On August 5, 2011, NASA launched a new mission. The Juno probe won’t arrive at the solar system’s largest planet until mid-2016.
But Juno won’t get there first. Because another team – led by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, Sci Fi guru Arthur C. Clarke and special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull – beat Juno to the punch by nearly 50 years.
Their expedition was named 2001: A Space Odyssey and it remains the Science Fiction film by which all others are measured.
A Good Half-Century Ahead of Its Time
In his sprawling space epic, master director Kubrick took filmgoers on a celestial sleigh ride to the ends of the universe. The film not only foretold Juno’s trip, but also managed to foresee inventions like the iPad and many other technological advances – way back in 1968.
Probably no movie has ever covered man’s experience on this planet – his total experience on this planet – like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film sling-shotted viewers from man’s apelike beginnings to a future 4 million years later, all within the space of one glorious jump cut, which critic Roger Ebert called “the longest flash forward in film history.”
The movie was greeted as a revelation when it premiered and stunned its original audiences with its perfectly realistic glimpse of the future. And its prophecies are still being realized constantly:
- Civilian Space Travel It’s depicted in the film, and is now being planned in spaceports that specialize in space tourism.
- Manned Lunar Bases These are in planning stages, with a fully staffed International Space Station that’s been in orbit for 17 years now. Plus, talk lately about efforts to colonize Mars.
- Alien Contact It’s the question that pulses at 2001‘s core, and we recently reported on this very DMA News site about sponsored efforts to contact aliens through radio transmissions into deep space.
Technology 2001: A Space Odyssey Predicted
Here’s just a short list of innovations that 2001: A Space Odyssey accurately predicted:
Flat-Screens From computer monitors to televisions, flat-screens have replaced ancient CRT systems, giving viewers better resolution and more screen space.
Voice Identification Systems/Voice-controlled Computers The Dragon voice recognition system and Apple’s Siri are just a few examples of voice recognition computer systems that allow you to control your computer using your voice. Voice identification systems are used for security.
Video Teleconference & Telecommuting You can meet anyone now on your own terms (and, in most cases, without ever leaving your home).
Tablet Computing The iPad, like the iPhone caused tech manufacturers to re-think what consumers wanted in their electronic devices. Tablet computers offer compact computing solutions.
Game-Playing Computers IBM’s Jeopardy-dominating Watson wasn’t the first computer to dominate human opponents.
In-flight Entertainment Throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s demonstrated the various ways technology can entertain man.
STUDY A MASTER FILMMAKER
You will not see any special-edition versions of 2001 containing footage “not seen in theaters.” The reason for this is simple: That footage was destroyed, at Kubrick’s insistence, by a production assistant as Kubrick neared his death.
Kubrick ordered that all of the film cans containing unused footage from his movies be taken to a dump and burned, so there could be no efforts to re-market his groundbreaking masterpieces in a way he might not have approved, after his passing.
The films of Stanley Kubrick, with his magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey leading the way, make up a remarkable canon of motion picture excellence – and something to be studied by those who want to learn film production.
DO IT FOR STANLEY
If you’re an aspiring filmmaker and you have not invested a couple of hours in 2001, you’re way overdue. The film is now streaming on Netflix, so there’s really no excuse not to see it. A couple of things to keep in mind:
1) Don’t Be Alarmed The first several minutes of the film are devoted to the orchestral prelude (a droning, ominous piece of music) and have no visuals. This is supposed to be the music that first greets theater-goers.
2) Set the Mood This is one of filmdom’s great experiences. So show a little respect: 1) Turn off your phone and any other distractions; 2) Watch it alone or with people who won’t chatter through it; 3) Watch it the way it was intended. There’s an actual Intermission about halfway in, so try to save your bathroom break for then; 3) Watch it on as big a screen as you can, and of course, see it widescreen; and 4) Watch it in the dark, or as dark as you can make it.
2) Hey, Slow Down! The other thing you need to do is to suspend modern notions of fast-paced editing and constant action. This is not The Martian or Gravity, although this film influenced both of them. Things here move with the slow, deliberate precision of space motion. The docking sequence early in the film – staged to stately waltz music – makes that clear.
3) What’s With the Monkeys? We don’t even get to space for the first chunk of 2001. Instead, we follow packs of wild apes living in a desert, as they discover how to use bones as tools and come into contact with one of the most famous of all screen images – the black monolith that reappears at several key junctures of the film. (“Who put it there? Why?” Filmgoers have been wondering that for nearly 50 years.)
4) Name That Tune Great movies are often made classic because of memorable music production, and that’s certainly the case here. The film’s famous and often-parodied five-note tune (“Dum…Dummmmm…Dummmmmmmm…Ta-DUMMMMMMM!”) was an actual piece of famous classical music that Kubrick selected personally. (Written by Richard Wagner, the momentous Also Sprach Zarathustra was such a dramatic piece of music that it was later used by Elvis “The King” Presley to open concerts.) The film had a traditional movie score, but Kubrick enjoyed playing classical music while he edited. That’s when he realized that he needed to combine his space film with classical music.
5) Is This a Silent Movie? There are long stretches of screen time where no dialog occurs at all. Critic Ebert suggested it could have easily been made as a silent movie with a few screen cards used to convey the most necessary dialog.
6) That’s Some Light Show, Man… The so-called “Stargate” sequence contained amazing visual effects that literally blew audiences’ minds when the film first hit theaters. The scene depicts astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and his view from inside a space craft that’s entering Jupiter’s atmosphere. His vision is bombarded with a wild explosion of light and colors. Hippies of the day were known to lay on the floor directly beneath the screen during this portion of the film, because it was so vivid and “trippy.”
7) And What’s With the Ending? Again, this is not a film with easy answers. It’s more concerned with asking questions – really big questions. So it is with the ending. Ebert suggested that the astronaut had been captured by an alien presence and was more or less living inside a cage, where he was being observed. Kubrick’s brilliance was to make it an elegant cage, well-appointed with nice furniture and classical art, as if the aliens were trying to make the specimen feel at home…within a zoo on Jupiter.
8) Like Benjamin Button in Reverse And then there’s the rest of the ending, with Bowman sneaking glimpses of his reflection in mirrors. Each time, he’s older. Dude, it’s like Benjamin Button in reverse!
THE BIGGEST MOVIE IN THE UNIVERSE
Give 2001: A Space Odyssey a chance. If you can adapt to its measured pacing, you might really enjoy it. If you do like it, you may consider it one of the peak filmgoing experiences of your life.
It so mesmerized audiences back in the day that its original theatrical run was immediately followed by another run, then another. The movie played continuously for years after its release.
Film critics will never stop marveling at its many dimensions. In some very real ways, 2001: A Space Odyssey remains the biggest movie in the universe.
And ultimately, it did more to spark interest in space exploration than any other film ever has, in part because it had a direct and often huge influence on nearly every other space film that’s followed.
In order to finish editing the film on time for its scheduled premiere, Kubrick booked passage on an ocean liner and edited while sailing from England to America. Ironically, the director who took us across galaxies was himself afraid to fly.