2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

2001 impressions 2018

Part of Lise's Hal's Birthday Rewatch list.

Mood: excited!


Jonnie:
You know, another thing just occurred to me...Well, as far as I know, no Google Home has ever been disconnected.

Lise:
No Google Home has ever fouled up before.

Jonnie:
That's not what I mean...Well I'm not so sure what she’d think about it.


2001: A Space Odyssey is 50 years old this year.

This kind of makes me feel old, as I saw it when it was first released and I was 9 years old. I’ve had a long journey with this, my favourite film for the last fifty years. I saw it dozens of times, mainly in 70mm, as I grew up. There were then a dozen or so rewatches on VHS in the 80’s and early 90’s. Then January 12th, 1992 came around, and I realized this was HAL’s birthday. I panic’d when I couldn’t find my VHS, and rushed to my local Jumbo Video to purchase a new copy. That began the trend, 26 years ago now, to watch on HAL’s Birthday. My sweetie suggested, some 5 years ago, that we make it an event on Letterboxd, and here we are once again.

Going in to this screening, my mind was focused on the fact that 2001 is now about to turn 50. I thought that would mostly inform my impressions, as there is so much to compare between Kubrick’s vision of the future, and the future we have today. What surprised me completely is that after so many viewings ( somewhere north of 70 ) and predisposed for particular observations, I saw so many things completely new to me that I didn’t expect.

Walk In Music

I absolutely love how film fans new to 2001 speculate about what this three minute completely black segment represents. My favourite is that the 70mm 2.2:1 aspect ratio 4.09:9 is almost exactly the 4:9 aspect ratio of the monolith ( 1:4:9 - the first three squares ), but turned on it’s side.. I’m sure Mr Kubrick is smiling in heaven about this. It’s exactly what he wanted … for people to interpret the film. Alas the three minute black presentation was what were called ‘curtin warmers’ in the roadshow circuit … walk in music. All of the big roadshow 70mm presentations had them at the time. They were ‘Overtures’ that showcased the soundtrack of the film that were presented as the audience took their seats. Kubrick did this here, too, but with a different intention. He didn’t expose the rousing Blue Danube, or Thus Spoke Tharathustra, but instead highlighting Requiem, for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, and Ligeti's Atmospheres. Two pieces used in the film, but as an aural introduction to the film as they were finding their seats cast a feeling of fear and wonder.

The Opening

Ok, here’s where Kubrick ( I’m sorry, sweetie, the ‘don’t say Kubrick rule is entirely outdated .. I vote to strike it ) plainly states to the audience this is going to be epic. After the 3rd crescendo of ‘Metro Goldwyn Mayer Presents’ came the 4th .. ‘A Stanley Kubrick Production’ .. then the fifth being the title of the film. Stanley clearly thinks much of himself … as he should.

The Odyssey

Yes, I am officially a dullard. It’s only on this watch that I spotted that virtually every scene in the film after the enlightenment of the Homo Sapiens was a journey. After the match cut, we have a journey to the moon. After that, a journey to Jupiter, then a journey to discover the issue with the AE-35 unit, and then a journey to rescue Frank, followed by a journey to try to come back home, and then a journey to find the ultimate truth, and then a finally a journey home. Yes, Kubrick made the right choice for this title. Journey beyond the stars would have been completely lame.

Thinking back across the gulf of fifty years, I remember the excitement of seeing the real space odyssey unfold before my eyes on TV. But that wasn’t until after 2001 had debuted in the spring of 1968. Shortly before the film premiered, the unmanned Apollo 4 journeyed to, and orbited the moon, but we couldn’t see it. The most ambitious Odyssey of humankind was underway, and we were blind. I’m sure this is exactly what Kubrick was counting on. We wanted to see this Odyssey for ourselves, and not only see it, but see it as the astronauts would observe. While Kubrick the auteur wanted to make the proverbial ‘good science fiction movie’, I’m sure that Kubrick the businessman wanted to capitalize on humankind's current insatiable appetite to 'see' first journey off the plant.

The Food

I’ve commented before about food in 2001, but today I saw so much more. Originally I commented that the food, as the film progressed, became more bland. Well, that was a mistake. The original ape men were foraging for plants and berries, that were becoming more difficult to find because of drought. The interaction with the Monolith gave the starving ape people the ability to kill and eat flesh ( as to how, I've discussed my theories in previous impressions), decidedly more disgusting than grains and berries that were their usual diet. It’s a great commentary that food becomes even more revolting on the journey to the moon, and then reaching a new low with the lovely pasty slop onboard Discovery.

What completely surprised me on this watch is that once Bowman is in the White Hotel, the meal he’s served is entirely vegetables. There’s even a big space on the plate where an animal protein would be. The first stage of enlightenment for the next leap, perhaps?

HAL
HAL is 26 now ( or 21 if you believe Clarke ). He’s now moved well into the realm of adulthood. ,by either Clarke’s or Kubrick's estimation, HAL is an adult today.

Although there are many 60’s / 70’s sci-fi’s where a computer becomes sentient spontaneously, including films I love such as The Forbin Project, there is something special about HAL and 2001. In the BBC interview, Marty Naymer asks Dave and Frank about HAL’s sentience .. that he observed that HAL was genuinely proud about the 9000 series operational record. Dave replies that ‘he’s programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him’, but leaves the haunting replay about not knowing if HAL really has feelings.

That’s the crux.

I’ve been using Google Assistant for years. This year for Christmas, my sweetie got me a Google Home mini. I might seem a small leap between pulling out my phone, unlocking it, swiping to the home page, and then calling OK Google, to simply prompting Hey Google anywhere in my home and getting the same response. She can answer most queries. With the addition of a chromecast device, she can show graphical results. She’s mainly serious, but can be playful occasionally, like when I prompted her late one night and didn’t provide a question … whereby she replied with a yawn and ‘ok, I’m at your service’ funny.
This has been a rather interesting year for AI. Driverless cars are being tested on city streets without human supervisors, the spooky Sophia AI/Robot is given citizenship, To reassure myself that the little Google Mini wasn’t that close to achieving the singularity, I spent a bit of time reading the latest AI news. While they now can out-game us in Poker, Go, Chess, and have passed the Turing Test, The experts say there’s still a long way to go. But just in case, the tech giants have banded together to make sure AI’s don’t become murderous HAL’s

Oh wait, hackers.

credits

My last impression of the night were the closing credits. As I generally always watch credits, and I’ve seen 2001 so many times, I’m surprised I just noticed this now. Kubrick lists himself, him and Clarke for screenplay, actors, then the special effects supervisors, a smattering of higher profile jobs like production design / wardrobe / editor / and finally DOP ( poor Jeffery Unsworth … Kubrick basically saying that ‘I was the DOP’ … then the music, and then finally the standard film production credits last. One thing I’ve always noticed, though, is Douglas Rain getting last billing in the group of ‘Featuring’ players … 8th billed, and just before the ‘with’ section … in a film without many characters, and behind many is the ‘starring’ section that had only a scene or two. I know Kubrick justified this by Rain coming in for only 2 days of work to re-record the voice of HAL, but really. I can’t believe, after he saw his final product, that he begrudged Rain a starring billing. I’m sure it had to do with money, as 2001’s $3M budget had ballooned to $10M, and Kubrick was under heavy studio pressure, but, he well could have fixed this afterwards, when 2001, and HAL, became a huge success.

And yes, on HAL’s birthday I did ask my new Google Mini to Open The Pod Bay Doors.



I wonder if Douglas Rain got a Google Home Mini for Christmas, too.


Also part of my Jonnie's musings on 2001 list

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