2001: A Space Odyssey Review and Blu-ray Features
2001: A Space Odyssey
15 May 1968
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
What is ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ about?
When a mysterious monolith buried 40 feet beneath the lunar surface is found to emit a radio transmission to Jupiter, five researchers, including Commander Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), are dispatched on the S.S.Discovery, powered and controlled by a revolutionary computer system known as HAL 9000, to investigate. However, HAL has an agenda of its own
What are the monoliths?
The monoliths are tools of a highly advanced alien civilization. They are placed to observe and, in Kubrick’s words, “influence” the “evolutionary progression” of humanity. Each of the three monoliths has a different purpose. The hominids’ contact with the first, in the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence, sparked the discovery of tools/weapons. The second, found on the moon, emitted a powerful radio signal directed at Jupiter. While the monolith is activated by sunlight in the novel, it is completely lit by artificial lighting in the film when it emits its signal. The lunar night is too long for the sun to rise during the short time Floyd is at the site. The confusion arises due to an edit (what may be a time cut) to the sun appearing above the monolith. The third, located at the Lagrange point between Io and Jupiter, either leads to and opens or is itself the door to the stargate transporting Bowman to his destiny. A monolith appears at the foot of Bowman’s bed immediately before his transformation and it sends him, as the Starchild, back to Earth. Whether this is the same monolith that sent him through the Stargate, as Kubrick’s own comments suggest, or a different monolith, as certain interpreters believe, remains a question open to debate. Not pointed out in the movie: The monoliths are 1 x 4 x 9 in dimension–1 squared by 2 squared by 3 squared, as stated in Clarke’s novel and also in the film’s sequel, 2010. The “Odyssey” books by Arthur C. Clarke reveal that the monoliths are alien supercomputers capable of self replication. Whilst this may or may not be the answer imagined by Kubrick, it is a significant part of Clarke’s vision that helps explain the plot to some extent. In one interview, Kubrick refers to the monoliths as “Jungian archetypes.”
Is the movie about God?
KUBRICK: I will say that the god concept is at the heart of 2001, but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of god. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of god. [Extraterrestrials] may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans. These beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant. They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men’s minds, it is only the hand of god we could grasp as an explanation. Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is sufficiently overwhelming, without trying to decipher their motives. The important point is that all the standard attributes assigned to god in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who, billions of years ago, were at a stage of development similar to man’s own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the primordial ooze from which he first emerged
Why is this film considered one of the greatest of all time?
2001: A Space Odyssey is today recognized by many critics and audiences as one of the greatest films ever made; the 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound poll of critics ranked it among the top ten films of all time. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and received one for visual effects. In 1991, it was deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. The storyline deals with thematic elements of human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life, and is notable for its scientific realism, pioneering special effects, ambiguous and often surreal imagery, sound in place of traditional narrative techniques, and minimal use of dialogue. The movie employs music and imagery from avant-garde music and art, including the music of Ligeti, making it a very significant link between art and popular culture.
Is there any symbolic significance to the hotel room?
According to Vincent LoBrutto, Kubrick and Clarke studied Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in order to find inspiration. From this mythological perspective, the hotel room can be seen as a symbolic womb where the hero goes through the process of death and rebirth. This symbolic rebirth is an essential part of the hero myth. Some examples: (1) Egyptian- The dead Osiris is placed into a tree trunk and is later reborn as Horus, (2) Jewish- Jonah is spiritually reborn after spending time in the belly of a great fish, (3) Jewish- In a twist, Noah is not himself transformed in his ark, but the world around him was reborn, (4) Greek- Herakles enters a cave to travel to the underworld in order to complete his final task, from which he was given demigod status, and (5) Christian – Jesus was entombed in a cave until his resurrection fulfilling prophesy and confirming his status as a divine being.
How does the movie end?
As the monolith and moons align, a psychedelic light show begins and the pod enters a wormhole. Dave sees a series of oddly-colored landscapes as if he was flying over them. The pod ends up somewhere in time and space in a bedroom with a luminous white floor and furniture in the style of Louis XVI. Dave gets out, now a trembling grey-haired man. Next door in a similarly styled bathroom, Dave looks at himself in a mirror. Back in the bedroom someone is sitting at a table eating. It’s Dave again, now much older and dressed in a dark velour robe. Old Dave has a drink of wine; the glass falls to the floor and breaks. Another man lies sleeping on the bed. It is a still older Dave, who stirs and raises an arm. The black monolith appears in the center of the room. Dave is transformed into a fetus in a sac. Floating in space, the large open-eyed fetus — the Star Child — gazes at the nearby Earth.
What happens during the final scene?
EYE: People are intrigued not only by the implications but the essence of the ending. Could you give us your own interpretation?
KUBRICK: I don’t want to because I think that the power of the ending is based on the subconscious emotional reaction of the audience, which has a delayed effect. To be specific about it, certainly to be specific about what it’s supposed to mean, spoils people’s pleasure and denies them their own emotional reactions.
EYE: Can you be general about what you intended?
KUBRICK: Well, I can tell you what literally, at the lowest level of plot, happens. Bowman is drawn into a stargate. He is taken into another dimension of time and space, into the presence of godlike entities who have transcended matter and who are now creatures of pure energy. They provide an environment for him, a human zoo, if you like. They study him. His life passes before him. He sees himself age in what seems just a matter of moments, he dies, and he’s reborn, transfigured, enhanced, a superbeing. I don’t believe that anyone is terribly far from understanding it. What people sometimes mean is that they want some confirmation of what they’ve seen happen, and what they think. Some people who are used to the conventions of realistic theater and the three-act play are surprised when a new form is presented to them, no matter how intensely they react to it, and no matter how much pleasure they get from it.
EYE: Bowman, after this incredible experience, winds up in an eighteenth-century French bedroom. That really flips a lot of people out. Can you tell us how you conceived of this bedroom?
KUBRICK: Well, again, this gets into the area of imagination and artistic processes, whatever they are. The room is made from his own memories and dreams. It could have been anything that you could possibly imagine. This just seemed to be the most interesting room to have.
Is HAL a computer?
The depiction of the HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer) in 2001 remains one of the film’s most eerie elements. For their description of artificial intelligence, Kubrick and Clarke only had the terminology of the mid-1960s. At that time, the prevailing concept was that Artificial Intelligence (AI) was expected to be a programmed computer. Thus, the term computer, with all its implications of it being a machine, occurs repeatedly. In the last 40 years, no true AI has emerged. Today’s corresponding term would be “strong AI.” Kubrick and Clarke’s use of mid-1960s terminology obscures the fact that the film and novel authors constructed an AI that is unmistakably strong-that is, capable of “general intelligent action.” How this would have been achieved Kubrick and Clarke left as an extrapolation. Clarke provides a little extrapolation in the novel: “Probably no one would ever know this: it did not matter. In the 1980s, Minsky and Good had shown how neural networks could be generated automatically — self-replicated — in accordance with an arbitrary learning program. Artificial brains could be grown by a process strikingly analogous to the development of the human brain. In any given case, the precise details would never be known, and even if they were, they would be millions of times too complex for human understanding.
What explains HAL’s actions towards the end of the film?
There are two major schools of thought on this question that reflect different interpretations of the movie. In the recorded message which plays after Dave has “lobotomized” HAL, Dr. Floyd reveals the computer has known the nature of the mission all along. This is confirmed by Dr. Chandra in the sequel movie, 2010 who supplies the additional information that HAL was instructed not to reveal the mission’s purpose until the appropriate time. Meanwhile, Dave and Frank have not been told for security reasons. This leads HAL to develop “paranoia” because withholding information directly contravenes his base programming to present all data without alteration or omission. One notes that this explanation is contained in Clarke’s novel, only there is no directly explicit explanation given by Kubrick in the film. This basic material has inspired two different viewpoints: (1) HAL knows that Bowman and Poole intend to disconnect his higher brain functions if the AE-35 does not fail as he predicted. HAL knows he made the error and therefore he expects to be disconnected, the AI equivalent of death. On the most basic level, HAL is simply acting in self defense. This view is the most straightforward, but its detractors feel it does not account for all of HAL’s behavior. (2) HAL turns lethal because he develops a paranoid belief that the crew cannot be trusted to complete the mission. This could be because he misdiagnosed the problem with the AE-35 unit; however, it is more likely he made that error on purpose to allow him to eliminate the crew. This view accounts for more of HAL’s behavior, but its detractors feel it makes unjustified assumptions.
The novel makes HAL’s behavior explicit in chapter 27, ‘Need to Know.’ Clarke implies that HAL equates withholding of information to lying, and hence imperfection, leading to a loss of mental stability. In the film, Kubrick only gives the viewer some odd dialogue between HAL and Dave, and HAL and Frank, plus some strange operational behavior. These are clues from which several conclusions may be drawn. It is to be noted that ‘HAL’s twin’ (twins in the novel) remains rational and differs with HAL. Since both viewpoints have their passionate adherents, there is no universal agreement on the question of HAL’s behavior.
RT/Meta Critic Review
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is some sort of great film, and an unforgettable endeavor. Technically and imaginatively, what he put into it is staggering. (Penelope Gilliatt)
One of the true monoliths of all cinema.(Click here to see)
First, a few technical notes: 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed in 70mm in the 2.2:1 aspect ratio. The film was shown around the country in various Cinerama theaters, projected onto huge, curved screens. Probably for this very reason, Kubrick chose to give the film a very crisp and clean cinematographic look. Fortunately, these technical choices, made forty years ago, render 2001: A Space Odyssey stunningly on Blu-ray. Having seen the film on several occasions in 70mm, this Blu-ray presentation is very much consistent with how I viewed the film theatrically. The film has a very clean, almost sterile look. Much of the film takes place in entirely white or black environments with the odd spacesuit providing a welcome splash of color in many scenes. However, there are a number of vivid sequences that feature an abundance of rich color. The opening “Dawn of Man” sequence seems to have been shot entirely at magic hour. The resulting shots are beautiful and really show off this discs flawless handing of color. Just about every scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey looks as though it could have been filmed yesterday. The print is flawless and the images are truly spectacular. This is a must own title on Blu-ray and is the very definition of reference grade.
Warner has provided a wonderful 5.1 Uncompresed PCM soundtrack on this Blu-ray release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film is famous for its use of perfectly selected pieces of orchestral music. From waltzes to more powerful, esoteric works, all of the music is beautifully reproduced. The full orchestral soundstage is well represented here, with instruments places precisely in the mix. Most of this particular mix is heavily front-loaded with only the occasional ambient noise coming from the surrounds. Dialogue is beautifully reproduced with HAL’s strange timber resonating well. The heavy breathing the dominates the spacesuit scenes is more haunting than ever in PCM. So, while you shouldn’t be expecting for a mix similar to what you might find in a Star Wars film, what 2001 gives us, is an elegant mix that adds to the experience of this incredible film.
Here’s what’s included:
-Commentary with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood
-“2001: The Making of a Myth”
-“Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick”
-“1966 Kubrick Interview Conducted by Jeremy Bernstein”
-“What is Out There?”
-“Vision of a Future Passed”
-“A Look Behind the Future”
-FX and Early Conceptual Artwork
-“Look: Stanley Kubrick”
First up to bat, in this excellent supplementary package, is the Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea commentary. Both men are very entertaining to listen to and share quite a few anecdotes from the set. “2001: The Making of a Myth” is a very in-depth British television documentary that goes into quite a bit of depth on the film. “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick” is also a nice puff piece which explores the impact that 2001 had on subsequent generations of filmmakers. “What is Out There,” “Vision of Future Passed,” and “A Look Behind the Future” all cover the areas of scientific aspects of the film and how things have and haven’t shaped up the way the film predicted. The definite crown-jewel of this set is the previously unseen “1966 Kubrick Interview Conducted by James Bernstein.” For a confirmed Kubrick nut like myself, this was just a fantastic addition. Kubrick rarely spoke to the press and this interview lets the viewer in on how the man actually was. This is great stuff! Finally, we have the FX and Early Conceptual Artwork feature as well as “Look: Stanley Kubrick”. The latter is a simple photo gallery of many of Mr. Kubrick’s photographs from Look Magazine while the former is a nice feature regarding the changing look of the film as production progressed. All in all, this is a pretty remarkable set of supplements that had this Kubrick fan thoroughly entertained!