Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Retrospective Review)

Stanley Kubrick had directed many memorable films. His movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” was made in 1968 (over 40 year ago). It was based on the novel by Arthur C Clarke. Even as this move ages, it does not become dated. The ideas portrayed on the screen are just as grand and as puzzling today as they were when the movie was released. Even prior to man reaching the Moon and being heavenward for months at a time in the International Space Station, Kubrick caught a glimpse of man’s desire to know more.

The plot spans several time periods. Starting with the Dawn of Man, there are primates living in Africa as they eat grass and plants. A rival tribe removes them from a water hole, so they are pushed away from their home. One night, a rectangular object appears in front of them and freaks out the apes. From this object they seem to gain an understanding of tools and start to use bones to attack their prey. Soon they are eating meat and become stringer. They attack back at the tribe at the water hole and kill the alpha male. A bone gets tossed high up into the air and the next scene is…

Millions of years later and in outer space, a satellite floats by a space station. The station is unfinished and is shaped like two wagon wheels joined together. A Pan-Am space ship from Earth approaches it and lands in the station. All the while, the soundtrack is the ‘The Blue Danube” waltz by Johann Strauss. This is a brilliant move by Kubrick to link the hard, sterile technology or space travel with the lovely warm melodies of the waltz. It makes the sequence both beautiful to watch and also to hear.

The scientist on the space flight eventually goes on to the Moon, While at the station, he meets up with some acquaintances who want to know about the trouble at the Moon base at the Tyco crater. He says there is nothing to fret about. But he is part of a discovery team that has found another large black object buried on the Moon. It is the same thing that the apes found on Earth. This one is emitting a strong radio single that points to Jupiter.

The story progresses to a spaceship headed to Jupiter almost two years later. The ‘Discovery’ has a crew of five, of whom three are in suspended animation. The ship is controlled by a HAL-9000 computer. It has its own voice and voice recognition to communicate with the crew. David Bowman (Keir Dulla) is the captain and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) make the rounds and chat with HAL. Then HAL determines a part will go bad very soon, and Poole ventures outside to get the unit. But it turns out to be fine and perhaps the problem lies with HAL.

It is best not to cross a super-computer while several million miles from Earth. But Bowman and Poole have no choice but to plan to shut down HAL. While Poole is back out in space, HAL controls an external pod to attack Poole and he is sent flying off. Bowman gets into another pod to chase him down and him back, He returns to the ship with Bowman and gives the chilling command “Open the pod bay doors, HAL”. This has been voted as one of the best lines in a movie. (American Film Institute – Top 100 Lines). Dave does make it back into the ship and he does shut down HAL.

Bowman makes it to the moons of Jupiter where he finds another monolithic object. He gets into another pod and track down the object, but then he is pulled into a wild kaleidoscope of images and colors. He is taken to a strange room where he sees progressively different versions of himself at older and older ages. He eventually becomes a small fetus in a transparent womb. The Star-Child then gazes out at the Earth.

This last section of the movie is by far the most far-reaching part in that it takes a colorful and wild trip into the beyond. The interpretation is open to question, but Kubrick seems to take Bowman from a mere human form and transform him into a new, more highly-developed being. This is brought about by Bowman’s encounter with the rectangular object that keeps popping up in the movie. Just as the apes are transformed into higher level creatures, Bowman (and all mankind) are again delivered to a higher way of existence.

The pace and staging of this movie are a bit of a shock to a ‘modern’ movie viewer. The slow transitions and very gradual motion of the various spacecraft are in stark contrast to today’s quick edit cuts, fast motion, multiple sound layering and hard techno-rock soundtracks. Kubrick chose to depict space with large scale grandeur, with classical music pieces that accompany a ballet of methodical movement. Kubrick makes use of Joahnn Strauss (“The Blue Danube’), Richard Strauss (“Also Spake Zarathustra”), and Gregory Litegi (“Requiem”). This also transforms the movie into a more cinematic experience.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” was a groundbreaking movie when it was released. It has retained almost all of the original magnificence. It was a very unique view of science and man’s position on the universe. I would always recommend anyone to slow down, take the time out of a busy life, and sit down and watch this movie. It can take you to new worlds, Beyond the Infinite.