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| With: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice) |
| Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke |
| Directed by: Stanley Kubrick |
| MPAA Rating: G |
| Running Time: 148 |
| Date: 01/04/1968 |
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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Trip Through Outer Space
By Jeffrey M. Anderson What can we expect to learn seeing the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie that supposedly takes place this year? We might learn not to trust computers, for one thing. The HAL 9000 unit that kills off its crew members in the film is still more advanced than any computer we have today: it carries on intelligent discussions with humans and makes decisions for itself. (Though my computer has often decided that a few of my stories stunk and erased them.)
But I don't think that fear of technology is the point of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's great film. It's about humans' interaction with technology, how it changes us. The first of the five "episodes" in the film shows a race of peaceful, veggie-eating apes (the precursor of man) as they slowly discover weapons and violence, which causes them to kill and eat meat. The film suggests that the introduction of the weapon itself caused the change.
Today, it's obvious that we're as obsessed with guns as the apes were with their sticks --and also that the introduction of guns causes people to be shot -- but the larger question is: would that violent tendency still be there without the weapons? Does the knowledge of weapons cause violence? And what change in the atmosphere took place to cause the apes to obtain that knowledge. Was it something alien, or Divine?
At the end of the sequence, the weapon in question -- a bone -- is tossed in the air and "changes" into a spaceship. Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester) wakes from a space shuttle flight, video-phones his daughter on her birthday, and addresses a stuffy-looking room full of guys in suits. Floyd is pretty stiff himself, and can't even muster anything human to say to his own daughter. Their physical distance equals their emotional distance. It's as if the cold, steel space technology has caused us to become cold and steely too.
Eighteen months later, astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) travel to Jupiter to take a look at the king-size monolith (a smaller one was found on the moon). Bowman and Poole make Floyd look like Bozo the Clown in the personality department. They're even colder and more remote than any of the humans we've seen so far. To drive the point home, Kubrick makes the HAL 9000 computer the warmest voice on the ship. Indeed, HAL is also the most passionate. He acts based on his own emotions.
Bowman goes on alone to the fourth and fifth episodes of the film, the psychedelic light show and the birth of the Star Child, and the (possible) hope for the future. But will the Star Child grow up with Bowman's boring genes, or will it become a more emotional creature? Or does emotional equal violent?
Here in the real 2001, we're still very much dealing with our own emotions, which still tend to pendulum back and forth to extremes: we embrace and destroy with equal passion. We're still mesmerized by our computers and the Internet, and computers even make all our movie special effects.
But if you ask me, Kubrick's effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which were made by human hands, are still unsurpassed. The inorganic digital surfaces of today's CGI (computer graphics imaging) creatures can't hold a candle to Kubrick's beautiful space vistas (choreographed to "The Blue Danube" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra") and space walks that grow increasingly elaborate as the film unfolds.
To put a point to it, these old-fashioned human effects strike our emotional chords (especially seen on the big screen) far more effectively than the machine made effects of today, which only serve to turn our brains -- and our imaginations -- off. Yet most people, critics and audiences included, continue to be "stunned" by CGI, even though it has not changed one bit since it was first used a decade ago in Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. The general people have melded with the new technology.
I don't think this fascination will betray and destroy us like the HAL 9000 unit did its crew members, but I do think it will eat away a little more of our humanity. We shouldn't fear it, but we should use it cautiously, as we would use any technology. Kubrick's perfect combination of technology and humanity in 2001: A Space Odyssey stands as our example.