movie that involves a certain investment to sit down and watch, but four or five times. We put it in to watch because, frankly, we’re a little behind in writing up reviews for movies we’ve watched in the last few days so we needed something familiar on the TV so we could concentrate on that. Interestingly, this worked pretty well for 2001.

Part of what sets this movie so apart is that it is so unlike your typical space adventure. It is not an action movie. It doesn’t rely on explosions or shouted arguments or stunts. While it does have some gorgeous special effects, they really are not the center of attention. In point of fact, very little happens in this movie at all. As such it was perfect to have it playing while we wrote reviews because there are long, contemplative, slow scenes throughout this film which allow for the constant distraction of multi-tasking. In the past I have dedicated my entire attention to this movie and watched it without distraction and that’s a much more taxing experience than I had when we watched it this time.

The actual action in this movie is extraordinarily simple. It revolves around a trio of mysterious monoliths. The first appears at “the dawn of man” and through contact with the featureless black pillar a group of hairy primates discover the use of tools – specifically the use of bone clubs which allows them to hunt beasts and gain dominance over other local hairy primates.

Next – in the late twentieth century – a second monolith is dug up on the surface of the moon by a research team. It is covered up by the authorities, who fear that clear evidence of alien intelligence, which was buried on the moon two million years ago, will cause panic in the general populace. It is for this reason that when the lunar monolith sends a powerful radio pulse towards Jupiter nobody is told – not even the crew of the very first manned mission to Jupiter which is just departing.

That covers about the first half of the movie. The second half is about the crew of the ship headed to Jupiter. There are three scientists in suspended animation, two human crewmen, and an advanced artificial intelligence. Eventually it transpires that only the machine, HAL 9000, is aware of what awaits them when they reach their destination. Dave Bowman and Frank Poole are just scientists on a mission, so far from Earth that it takes half an hour for any messages to reach home. They are utterly alone when their computer begins to act up.

At first HAL tells them that there is a potential malfunction in the antenna array they use to communicate with Earth. When they are unable to discover any fault they begin to suspect that either the computer has made a mistake (something that no 9000 series computer has ever done) or it is deliberately lying – something that it is supposed to be incapable of.

When confronted HAL defends itself in the only way it can figure how. It kills Frank with one of the pods during an EVA, and when Dave goes out it refuses to let him back on board the ship. Dave is able to force his way back in and disable HAL, who explains that this was the only way it could find to protect the mission. The secret mission it was ordered to keep from its crew. The mission to contact and alien civilization which Dave must now carry out completely alone.

Then there’s a whole lot of non-sensical psychadelia when Dave actually falls into the monolith. (His pivotal line from the book – which is in the second movie – is omitted from this one. “My God, it’s full of stars!”) I had the advantage when I first watched this in that I had read Arthur C. Clark’s book before watching this movie, which definitely helped me. I love Kubrick to death, but he’s not in the least bit interested in providing answers here. There is no explanation for anything that goes on in the movie, really. The book makes it clear that the reason for HAL’s malfunction is that it cannot lie to its crew and when it is asked questions that are too near to discovering the orders it has been told not to reveal it can find no alternative to the actions it takes. The book also provides some understanding of Dave’s evolution into a more advanced life form as a result of his interaction with the monolith at Jupiter.

I say that Kubrick doesn’t concern himself with answers because he is concerned, in this movie, with something altogether other. This movie is a deliberate, gorgeous, masterpiece. It bears more in common with a symphony than with a Hollywood motion picture. It has well defined movements, with a lengthy introduction, an intermission and music that continues long after the closing credits. The movie is never in a hurry. It has some tension with the menacing danger of HAL trying to kill Frank and Dave, but even the conclusion of that conflict is a long, slow scene with HAL pleading emotionlesly with Dave as he is slowly disabled. Every shot in this movie lingers. Every detail feels so carefully placed.

Then there are the absolutely astonishing sets. This movie is full of giant, complex, beautiful sets on gimbals that rotate to provide the illusion of weightlessness or to show how centripital force is used to allow a semblance of gravity in ships far from any planet. I wish I could have been there to watch the filming of some of this movie. It’s been more than forty years since this was made and there’s nothing else that’s been done on this scale or with this feel.

Even when I was distracted by other things I found myself being caught up again in this film as I watched. It might not have done a great job predicting what the world would be like in 2001, but it has a clear and unique vision nonetheless. So many familiar images from this movie have become part of our pop culture lexicon, from the monolith itself first appearing to the primates before mankind even existed to HAL-9000’s red eye as he tells Dave that he’s sorry but he cannot open the pod doors. It’s an amazing, beautiful influential movie. So naturally it’s in our collection.

August 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment