From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, April 26, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad
2001: A Space Odyssey

Long before Buzz Lightyear took a large portion of the filmgoing public "To infinity and beyond", Stanley Kubrick took audiences on a much longer journey. From the dawn of mankind to one possibility for the future of the human race, 2001: A Space Odyssey challenged viewers in a way I don't think had ever been seen in film before. There have been few films like it since.

2001 starts at the dawn of history. Two tribes of ape like creatures are competing for scarce resources in a desolate wasteland of prehistoric earth. One tribe appears to have the upper hand. In the middle of the night the weaker tribe is visited by a strange object: a large, jet black, rectangular slab. Nothing visibly changes when these apes touch the slab. It disappears as mysteriously as it arrived. Although nothing visible passes between the slab and the apes, they are clearly different in behavior when they next collide with the stronger tribe. The events that unfold set the stage for the future of humanity. The transition in the story from the distant past to the far future is done in one of the most amazing crosscuts I've seen.

In the late 20th century an excavation on the moon near a human colony finds another one of these mysterious black slabs. The slab emits a single powerful radio blast destined for somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter. A manned mission is sent out to try and see what the destination of the signal was.

That mission puts us in contact with our primary characters. The mission onboard the spaceship Discovery consists of a group of scientists in hypersleep for the long journey. They are watched over by the human caretakers of Discovery, Doctor Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Doctor Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), and ship computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Arrival at Jupiter finds even more mysteries awaiting the visitors, and creates a conflict in HAL's programming that turns deadly for those on board.

This movie is challenging on a number of different levels. Brea lists it amongst her all time favorites. One of the things she found most compelling about it is Kubrick's powerful use of silence. The opening sequence on prehistoric earth moves the plot along without a single word of dialogue. The first dialogue is not spoken until 25 minutes into the movie, and the last 23 minutes are also free of the spoken word. There's a grand total of 88 minutes of silence out of the 139 minute running time. It focuses the viewers entire attention on the action and the actors themselves.

The performances by Lockwood and Dullea are solid if not spectacular. They provide as much as the movie calls for without going overboard. In my opinion, far more compelling is the character of HAL. As the plot unfolds, and we see (or rather hear) HAL have to deal with a conflict in his programming, he becomes the most sympathetic character of the lot. When he and Bowman have their final showdown, the scene is really sad. When Alamo Drafthouse did a special show that was a collection of the top 100 on screen deaths in film history, this one was in the top 10. It's very compelling.

More importantly, this is a movie that really demands that you think about questions that go well beyond the scope of the film itself. This movie presents a perspective on the evolution of man that no doubt gives fundamentalists screaming hissy fits. It also speculates on the possible future evolution of humanity that some would say goes far afield from "conventional" spiritual notions of an afterlife. Or does it? That's just a surface level question that can be raised from viewing this film. The intricacies of the argument can be extrapolated in an almost infinite number of directions, depending on the viewers involved and the religious or philosophical backgrounds they bring into the viewing with them.

This is in my mind the quintessential science fiction film. It tries to tackle bigger questions than just what is contained within the story. This film succeeds in ways too numerous to measure in my mind. I recall a couple of years ago when The Paramount Theater here in Austin showed the movie during their Summer Film Classics series. It was a brand new 70mm print in Dolby Digital surround sound. Seeing and hearing it that clearly on the big screen was a more spiritual experience for me than anything Mel Gibson could even dream of. If there is a God, and I believe that there is, this is a movie that I think God approves of, and shows us what he/she hopes for us to someday achieve as a species. I hope that mankind sees that progression some day.

As I said, the Retrospectives get a week off. Hope to have some more posts on the world around us tomorrow. 'night!