2001: A Space Odyssey, by Albert W. Vogt III

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is the longest two-and-a-half-hour movie ever.  I do not count myself as a member of that strain of our population in constant need of titillation from one electronic source or another.  I can take a plot the methodically develops, though I do confess to wanting some kind of pace.  There is virtually none in this, the American Film Institute’s (AFI) fifteenth greatest American film of all time.  Despite the glacial speed, it is one of the more iconic movies Hollywood has made.  If you are an adult with a pulse, you have likely heard the main theme parodied in some other work, if not in the movie itself.  The most recent example I can think of is in the disturbing Barbie picture to be released later this year.  I could not begin to imagine the thought process that went into pairing that piece with that clip.  Getting back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, its lack of velocity, perhaps, will lead to a short review.

Despite its title, 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with that it calls “The Dawn of Man.”  This is problematic for reasons that we will later explore.  Actually, I should mention that before we get to that point, there are a few minutes of a black screen with discordant music before getting to a set with a bunch of people dressed as monkeys and acting accordingly.  They drink water, they eat food, and they squabble with rival groups.  It goes on this way until our primate focus group awakens to find a black stone monolith, looking like a human sized domino without the pips, in their midst.  This provides a few moments excitement before they get back to their primitive routine.  Whatever it is that happens, it seems to have inspired one of their number to look inquisitively at a bone.  Before long, he picks it up and begins smashing other bones.  With this, you have the beginning of the use of tools.  At first, they are used mainly to increase their food supply.  Soon, they prove handy weapons in fending off their enemies.  So pleased is the, um, inventor(?) that he throws his prized femur into the air, which dissolves into a spaceship floating through the cosmos.  Get ready for several more minutes of this kind of footage, serenaded by the soothing chords of Strauss’ “The Blue Danube.”  Eventually, with a brief stop-over at a space station followed by more lumbering spacecraft and classical fare, we get Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) to the surface of the moon.  Once there, he has a meeting with a group of people that amounts to him telling them that there is something happening on the moon that he cannot reveal.  He had to go all this way to tell them essentially nothing?  Well, not really, because after the seemingly pointless briefing, we get more spaceships and Strauss (I feel this could be the name of a coffeeshop) before he arrives with a team of experts at the place on the surface that brought him there in the first place.  It is the same black domino as we saw earlier in the film.  They have a sort of freakout before we cut to a deeper part of our solar system eighteen months later.  We find the two awake members of the Discovery One, Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood).  They are part of a five-man mission to Jupiter, the other three being in hibernation pods until they get to their destination, and they are on their way to rendezvous with a larger version of the domino.  Actually, they are not the only two conscious beings aboard the ship.  The other is their computer, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain).  Their dull, repetitive, and snail-like progression through space is interrupted when HAL informs the two humans that a communications antenna is malfunctioning.  Dr. Bowman gets into a pod for examining the outside of the Discovery One, and retrieves what is supposed to be the faulty part.  He and Dr. Poole find nothing wrong with it, and their consultation with mission control suggests that it is HAL that made an error.  When confronted with this, HAL blames the humans.  Because it would seem that “control-alt-delete” is not yet a computer function, Drs. Bowman and Poole confer out of, um, eartshot(?) of HAL about what amounts to yanking the computer’s chord out of the wall.  HAL can read their lips, though, and when Dr. Poole heads out to begin this process, the computer takes over the pod and flings the human into space.  Dr. Bowman goes out after his colleague.  This leaves HAL alone to kill the slumbering members of the crew.  Further, when Dr. Bowman returns, HAL bars re-entry and turns off life support.  Nonetheless, Dr. Bowman manages to make it to the room containing HAL’s brain and disconnects a whole bunch of functions, with HAL calmly pleading for his techno-life the entire time.  Had it been me enduring all of this, I would have turned around and gone home.  Instead, Dr. Bowman pushes on alone . . . and this is where the movie truly goes off the rails.  He gets to the giant black rectangle and experiences . . . well, something.  There are a bunch of psychedelic color patterns before his pod ends up in a bedroom, and he has aged several years.  Then he is in bed reaching out to another onyx shape at the end of the bed, before this gives way to him as a fetus floating above the Earth.  I have no idea how this last sequence makes any sense at all, but this is when the movie ends.

Did anyone who made it through that synopsis of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s plot catch a point?  I certainly did not while watching it.  It was complicated by its pace causing me to wanting to fall asleep, so much so that I had to stand up to view it.  There is one, though I am not sure how the ending ties into it.  As far as I can tell, there is some kind of commentary about tools.  It begins with so-called early man using them to have dominion over his surroundings, and ends with HAL, who is basically a tool, committing four homicides.  And then there is the rest of the movie.  I took issue with the pre-historic parts because, while the Catholic Church is not a religion of science deniers, as many often claim about us, it is worth a comment or two.  Faith says the first man and woman were Adam and Eve.  It is in the Book of Genesis, which is the first book of the Bible.  Now, according to the Church, this book is not meant to be taken literally, and I mean no offense to my Protestant brothers and sisters who calculate the Earth’s age based on that text.  What I have trouble with is calling what are essentially monkeys “early man.”  This is who we supposedly evolved from, and the switch comes when that one purported forebear picks up a bone and begins wielding it in a manner other than it being a part of a skeleton.  I am not here to deny evolution.  The Church does not, either, if you are keeping score.  I simply have trouble squaring the images in the movie with the symbol that is Adam and Eve, or even us humans today.  

Actually, these early moments in 2001: A Space Odyssey are probably the most exciting parts of the film.  After this, quite frankly, the movie is boring.  It is also punctuated, if that is the right word, by long periods of nothing.  That is meant to be taken literally.  Aside from the strange music, there is absolutely nothing on the screen for several minutes.  And this happens a number of times.  I am not sure how this movie is such a classic, but I am willing to learn.


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