Long Entry! "2001: A Space Odyssey:" On Its 50th Anniversary, Is It Still Some of the Best Sci-Fi Ever Made?

Long Entry! "2001: A Space Odyssey:" On Its 50th Anniversary, Is It Still Some of the Best Sci-Fi Ever Made?

This summer approximately, everyone in LA gathered into a 70mm screening of 2001. A director I know called it "a trip." By everyone, I'm referring to "everyone who cares about science fiction or pretends to for his/her significant other." At a recent Grauman's Chinese Theatre showing this August, some of the original production crew attended! Nice.

Did you read my book review of James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction? Hahaha, you didn't? Go read it now and return to this post. Thank you. Did you see how everyone in the book cannot stop talking about 2001? Why? What's the big deal?

I first saw 2001 when I was in second grade on a trip to who knows where. Dallas, Texas, age seven, February 1994, at my dad's doctor's conference he attended. 2001 was on some cable movie channel in the hotel room. Or did we rent it? My dad, like many, raved about the film as we viewed it. He explained whatever was going on. The real year of 2001 was seven years away then. Between 1994 and 2018, I never had a start to finish, eyes glued to the screen viewing of it. 2001 played as I did homework. Some work. Never my full attention. Last Sunday, I turned out all the lights in my bedroom, sat in bed, plugged in my earbuds, and watched 2001 as I once did in 1994. And behold, townsfolk, my re-review of the motion pic-tjah.

Spoilers ahead. 2001 fans won't care. The rest of you, watch 2001 and get back to my diary entry!

The Giant Review

Darkness

What?

I forgot about this part. 2001 opens with darkness, and as that wise fellow LEGO Batman told us in his big theatrical film, "All important movies start with a black screen."

2001 is dark for a really long time. Two and a half minutes. Somewhere, people probably thought the movie theater screen was broken. Or threw a shoe at their TV, "Mom, fix this!"

This grabbed my attention. I'm so used to flipping it on once the film starts or seeing it in progress. My seven year old self forgot and now remembers.

Suspenseful! Back in 1968, Stanley Kubrick's artistry was shocking. Studios that year released The Odd CoupleThe Love Bug (remade into Lindsay Lohan's 2004 Herbie Fully Loaded), Oliver!, and The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. By those standards, 2001 wasn't simply weird. Droves of people walked out of the showings.

To describe that first screening as a disaster would be wrong, for many of those who remained until the end knew they had seen one of the greatest films ever made. But not everyone remained. Rock Hudson stalked down the aisle, complaining, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?’’ There were many other walkouts, and some restlessness at the film’s slow pace (Kubrick immediately cut about 17 minutes, including a pod sequence that essentially repeated another one).

The film did not provide the clear narrative and easy entertainment cues the audience expected. The closing sequences, with the astronaut inexplicably finding himself in a bedroom somewhere beyond Jupiter, were baffling. The overnight Hollywood judgment was that Kubrick had become derailed, that in his obsession with effects and set pieces, he had failed to make a movie.

What he had actually done was make a philosophical statement about man’s place in the universe, using images as those before him had used words, music or prayer. And he had made it in a way that invited us to contemplate it — not to experience it vicariously as entertainment, as we might in a good conventional science-fiction film, but to stand outside it as a philosopher might, and think about it.
— Roger Ebert

Don't you love Roger Ebert? I could be placing my restaurant order like, "Yeah, I want fries with my veggie burger," and he would if alive today might state it rephrased, "She deliberately wants an extra spoonful of Dead Sea finely grated sea salt on the fries, julienned into 1/10th inch thick slabs of pommes frites. Angle them at 95 degrees for a social media worthy foodie photo, will you please?" and keep going.

To set the mood here for you friends reading this, mobs of people thought Stanley Kubrick went peanut butter nutty in his filmmaking. Crunchy or smooth? Who knows. They weren't fans. They wanted more of whatever 1968 was putting out. Fun films, a few sad ones, nothing that made you think.

And this lack of thinking in the world was probably what made Stanley Kubrick want more so to adapt the 2001 short story into a feature film.

Chapter 1: Unshowered, Uncivilized Apes

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A Big 2006 Era iPod Classic, I Mean, Monolith, Appears

What does it mean? Who cares? The cinematic choir is spectacular. You'll hear this theme whenever the big slab of kitchen countertop, iPod, whatever it is, appears on screen.

1968 was the year of ape movies. The very first and best ever of the Planet of the Apes films came out the very year 2001 did. Think about that some more. Sure, Hollywood was feeling its standard musicals and cheeseball fluff. Some people around wanted to go for the crazy sci-fi plots. Thank goodness some filmmakers did. It might've taken until 1986 were it not for their work.

Back to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is no dialogue in the first 25 minutes of the movie (ending when a stewardess speaks at 25:38), nor in the last 23 minutes (excluding end credits). With these two lengthy sections and other shorter ones, there are around 88 dialogue-free minutes in the movie.
— Ink Tank

For a solid 20 minutes, a little over that, we see apes doing prehistoric ape stuff, pre-evolution. When the slab appears, they decide to hunt for meat. The apes, generally, gain knowledge. And lose it, if you made a 2001 sequel in 2018. A fast food place I ordered from two weekends in a row recently messed up my orders both times. OK, seriously again, the slab as knowledge is a powerful symbol you hope you learn more about in the film.

The first of three major chapters in the movie shouldn't have been so long. Half of me gets annoyed whenever the opening comes on for taking so long to get its point told and the other half of me wonders, "Is it necessary? Maybe it is. We needed to see life before and after intelligence was given to the prehistoric primates." The contrast exists to educate us as an audience. I'm going with the latter. Were it rushed, it might be a passing statement. The slab needs a real introduction. You need to be shocked by it, by the entire sound surrounded its mystery, and let it speak to you.

The long intro overstays its welcome when I leave 2001 running as a background film while I work on something. As an artistic view from the beginning to end level viewing, I get it. I'm sold.

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Chapter 2: Space!

Finally, the Final Frontier Shows Up

You and I watch 2001 for the space scenes. And they're gorgeous. Today, they are. Back in 1968, the visions of stuff floating around, oh yeah, amazing. We encounter space for the first time as an astronaut travels up in a Pan American jet up to the space station.

There, we see consumerism in the backdrops. A Hilton in space! Is that...? Another hotel brand!

It was both the last space-travel movie shot before men actually landed on the moon, and the first to turn a genre that had been the preserve of B-movie cheese into the highest form of art...

2001 is a film whose ambition is only matched by its achievement in pulling it off. It was the world’s first – and perhaps only – metaphysical exploration of the workings of humanity, from the beginning of time to the far-flung future, and it’s small wonder sci-fi has never really recovered. It has really only been going backwards, relying either on splashy effects or psychological conundrums handled so tritely that they barely seem related to 2001 at all.
— Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

I couldn't agree more. 2001 lives today because the special effects are very less is more in the attitude. 2001 made in 2018 might have thousands of special effects spaceships flying in the background as the moon spins, the stars twinkle, Super Mario 64 level CGI space monsters fly by the window, uhhhh, how might I say this? It would look like this below. Like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

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Besson’s upcoming scifi spectacle Valerian opens with an 18-minute action sequence featuring the titular space cop (Dane DeHaan) flitting between two different parallel dimensions—one an arid desert world, one an shopping mall megalopolis—being chased by some goons, and even somehow getting his arm stuck between the two worlds at one point. It sounds (and looks) completely insane,
— Gizmodo

Anyone remember the reviews Valerian received? Oh yeah. Things like...

The film feels as if it were made up on the spot, by someone so delighted by the gaudy genre packaging at his disposal that he lost track of what was supposed to be inside
— A.O. Scott, The New York Times

Modern filmmakers and studios want the huge CGI, big makeup, costumes out to Mars, and the story takes a backseat. For a short film, or a maybe 55-minute running time, that might work better. At 90 minutes or longer nowadays, how much more can we stomach of that? We need a story.

2001 is heavy on the story.

At the space station, we learn about strange occurrences at the Clavius air base. The space crew there wouldn't open the doors for others to join them!?

By now, you have my attention, Mr. Kubrick. Why not?

For spacecraft interior shots, ostensibly containing a giant centrifuge that produces artificial gravity, Kubrick had a 30-short-ton (27 t) rotating “ferris wheel” built by Vickers-Armstrong Engineering Group at a cost of $750,000. The set was 38 feet (12 m) in diameter and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide.

Various scenes in the Discovery centrifuge were shot by securing set pieces within the wheel, then rotating it while the actor walked or ran in sync with its motion, keeping him at the bottom of the wheel as it turned. The camera could be fixed to the inside of the rotating wheel to show the actor walking completely “around” the set, or mounted in such a way that the wheel rotated independently of the stationary camera, as in the jogging scene where the camera appears to alternately precede and follow the running actor. The shots where the actors appear on opposite sides of the wheel required one of the actors to be strapped securely into place at the “top” of the wheel as it moved to allow the other actor to walk to the “bottom” of the wheel to join him.

The most notable case is when Bowman enters the centrifuge from the central hub on a ladder, and joins Poole, who is eating on the other side of the centrifuge. This required Gary Lockwood to be strapped into a seat while Keir Dullea walked toward him from the opposite side of the wheel as it turned with him.
— Wikipedia

Online, I learned Mr. Kubrick imported tons of sand for the moon scenes. Hey, that explains how it was so realistic.

I meet astrophysicists almost every week who say that they went into their line of work because of 2001.
— Douglas Trumbull, visual effects supervisor on 2001

And, in this chapter, we see the first of many Hollywood films having a character chat via Skype, I mean, video chat of some kind, with people down below on Earth. Sci-fi is said to predict the future, or people are inspired by it. I'm confused what happens first and have a love/hate relationship with video chats. Nobody needs to see my hair like a bird's nest in the morning. Thanks, Mr. Kubrick. And for giving us millions of similar scenes for the centuries of filmmakers to come. Perhaps someday I myself will have scene like that in my work and eat my words. Make a big bread baked into a word tray and actually eat the words I wrote now.

"Say cheese!"

By the time we really get to the moon, the slab is there! He (it? she?) sets off a horrible buzzing when the people pose for a selfie in front of their new discovery. Yes, a selfie. I'm not making this up. The space crew gathers in front of the slab, angering it.

Mr. Kubrick probably never thought this through to the extent I am. Writing this from a more modern perspective, the selfie/group photo speaks to me so much as the shallowness our world lives in with social media imagery placing value over knowledge. The slab, discovering it's been Instagrammed with #2001slablyfe hashtagged on the caption, might really set off a noise. Or maybe Mr. Kubrick thought the scene was powerful like that statement. The scientists didn't care to learn what it had to offer. They wanted to show off, "Look what we found. We're famous now! We'll go down in history, in science landmark history!"

If only Mr. Kubrick were alive to witness how relevant this scene is.

Chapter 3: The Space Things Get Weird(er)

HAL Doesn't Seem Like a Nice Guy; Can You Blame Him?

Some recap. In the most famous twist of 2001's legacy, we hop on board with a bunch of folks headed towards Jupiter.

HAL the computer has a personality all his own. Like many today after getting sweet media coverage, after HAL and the astronauts appear on BBC News, HAL lets the fame go to his head. He makes up some story about a failed piece of equipment on board. HAL, how could you?! David and Frank, the humans, don't get what's going on. Uh oh. The equipment really isn't faulty!

Those two dumbo astronauts on the ship, as everyone else is asleep in permanent slumber until they arrive near Jupiter, think HAL won't understand them if they lock themselves in an air tight pod throwing shade at HAL. The two gossip about the potential at shutting him down, but you can't outsmart HAL, dweebs. Did you not get the memo about him being a super computer? HAL is a lip reader extraordinaire. He knows you don't like him now, and not only will he begin flagging all of your social media posts as inappropriate content until your @NASADudes account gets shut down by accident, HAL is going to take this mission on for himself. Were I HAL, I probably would've done the same thing. As mean as this one flute girl was in one of my summer junior high era music classes, she never threatened behind my back to shut down my memory banks. Ouch. HAL has a solid point. The two exit the EVA pod not catching onto ... HAL knows!

What, an EVA pod?! Did anyone who loves Pixar's WALL-E catch that 2001 reference? WALL-E falls in love with a robot named EVA! OK, EVE. When she tells WALL-E about her name, she introduces herself as the nickname "EVA." Pay attention when you watch WALL-E. Also fun news as I write this post: "NASA is preparing to send a pair of cubesats (small, suitcase-sized satellites) named Wall-E and Eva (after Wall-E’s endearing pronunciation) to Mars."

Frank gets dumped into the lunar wastelands for good, the sleeping crew gets unplugged into death, and David sneaks his way through the emergency route. HAL isn't cool with being unplugged. He begs and begs. And I learn, HAL was born in Champaign, Illinois. Anyone from Illinois is automatically more amazing because I too am from Illinois. Maybe HAL and I would be friends, bonding over secret things you only get if you've ever been to Champaign. He could've known my great aunt, who taught at U of I at Champaign-Urbana. Who knows. Clearly, David was not on good terms with HAL; HAL realizing he wronged the very human who could delete his intelligence doesn't win. He reverts into singing a really old 1892-penned song called "Daisy Bell." You know HAL really is from Illinois because all of my singing homework when not Disney was about 1800's songs nobody cares about. Our gym classes teach the state dance of Illinois, the square dance. HAL fo'sho flaunts his Midwesternness in 2001. One anger management course later, he could've been a cool friend.

No, HAL gets unplugged and stays that way. We learn the monolith released some signals out by the farther realms of the galaxy! Jupiter, specifically! The real reason for the mission!

In 1961, an IBM 704 at Bell Labs was programmed to sing “Daisy Bell” in the earliest demonstration of computer speech synthesis...

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke witnessed the IBM 704 demonstration and referenced it in the 1968 novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the HAL 9000 computer sings “Daisy Bell” during its gradual deactivation.
— Wikipedia

Collecting My Thoughts

By the time HAL was murdered, I felt conflicted. Shouldn't we care about HAL? We created an intelligent computer only to do away with him. Of course, he has feelings. The BBC anchorman asked the astronauts about that very question at the opening of Chapter 3. What does that say about the monolith storyline? The monolith role now gets taken over by humans. We became the creators of intelligent life. The monolith chose not to kill the apes. Why did we kill off HAL? Wasn't that immoral? Should I feel sorry for a computer, because I kind of do? HAL reacted like any else might have learning about his eventual murder. HAL liked playing chess and looking at people's drawings. All he wanted was human friends. So what? Where did they go wrong? Somehow, the humans made HAL feel they didn't believe he was an equal. Did they deserve what became of them?

On the other hand, should we trust artificial intelligence? Judging by HAL's anger problems taken out on the innocent sleeping human space crew worse than any diabetic mood swing I've ever had, I'm unsure. Here I am defending HAL, although I don't know if I would feel safe sleeping on board a spacecraft entirely run by a smart computer. HAL should have respected that boundary. The right thing to do would have been to take the two astronauts aside and have a word with them. HAL would have held the power over them by locking them in the room. He didn't. He chose murder as the right alternative.

But was this because he knew he had no choice? A serious question. What if the astronauts had gone in and disconnected him after the friendly business chat? The risk existed.

The special effects by 2018 standards don't look too outdated. A little teensy bit. Not much. Between this and the CGI vomiting all over modern cinema, I'll take 2001 FX.

HAL, and I'm not kidding, I think fame went to his head, probably after the BBC feature on him felt like he was doing most of the work, the humans being assistants. He wanted all the attention for the mission. Humans, his creators, were taking credit for his achievements. Does that mean the monolith wasn't responsible for the apes going evil and murdering another prehistoric ape once they all held knowledge? That it's not the knowledge but what you do with it that counts?

What does this mean as a representation for our own reality as an audience? Should we blame crimes on video games and movies? I don't think so. I've seen a million action movies from the time I was a child and have no intentions of ever doing anything bad to harm someone mentally or physically.

From a greater perspective, you could get into a religious view. Should someone who created human life be responsible for the bad things humans do?

A simple plot, a simple movie, no CGI, and this movie makes you think. In that alone, having a greater message on life and science, 2001 is in the top percentage of sci-fi films for me. I'll excuse the kinda-boring prehistoric ape chapter moments for the overall quality.

Intermission

I forgot exactly when, Chapter 3 has an intermission. Normally, this was when the audience discussed the film up to that time point amongst themselves. As people were said to all be on acid and hardcore drugs when viewing 2001 in theaters, one can imagine how wacky the intermission conversations were. A "wish you were there!" for all I know.

Oh, an intermission! As a Gone With the Wind fan and retro film fan in general, I love intermissions.

Was the 2001 intermission on the theatrical release this short? How could you run to the bathroom for this short of time? Think of the line alone outside the ladies' restroom. Women blocking the bathroom reapplying 1960's blue glitter eyeshadow. Adjusting their beehives in the mirror. Hopefully, washing their hands.

Either way, I busted out a child sized pack of Cocoa Krispies and, in the spirit of those attending the 1968 original showings, discussed 2001 with my two cats.

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 One cat was sleeping: Noele, the younger cat. The other stared at me from her cat condo bowl like I was talking about the most interesting thing since catnip. Having one active listener made me feel like someone cared. The intermission was short, I paused the movie to finish my Krispies. And off the lights went again.

Lava Lamp FX

Right around the time the spacecraft arrives near Jupiter, we enter the monolith's territory. The soundtrack tells us something odd is happening. And, this is probably where everyone in the audience on drugs had fun. You get a solid chunk of running time spent on what looks like a giant glowing lava lamp. The exact minute count might be ten minutes. After ten minutes of staring at this, you feel like you watched a YouTube drug simulator showing you what it's like "if you were high." If you, like I suggested, read my James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction review, you'd have learned Steven Spielberg said a high person when he watched the movie walked directly into the projection screen! Must've been stronger than weed, whatever that substance was. ;)

For sure, watching the Oscar-winning lava lamp special effects sequence made me wonder what I just saw. Why was it so long? OK, the apes stuff could be viewed as VIP to the story. This, not so. The crazy 60's tie-dyed stuff could've been reduced to a minute. At a full running time of around two and a half hours, trimming this down to two hours, fifteen minutes wouldn't exactly be harmful. I love a long movie myself, with the extended Gladiator cut on my iPad, OK, I love most long films. 2001 drags on in some parts for me. And I could watch Russell Crowe star as Maximus watching paint dry. I'm that long film person. The big tie-dye scene...

Wow, a bit much.

One Too Many Birthdays

My seven year old self was in absolute confusion by this sequence. David gets older, glimpses himself as an older person, becomes that older person, repeat, repeat, repeat. Stanley Kubrick here describes my disappointment seeing the numerical age on my new patient forms growing every year. Physically, right now, my circle balloon face looks like it did when I was 15-16. Thankfully, that's going on. Seeing the number go from twentysomething to me, 31 right now, ugh, that reminds me of aging no matter what I look like physically.

Surely, you know David at his oldest melting candlestick appearance gets reincarnated as a baby overlooking Earth.

My view on this reflects precisely what I wrote a moment ago. Aging sucks. We can't stop thinking about it. I'm not kidding, I have this great fear, "What would happen to all of my dreams and unfinished work, incomplete ideas, if I died?" When I feel sick, that feeling worsens. The crazy self talk enters my world. And right now, 31, I wonder how much time I have left around. Will I live to be 60? I hope so! 100? Over 100 is a must! Give me 500 years on Earth. I don't want to die.

David probably felt terrified of what might happen next. As my older self watching this, I get scared every time. When I viewed this start-finish-no-stop-apart-from-cereal, the fear made me jump because I saw all the details in the darkness of my room. It's been a few good years from the last time I saw this sequence. Having forgotten some of it physically helped this review. I was scared as much as I was in 1994, the seven year old me. The scene spoke to my fears about myself and growing old.

Thinking about this, some might interpret it as, "Everything is going to be OK. Relax."

And as cool as that sounds, I don't want to become a baby. Being me as an immortal is fine. The suggestion of me not existing in this lifetime sends me into a frenzy. Diabetes has something to do with that paranoia, of course, because I one day when feeling sick last year Googled how people die of diabetes complications, though I wouldn't blame all of my fear on it. :P Note to self: never Google that stuff. People tell me I'm overreacting. Absolutely. I think. Until the next big headache-nausea combo sends me Googling morbid info.

The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.

They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what we think is their natural environment.

Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made into some sort of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.
— Stanley Kubrick

The no sense of time statement better phrases how I feel about my own life. Wasn't I 12 not so long ago? I feel like it was five minutes ago.

Sorry, Mr. Kubrick. Your ending after you explain continues leaving me hanging. I thought it was reincarnation as a normal human. David as the child isn't a superior being, to me. He is reborn.

Personally, I always thought the monolith slab gave him too much knowledge in that weird French themed intergalactic (black hole??!?) hotel suite. The monolith, realizing its mistake like the humans with HAL, had to erase his memory and start fresh. With that knowledge, David would have had too much power over the monolith!

Am I crazy for thinking that!?! Googling that theory didn't pull up any results for me. Again, I'm being lazy reviewing the first two pages of Google-oogle-ness.

2001 says to me, "Sometimes, the only way to fix your mistakes is redoing everything." In life, I've had to start from scratch with filmmaking and music because for so many years, I was being rejected by those who held power like agents, people who could hire me as a composer, anyone who might hire me as a film production job to learn how to be a filmmaker, school never being accepted into a film or music program at a university....

I had to make that path open for myself and now am starting later than I would have wanted.

Depressing? Yeah, kind of. Happy? Yes. I'm like that star kid baby reincarnated without the monolith's knowledge. Starting from scratch doesn't have to be miserable. Maybe some of the past knowledge remains in the baby David's mind – I like thinking my past years doing journalism and modeling, and going out to the opening of an e-mail, have helped me in this path doubling up on film and music. Some of the monolith knowledge remains within me. And maybe in you. Some of you reading this may want a fresh start in life somehow with a new job path, a new relationship, whatever it may be. Mr. Kubrick might have told us if he were alive now, "Be like the baby in my movie. Know that it'll as scary as it is at times, end up OK for all of you."

Here's to 2001!

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