Sci-Fi Movie Month: "2001: A Space Odyssey" Review

Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "2001: A Space Odyssey" Review

-- Rating: G
Length: 141 minutes
Release Date: April 11, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi

When "2001: A Space Odyssey" was released in 1968, it was clear that this was a movie ahead of its time. The original story was a collaborative effort that drew on a short story penned by science-fiction writer Arthur Clarke with input from director Stanley Kubrick, special-effects expert Douglas Trumbull, and a bevy of consultants who advised the team about the type of imagery they should use as they created the movie's key elements. The movie, which took four years to make, takes audiences on a futuristic voyage through space, giving viewers a peek in to the future of 21st-century space travel.

The first part of the story, "The Dawn of Man," takes place roughly three million years ago in Africa, where a tribe of homonids finds a huge black monolith and cautiously investigates it. Shortly thereafter, one of the tribe members (Daniel Richter) discovers that bones can be fashioned into objects they can use as tools and weapons.

"TMA-1" fast-forwards several million years. Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is on his way to a US outpost called Clavius Base, which is located on the moon. Once he lands, he lets the crews stationed there know of his mission to investigate an ancient artifact known as Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One, which they believe was deliberately buried there several million years ago. The artifact turns out to be a black monolith that is identical to the one the homonids found several million years prior. As the visitors examine the monolith, they hear a high-pitched noise that sounds like a radio signal emanating from within it.

"Jupiter Mission" takes place eighteen months later on the US spaceship Discovery One, which is on its way to Jupiter. The ship is carrying two scientists, Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea), as well as three other scientists who are in a state of cryogenic hibernation. The ship is fully controlled by a computer, HAL 9000, which the crew refers to as Hal. During the course of the mission, Hal makes a critical error, and the ship's passengers decide it is best to turn off the computer.

Hal does everything it can to stop them, including setting one of the scientists adrift in space and refusing to let his rescuer back on board the ship, but to no avail. Dr. Bowman manages to disconnect each of the computer's modules one at a time, while Hal begins to express a range of emotions, including fear, while it begs and pleads for Bowman to stop. Meanwhile, the monolith on the moon emits one powerful radio emission aimed at the planet Jupiter.

In the final scenario, "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite," Dr. Bowman leaves the Discovery One in a pod and discovers another monolith that is orbiting the planet. His pod is pulled into some kind of tunnel of colored lights, at the end of which Bowman finds himself standing in a classically appointed monochromatic bedroom. He is confronted with progressively older images of himself, ending with an image of him as an elderly man lying in bed. An identical black monolith to the one seen before is at the foot of the bed. As the scientist reaches for it, he is transformed into a fetus-like being trapped in an orb called a Star Child, which ends up floating in space around the Earth.

Although almost everyone agreed that this was a groundbreaking film, it opened to mixed reviews. Many audience members thought they were coming to see an action-packed science-fiction flick but were shown a contemplative, slow-moving film with hidden philosophical meanings. The movie moves so slowly, in fact, that many people walked out at a particular point in the movie in which a scientist is floating through space and the only sound that can be heard is him breathing. So many people left at this point that director Stanley Kubrick edited out a full nineteen minutes of the film before fully releasing it.

"2001: A Space Odyssey," which wound up winning twelve awards, including an Oscar, was Kubrick's attempt to get people to think about evolution and how tools have had an impact on it. The story starts with helpless early humans who discover tools and then turns to men in space who need to learn to do everything all over again in a zero-gravity atmosphere, including walking and eating.

It shows how the tools, via Hal, view humans as nothing more than maintenance men who are at the end of their evolutionary cycle and believe that the time is drawing near when the tools don't even need them anymore. Hal, however, has underestimated man's ingenuity, and it is destroyed as a result. Without it, however, man finds himself floating alone in space preparing to face the unknown.

The monolith represents a sentinel that has been left behind by greater forces to keep watch over how far man has come, and at this point, man has reached an evolutionary stalemate. The basic premise here is that even without tools and without your body after death, your light does not die. You leave your body behind to become a Star Child. Kubrick leaves it up to the viewer's imagination to determine what that means to each individual.

Rating: 3 out of 5