Monday, 19 October 2015

Space Oddities | Film Review | 2001: A Space Odyssey

Fig 1. Original movie poster for "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" is a wondrous piece of cinema that tells the story of the evolution of man and cleverly tells this story through the use of a lot of one point perspective shots, dramatic scores and the use of silence to build a lot of tension in the audience.

Kubrick instantly puts us on edge as we are greeted instantly with a black screen that pans out for quite a large amount of time. This is technically the first appearance of the "Monolith". Afterwards the first scene begins which goes by the name of "The Dawn of Man", in this part we are shown a collection of ape-like men who are fighting over water. Soon after the second appearance of the "Monolith" happens, when it does all of the ape-like men are fascinated by it and begin to stroke, poke and prod at it in an attempt to figure out what it is (See fig 2). With the "Monoliths" one ape-like man is able to figure out that bones can be used as weapons, as tools. This is when they use the bones to frantically beat another ape-like man. It's almost as if the "Monolith" inspired the ape-like men to discover the use of tools and ultimately evolve into a smarter race of humans. Kubrick shows us the vast evolution of humans with a very intelligent split second jump shot that shows a bone (tool) thrown by the ape-like man skipping straight to the wide shot of a spaceship. Which suggests that man, with the use of tools have become so technologically advanced that we as a species can now use tools to make machines to lead us to space."" It is also clear at this point that the "Monolith" was sent by a higher race of intelligent life to somewhat inspire/force the evolution of man.

Fig 2. This is the image of the iconic scene where the "Monolith' is seen for the first time by the ape-like men.

Once it appears that man has perfected space travel, we are introduced to Dr Floyd who is personally taken to the Hilton space station which is a research facility on the moon. At this stage of the film we discover that the intelligent alien life forms have intentionally buried the "Monolith" beneath the surface of the moon. We see the researchers gathering round the "Monolith" and taking pictures, to support the mysticism of the "Monoliths" presence a creepy score is played that dramatically intensifies the scene, before bellowing an ear piercing noise, it when one of the researchers places their hand upon the "Monolith" we are transported forward in time again to the most important part of the story. 

Fig 3. This image shows what HAL 9000 looks like

At this point we can see that a huge space ship has been constructed to explore Jupiter and what lays beyond it. It was the "Monolith" that sent forth this information. Man has also created a machine that has artificial intelligence called HAL 9000 that controls the ship, this machine is in charge of running the ship (See Fig 3). Although HAL 9000 has been modelled in mans image it is capable of experiencing emotions, which is shown through the fact that we see HAL 9000 experience many different emotions like pride, affection and most importantly betrayal. Kubrick also makes HAL 9000 feel even more alive and sinister by always zooming into the "eye". The idea of betrayal comes up when Dave and his friend and colleague on the ship admit to each other about their lack of trust for HAL 9000 and plan to disconnect him. Kubrick, masterfully creates an atmosphere just before the intermission by showing Dave and Frank talking from his point of view, this scene's iconicness is backed up by this quote "The way Kubrick edits this scene so that we can discover what HAL is doing is masterful in its restraint: He makes it clear, but doesn't insist on it. He trusts our intelligence." (Roger Ebert - 1997) This is pretty much the point where HAL 9000 becomes crazed and starts killing off everyone other than Dave. Dave becomes crazed and hellbent on revenge and breaks into HAL 9000's control room despite ignoring HAL 9000's pleas for him not too, we can see HAL 9000 has begun to feel remorse and regret. Once Dave is inside he starts disconnecting HAL 9000, this where we can finally tell that HAL 9000 can truly feel emotions, as in this scene we hear HAL 9000 admit "he's afraid" and that he can feel it. It can be said that HAL 9000 was beginning to surpass human intelligence and would become a super computer capable of functioning on its own somewhat like an ultimate tool. But as Dave has destroyed HAL 9000 he has to longer rely on it, he is now alone, back to the natural state of humanity. He doesn't have to rely on tools, he has essentially surpassed his own nature and left with only himself. As this quote can reassure: "Appropriately, all the evidence of transitory technology is absent, leaving only man's vision, perpetuated in eternity."(THR Staff-2014)

After the scene of HAL 9000's deactivation is finished there is a broadcast plays and the person on the screen announces that there is intelligent life out there. This backs up the fact that there is indeed superior alien life out there (See Fig 4). After this we see the "Monolith" for the third time travelling across space, after travelling it settles in alignment with many other planets. 
 Once this scene ends we are propelled straight into a wormhole that has a psychedelic style to the design, it gives the impression that Dave is travelling faster than the speed of light, it's this point where We are shown vast landscapes ridden with off scale and strange colours. Also we are shown Flashing images of Dave struggling, or somewhat denying what is happening to him, but towards the seems to have a realisation. Almost as if he has been granted new powerful knowledge.

Fig 4. The image above show Dave removing HAL 9000's core memory

Once Dave has passed through the wormhole he lands inside a Victorian era room, inside this room he sees a older version of himself standing opposite his space ship. Kubrick fantastically transitions from the point of view of current Dave to older Dave by using a Montage technique so that there is no appearance of any fading whatsoever, this gives the impression that something is deliberately manipulating time whilst Dave is confined to the artificial room. Once we are in the viewpoint of older Dave the camera pans round a door and we notice another, yet older version of Dave sitting down at a table. Once again at this point Kubrick uses astounding camera tricks to give the impression that Dave's life span is now speeding through the years of his life at an alarming rate. This Dave that we see then goes to the doorway towards the camera and discovers that nothing is there, he returns to his table and sits back down. Shortly after he knocks a glass and looks up to see the oldest version of Dave we will see. This Dave is dying, and is very nearly dead in point of fact. Much like earlier we are transported straight to the viewpoint of this Dave, with his last breath he cannot talk but instead only points at the "Monolith" that has appeared at the end of his bed looking almost like a doorway to another place. The fact it looks like a doorway that can transport Davecan be supported by "it's no coincidence that the towering figures bear the likeness of a doorway, in the final act sending Dave beyond the infinite of space only to return him back to Earth, born again."  (Rob Humanick - 2007) It's almost as if the "Monolith" is there to convert him and push him forward into the next stage of evolution. This can be backed up by the fact that Dave now appears as a "star child"  entrapped in a foetus on the bed. The "Monolith" transports Dave back to earth to leave him there as a "star child" floating above the earth watching over his ancestors. (See Fig 5)

Fig 5. A shot of the "Starchild" Floating above earth

Overall it can be said that this film is arguably one of the best films to fall under the sci-if genre. Kubricks use of symmetrical compositions make the film intense and hard to take your eyes off of. It's marvellous how he creates tension by using this composition and essentially only brings actors onto the screen when they are needed close-up. The tension also comes from the fact that Kubrick loves to make his audience wait.


Image Sources

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