Friday, February 11, 2011

Film Friday: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Many people list 2001 as the greatest movie of all time. I don’t. I don’t think it’s a very good film. Yes, the effects are great and Kubrick’s use of music is excellent. But the plot is weak and Kubrick could have told the same story in a fraction of the time; that’s not good filmmaking. Moreover, the main selling point to 2001 is the film’s “philosophy,” but Kubrick cheated on the philosophy. Still, it raises issues that are fun to think about.

** spoiler alert **

I’m conflicted when it comes to Stanley Kubrick. I recognize his genius, but I find his films hard to like. His topics are unpleasant, his style is sterile, and his characters are lifeless. His films are like a painting that perfectly recreates a bowl of rotting fruit -- you may marvel at the technique and feel “enriched” for having seen it, but you don’t really want to see it again. 2001 fits this pattern perfectly.
Why 2001 isn't a great film.
My biggest problem with 2001 is the dull and simplistic plot. 2001 consists of four loosely related stories. The first twenty minutes are the story of mankind evolving in the shadow of a mysterious black obelisk to learn to use tools. Nothing happens here that couldn’t have been told in a minute and in more interesting ways. The second twenty minutes are the story of an NSA-type man called to a futuristic moonbase to examine the first evidence of alien life -- another black obelisk. Again, Kubrick stretches two minutes of information into twenty and the information given is less than fulfilling. Moreover, despite his efforts to give the main character depth by feeding us images of his kids and talk of happier times, the character is as sterile as the environment. He’s so sterile, we don’t even remember his name. The next thirty minutes are the most famous as a spaceship’s computer, the HAL 9000 (a one letter shift from IBM), goes insane and kills the crew. This is the part everyone remembers as it involves the only real plot in the film. But again, what Kubrick presents could have been shown in a fraction of the time and the only interesting character is the computer -- the others are robotic and lifeless. The last thirty minutes are a drug trip filled with symbolism as lacking in subtlety as kids looking through a dictionary for dirty words.

Indeed, I have a good deal of contempt for the ending. Kubrick tries very hard to make a “deep” film at that point, but he doesn’t really have anything to say. So instead, he throw a series of symbols at the audience in the hopes that you think there is more going on here than meets the eye. There isn’t. These symbols are obvious and they all relate to a single point: creation/procreation. They include barely disguised religious symbols, stylized images of sperms and eggs and symbolic orgasms, and even a large fetus floating in space. Then Kubrick gives the illusion of progression by adding the symbology of one of the astronauts aging and dying, before the floating fetus is born. While he’s hoping this makes you think something deep is being said, all he’s really saying is: God, sex, birth, youth, old age, death, rebirth. That’s not very deep or original. He might as well have said: bread, fridge, mustard, ham, eat, store. Both represent the cycle of life.

What I do like about 2001 though, and what makes this film so memorable, are the mysteries Kubrick presents. Now I admit up front that Kubrick is playing us for suckers in this regard because there is no solution to these mysteries -- and they are likely tautologies and thus cannot have solutions. But they are still fun to talk about. Let’s discuss.
Mystery No. 1: What are the black obelisks?
The big mystery in 2001 is the appearance of the black obelisks. The first appears at a time when man was still an ape-like creature. It appears one day and does something we cannot see (though we hear it ringing). Soon thereafter, one of the apes learns to use a bone as a tool. This is the beginning of the rise of man, discovering the ability to use tools. From this, we can infer the obelisks are pushing along man’s evolution. The final obelisk seems to reinforce this when it results in astronaut Dave discovering the nature of the universe and morphing into some space-baby.

But what about the second obelisk? Obelisk 2 is a bit of a problem, because no evolutionary change appears to accompany its arrival. In fact, the sole function of Obelisk 2 seems to be to point the way toward Obelisk 3. Yet, surely, if these obelisks are there to cause evolutionary changes, then Obelisk 2 could have done what Obelisk 3 does, so why force mankind to travel to Obelisk 3? Was Obelisk 2 just out of order. . . "this aisle closed. . . go to next obelisk"?

It’s possible Obelisk 2 was there to mark the evolutionary point where man becomes dependent on his tools. If you compare the sterile, but still human characters you meet on the moonbase against the inert and robotic humans onboard the Discovery One, there is a remarkable change: the position of human and machine are reversed. Indeed, on Discovery One, HAL does everything as the humans sit idly by. And when HAL goes insane, the humans struggle with the question of whether they have the ability to control Discovery One without HAL. By comparison, the humans on the moonbase still handle everything themselves. We even see the pilots steering the Pan-Am spaceplane. Maybe this is what Obelisk 2 was really doing, heralding the replacement of mankind by the tools man created?

If this is true, then all kinds of interesting questions arise. Who built the obelisks? In other words, who is controlling our evolution? And is evolution inevitable, i.e. is it being forced on us or is it only a choice, i.e. can we reject it? Dave and Frank fight back against HAL, but they don’t survive the movie. And if it is God causing evolution, then why use the obelisks? Surely a supreme being could cause these changes without using a mechanical device? Perhaps, God was replaced by his own tools and these obelisks are the tools that took over the universe? None of this is addressed in the film, but it's interesting to consider.

On a final note, our inability to explain Obelisk 2 really could be a sticking point in the “philosophy” of 2001. If Obelisk 2 doesn’t have a meaningful purpose, then how can we say what purpose any of the obelisks serve? Maybe their only purpose is to give the viewer a mystery? If so, that would be a tautology: they are a mystery because they were meant to be mysterious. If that is the case, and it could be, then Kubrick really is a jerk, and 2001 starts to become a pretty big fraud. Hmmm.
Mystery No. 2: Why does HAL kill the crew?
So why does HAL kill the crew? Several explanations have been advanced for HAL’s murderous behavior. The first (and the one accepted by the film 2010) is that HAL was confronted with a paradox. He was told to complete the mission, but he was also told to protect the crew. When he became convinced the crew had become a danger to the mission, he resolved this conflict by killing the crew. There are some problems with this theory however. For example, HAL’s solution seems pretty extreme for such a sophisticated machine. A better solution would have been to lock the crew up, which he could have done. At the very least, there was no reason to kill the sleeping crew members. Also, how can HAL complete the mission without the crew?

Now it’s possible HAL simply saw all humans as flawed and, therefore, a danger to the mission. We get a clue about this with HAL’s insistence that any mistakes made by the 9000 Series computers were the result of human error. . . you damn dirty apes! But even if that was the case, why doesn’t HAL just kill the crew by cutting off the air? Why does he try to cover up his murders by staging an accident? If his decision really was based on logic, i.e. he followed his programming, he should have executed the humans and then reported his successful saving of the mission, just as he would report other functions. His deceit tells us something else was going on. And you can't argue that HAL was just responding to the threat that Frank and Dave intended to shut him down because HAL was already being deceitful at that point. Clearly, his decision to kill them was premeditated.

The best explanation is HAL had attained some level of consciousness and for reasons unknown became homicidal. But why become homicidal? One could argue that because he was programmed to mimic mankind, he included our worst traits as well as our best. But you would think his propensity to homicide would have shown up in the nine years of testing before he was installed. . . "hey, where's my lab assistant?" A better explanation is that HAL suffered a mental breakdown when he learned about the obelisk. In fact, this point also makes sense in terms of explaining the role of Obelisk 2. HAL represents man’s mind before Obelisk 2 was discovered, as he was programmed in 1992 to mimic human behavior. He is incapable of dealing with the idea that man is not alone in the universe. Thus, when he learns of the obelisks, he goes crazy and decides to kill the crew to prevent them from discovering the truth -- a sort of “if we ignore it, then it’s not there” approach. By comparison, the crew, who were evolved by Obelisk 2, are now capable of dealing with their loss of place at the center of the universe. HAL cannot because he is a machine and did not evolve.

Of course, this is just speculation again, as Kubrick gives us nothing to solve this mystery. HAL’s own words make no sense because killing the crew would end his ability to perform the mission. Dave never speculates. And no other facts appear to help us solve this riddle. In fact, looking only at what Kubrick gives us produces another tautology: HAL kills the crew because he becomes homicidal.

In any event, this raises additional interesting questions. How comfortable are we putting our lives in the hands of machines? Can we ever truly program a machine to handle the sorts of paradoxes and dramatically unexpected facts which humans apparently can handle with ease? And do we in fact infuse our own creations with our own vices, i.e. (kind of like the Blade Runner question) could we make a computer that only acts according to our better instincts, and how would it react when it finally met us?
Conclusion
All in all, 2001 is a film you should see. It’s culturally relevant. It brought science fiction to the adult world and made it respectable. It ushered in the realism phase of science fiction -- its treatment of the silence and frictionlessness of space is truly impressive. It is an important film. Just don't expect to enjoy it.

79 comments:

CrispyRice said...

I have to laugh. I hadn't seen this movie in years and I said to a friend, "I want to watch 2001!" He said, "No, you want to watch the middle 20 minutes of 2001..." He was right!

I also have to ask, Andrew - do you often feel enriched by seeing a bowl of rotting fruit? ;)

Seriously, though, another good review. It always impresses me how many more levels of a movie you seem to see.

But it still doesn't make me want to watch again, LOL!

Tennessee Jed said...

All right! Somebody else who feels that 2001 was not "all that." I really agree with all your comments with the following exceptions:

1) Barry Lyndon lifeless? I think not.

2) I'll allow a few minutes of time waste to portray the sterile lonliness of space travel, but it did go on to the point of being uncomfortable.

3) I was confused by the big questions posed. Having never read Arthur C. Clarke's work, though, I never knew if it was my fault or not. Now, I think not.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Crispy, Not the bowl of rotten fruit, but the technique -- that's the enriching part. The rotten fruit is just rotten fruit! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I've had the same conversation about telling people they really only wanted to see the middle part! LOL!

Thanks! I like to think about films and what the filmmakers/writers were trying to achieve -- that's why I like doing these reviews, because there is a lot to discuss about these films.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Yep, you're not alone!

I'll take your points one at a time.

1. Not all of Kubrick's characters are lifeless, but most. I think, for example, that Jack Torrance in The Shining is a notable exception, BUT I attribute that to Nicholson's stellar acting ability rather than Kubrick's direction. In fact, I suspect Kubrick tried to make him sterile like the rest, but you just can't contain the inner fury that he displayed.

As for Lyndon, Barry Lyndon I would rate as another exception to the lifeless character rule.

2. I too will allow a few minutes to portray the waste of time or to get the point across that what the characters are doing is not very exciting (or that time passes), but I think Kubrick way over did it. He mistook dull for deep.

3. It took me several tries to write this review (several hours actually :-( ) because I wasn't sure how to convey the problems with the philosophy of the film. Kubrick is selling the idea that there is some HUGE, DEEP message here, but there really isn't. What he's done is to present the audience with what appears to be a puzzle, but really isn't a puzzle -- it's just some vague ideas.... like if I asked you what a hat, a chicken and a watch all have in common. It sounds deep, but it's not. And he relied on the fact that a lot of people would simply assume that the message was just too brilliant for them to grasp. I see that as cheating.

DUQ said...

Good review. I also find myself mostly remembering the HAL parts.

Good point too about the disappearing lab assistant. If HAL was inherently homicidal, then it should have shown up long before they put him on the ship. So it has to be something that happened after he got on board.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Thanks! That's why I think HAL's issues must have something to do with the mission rather than the nature of mankind. If it was just the nature of man, then his problems would have surfaced earlier. But if his problems were the result of something that happened on the mission, that would explain why it happened now.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I've often thought of 2001 as one of those "spectacle" kind of films, like Magnolia (frogs dropping from sky)--it's not meant to make much sense, and if it was, then the writers failed miserably. I gave up trying to understand 2001, but I still enjoy it as a visual film.

I also read the book (back in 2001 I think!) From what I understand, the book was based on the film, so don't expect much more of the mystery to be revealed. It is a good read, however, and will help to make the film a little more understandable.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Visually, the film is great and I think the music is perfect, but in terms of watching it repeatedly, I prefer not to. I have similar reactions to his other films -- much more respect than enjoyment.

You might be right about it intentionally not making sense, though I think that runs contrary to human nature to think that a puzzle you are offered can't be solved. Plus, they work so hard at getting the science right and being so technical that I tend to think they must have had a a point they were trying to make.

What that point is, is hard to say. This film came out at a time when much of science fiction was making the point that man was in danger of being replaced by machines, so that could be it -- and it does fit with HAL. It could also be a statement that religion and science can co-exist?

I haven't read the book because I heard that it was based on the film, so I didn't think it would add much. I've always been hoping that Kubrick would put out a book or a short film or something where he explained what he was trying to say throughout the film, but I also suspected that he wouldn't either because (1) the whole thing is a bit of a fraud and doesn't make sense, or (2) what he's trying to say really is pedestrian... "it means that we are born and then die." Hmmm.

So in the end, the film is probably better off remaining a mystery than him giving it a bad solution.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, if anyone has more theories about HAL or the obelisks, please feel free to share them!

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

From what I remember, the obelisks serve as dual roles.

First: To goad the animals on to higher evolution.

Second: As communication devices. Which is why they found the third one.

The meeting on the Moon of all the "suits" is deliberatly made as bland as possible to contrast what happens in the pit with the obelisk #2. What ever the humans did was made deliberately bland to contrast how GREAT the obelisks were.

Hal becoming murderous is explained by communications from earth. While some people are for contacting superior beings, some are xenophobic to the point of murder. He doesn't become murderous until late during the trip. The loss of Discovery was to be left unexplained.

I got from this movie that computers, while programmed to mimic humans, aren't capable of original creative thought. Which is why Bowman survived even though HAL had effectively closed him off. HAL wasn't creative enough to stop him.

I agree that it is very dry. I have no interest in watching it again. I disagree with your conclusion about in not being a great film. It is precisely because it was a Science Fiction movie without "ray guns." Until this movie, Science Fiction was more associated with Saturday morning cartoons, not for serious thought.

It introduced a differant way that was a little more palatable about where we came from. It had cutting edge special effects.

If it was made today, it would be a phenominal flop.

LawHawkRFD said...

Kubrick himself once used Hitchcock's word "MacGuffin" to describe the obelisks. It's like a catalyst, but unlike a catalyst, a MacGuffin's sole purpose is to move the action along, and often has absolutely no other use, and frequently either disappears without having any further effect on the activity or reappears to get the action going again. Kubrick did say that speculation over the significance of the obelisks actually surprised him since he only wanted to create something that would tie ape/human curiosity to the evolution of the mind.

I enjoyed the movie in its initial release largely because I'm a special effects nut, and they were pretty spectacular for the time. On the other hand, I was between Berkeley and San Francisco, didn't inhale, so I didn't shout "Sweet Jesus" or "Far out, man" when they did that lengthy trip through inner and outer space thing. In fact, my mom was with me, and whispered "what the hell is going on?" I didn't have a good answer.

My favorite of Kubrick's films is Paths of Glory. My best assessment of Kubrick's overriding theme from Paths to Eyes Wide Shut is a large dollop of nihilism.

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)
Excellent point about the difference between HAL and the humans being a lack of creativity. HAL definitely displays this when he decides that there is no way for Dave to get back into the Discovery One. He's thinking like a machine -- the doors are locked, the end. Whereas Dave is thinking like a very creative human -- I'm going to find a way, somehow.

I'm not sure I follow your point about the obelisks being communication devices? With whom?

I do agree this would be a huge flop today, but that's partly because I think filmmakers have gotten better at conveying tedium than they were when Kubrick put this movie out.

I don't know if the point of making the characters bland was to set them off against the obelisks or if it was just Kubrick's inability to make colorful characters. When I look at everything else he's done, these people fit right in with most of his characters. He tends to treat his characters as line-delivery vehicles rather than as human beings, and they rarely have much more than really basic personalities. Even the more colorful ones, like the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, are one-note archetypes with little humanity in them.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Good points.

When I say it wasn't a great film, I mean in terms of watchability. As I say in the review, there's no denying that the film is considered a great film or that it was culturally important. As you say and as I mention above, this film brought science fiction to the grownup world. Prior to this, science fiction was about ray guns and guys in jumpsuits looking to battle alien monsters. This really is THE film that ushered in the realism phase of science fiction and allowed it to deal with grown up issues. For that, it truly is a great film. But in terms of watchability, I think it's not a great film by an stretch.

In terms of HAL, I think we're saying the same thing. HAL becomes homicidal because he can't deal with the idea that there are other beings in the universe, and he decides that he would rather sabotage the mission and possibly die than make that discovery.

(continued)

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You really do get the sense that the obelisks are a MacGuffin -- the problem is that the reason the movie has staying power is that people are still trying to figure out what these mean. So if they are just a MacGuffin, then it's an indictment on the film.

Paths of Glory is a great film and possibly his best. The only one of his films I really "enjoy" is The Shining. Eyes Wide Shut was a major disappointment. You could tell he was reaching for something deep and significant, but all he ended up with was boring and outlandish.

In terms of the ending, I think most people probably had the same reaction you did. . . WTF is going on? I often go back and forth on this issue, was he trying to be so deep that no one got it or was what he did so shallow that everyone just overlooked its simplicity? I'm leaning toward a little bit of both -- that he thought it was deep, but it wasn't. . . bread, fridge, mustard, ham, eat, store.

StanH said...

I basically agree with your review of 2001. I saw this movie with my two older brothers, and my eyes began to glaze over with boredom, with one exception, in 1968, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen. In many ways the special effects still hold up after 42 years. I had to watch it again three or four years later and I understood his point, sorta. My favorites of Kubrick are Dr. Strangelove, and a Clockwork Orange, along with 2001 were really earth shattering movie making for their time. The way he moves the camera across the scene, are tedious brilliance setting a high standard for all directors to attempt to emulate. Ridley Scott is another director that will kill himself, and everyone else for the shot. Good review.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

I see your point about Kubrik. The obelisks were obviously put here by aliens who look like us. They used to be called gods. The embryo at the end is the new life for Bowman. He has evolved and now he is the new embryo of a differant life. Not coming back to earth, but going on to bigger and better things.

R. Lee Ermey, who played the drill seargeant in Full Metal Jacket, actually was a drill instructer. When I saw the movie, it was old home week to me. He is that colorful. Even Kubrik couldn't quell him. Ermey even has a website. Link

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Thanks! You are correct and in fairness, we do need to remember that Kubrick was doing things that no one else had done. So we do need to be careful not to judge him against people who took what he did and refined it. (FYI, I agree about his effect, they absolutely stand up today, especially the Discovery One -- very impressive, even by modern standards.)

Kubrick is a genius, I definitely agree with that. I think as a director, he achieved things no one else had done. He chose fascinating topics and infused his films with ideas that keep us interested today. In fact, he probably has more "historically significant" films than anyone else -- and they are, as you say, "earth shattering." But despite his genius, I don't enjoy his films. I'm glad I've seen them and I recognize their brilliance, but I just don't enjoy them -- my rotting fruit analogy.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I am a huge fan of F. Lee Emrey. I always enjoy his acting in everything I've seen him in! In Full Metal Jacket he absolutely feels authentic, and I don't mean to impune his acting at all. My point about his character lacking humanity has to do with the fact that we get no sense at all that he exists when he's not on screen, and there are no moments where he isn't in full-on angry instructor mode. Even when he tries to be calm when Pile has the gun on him, he's still playing the role of angry drill instructor.

I put that on Kubrick because I know Emrey can give a broader performance and because that's how almost all of Kubrick's characters work -- they are given one note and are told to hit it over and over, no matter what else is happening in the scene.

Some actors, Nicholson have broken through that because they project so much onto the screen, and others couldn't overcome that, like Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. In 2001, I don't think any of the actors were able to break through that. Though it raises an interesting question -- how would 2001 have changed if Jack Nicholson had played Bowman?

On the obelisks, that's an interesting point as so many people now wonder if aliens didn't interfere in human development? Maybe Kubrick was incorporating that debate into his film?

I agree about the embryo, I think the point to the baby at the end is that humans (or just Bowman) are now evolving into some new form of human that lives beyond the Earth -- space babies. It's possible Kubrick was just making a point about reincarnation, but I don't think that's right, I do think he's suggesting that humans are evolving into something bigger.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, very interesting review. You raise a lot of good questions. I do have one point to quibble over about HAL: If Obelisk 2 represents the replacement of man by his machines, why would HAL be disconcerted by that fact (assuming he knows what it represents) and decide to kill the crew to keep them from knowing about it? I mean, if you're right and he's programmed to have human traits, wouldn't it be more likely that he'd revel in the fact that he's now the superior intelligence and make the astronauts do his bidding? And if the astronauts have evolved in their knowledge with Obelisk 2 to the point that they realize they're being overtaken by their machines, why would they be at peace with that? Wouldn't they...okay...wait. Here's a crazy theory I got as I was typing this (although it came prior to me starting that incomplete sentence with the ellipses. I wanted it to look dramatic.) What if the astronauts did realize with Obelisk 2 that they were being overtaken by their machines, and HAL simultaneously figured the same thing out? If that were the case, maybe HAL pulled an Operation SkyNet (I just made that up), deciding that the astronauts would probably try to shut down or destroy him in order to regain their supremacy and that he'd better strike first if he wanted to survive. That may not cover all the details, but it could explain a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)

I tend to think HAL's behavior has to do with HAL not being able to handle the knowledge that there is something greater than man in the universe. I think that explains both why HAL would act now rather than during his nine years of testing (because he only now receives that knowledge), and why HAL acts so murderously -- he simply can't handle the idea that everything he knows and believes is about to be shaken up by this new discovery, and he will do whatever it takes to stop this new reality from taking hold.

I equate it to how we would feel if we suddenly discovered a large door in space which gave us reason to believe that the universe as we know it is all made up and nothing is as it seems. We would probably not react too well to that discovery -- but even then, unlike HAL, we're actually capable of expanding our minds to incorporate these new ideas, HAL isn't because his programming is much more limited. So if we would act poorly or irrationally, HAL would probably do the same only in an amplified manner.

Out of curiosity, is 2001 still a film that resonates with your generation?

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Thanks! I'm not sure Obelisk 2 means that the humans are being overtaken by the machines. If I had to pick a theory, it would be that Obelisk 2 is preparing humans for being able to accept the knowledge that they are not alone in the universe.

I'm also not sure that Obelisk 2 and HAL's behavior are related in the sense that HAL knows what's happened. In other words, IF O2 is meant to signal that humans have become slaves to their machines, that doesn't necessary mean that everyone knows it. It could just be a fact, like the way the ape-man now knows how to use tools without thinking that "hey, that Obelisk taught me." But that leaves the question you pose -- why would HAL kill people who are now dependent on him?

Well, that could get you back to the mission issue, he sees them as a danger to the mission. It could also get you to the point where (as you suggest with Skynet), HAL simply decides that he's better off getting rid of the humans before they try to fight back. Or it could be contempt. If you look at prisons, you find that the guards often develop a great deal of contempt for the inmates. Maybe that's what's going on her, HAL develops contempt for the pathetic humans who rely on him to do everything and he decides to kill them off?

(continued)

Anonymous said...

The film DEMANDS rewatches. It's great and is actually very exciting, once you tune into the tension inherent to every scene. You simply have to change how you view the film to appreciate it.

Also, it's not simplistic, it just depends how deep you want to go into it. By the way, BARRY LYNDON is Kubrick's greatest film.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

Because you persist in thinking of HAL as human, you ascribe human traits to it and try to understand as if it were human. It isn't. It doesn't have free will. It obeys orders. It isn't going nuts. It just won't obey Bowman's orders.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I don't think of HAL as human, I think of HAL as a machine designed to mimic humans.

He's supposed to be the highest level of computer we can reach -- a computer that "thinks" and who can largely act independently of humans. So I see him as an approximation of a human, more than anything.

Also, he goes a little beyond just disobeying orders, he fakes a fault to trick the crew outside and then (even though we don't see it) he uses the pod to cut Poole's air hose and apparently shove him off into space. That's murder, not just disobeying orders.

But in terms of having free will, that's the question: is he just trying to resolve a conflict in his programming (the paradox) or has his intelligence somehow cross that line into giving him free will, which he uses to decide to kill the astronauts?

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Thanks for the comment, though we clearly disagree. But that's life, right? :-)

I agree that Kubrick manages to infuse his scenes with excitement, but I still find the overall experience dull because I think his pacing is just too slow and the plot too sparse.

In terms of simplicity, the plot is incredibly simple, the philosophy isn't as simple, but I don't think the philosophy is genuine. I think he's faking his way through it by tossing up what appears to be a puzzle, but which has no solution because he's not expressing a particular philosophy, he's just tossing out symbols as an approximation.

In terms of rewatching, I admit I've seen it several times -- just as I have with his other films. But as I note, I am conflicted, because while there is something compelling in his films, I don't really enjoy them. If these were better "film films", then I would probably be raving about them being the greatest of all time. As it is, I can't do that.

In terms of Barry Lyndon, that's two votes so far. I would probably have to go with 2001 as his overall greatest, because of its massive influence.

Doc Whoa said...

Great review! I have a similar opinion. I like the film, but I don't like the film. I watch it every time it's on, but I can't explain why. I guess something just fascinates me about it.

I used to think the obelisks were meant to represent God watching, and that they've always been there. But thinking about what you mention, I can't see God needing an obelisk to watch us? That makes me think Joel is right that these were put in place by an alien race that's monitoring and guiding the human race.

If we're talking about our favorite Kubrick films, then I would pick "Spartacus."

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! Spartacus is good film.

I think you and Joel make a good point about the obelisks. Why would God need an obelisk.... I think that's a direct quote from Star Trek V, isn't it? ;-)

I could definitely see the obelisks being a way for an alien species to watch and guide the evolution of man. For example, the fact they had to dig up the one on the moon could be to show the aliens that mankind has reached a point where they are now fairly capable in spaceflight. And putting the one near Jupiter ensures that man is about ready to leave the solar system. So maybe they aren't causing evolution so much as watching man? That's certainly possible.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

With your way of thinking, guns murder people. The person holding the gun isn't responsible. :-)

Machines can't murder people. A machine can kill if it set to break or if it is used wrong, etc, etc. HAL is a more sophisticated machine than a gun, but it still is a machine.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, People don't kill people, guns do! Just kidding.

Good point. Ultimately, HAL is still just a tool and thus is not technically capable of murder.

I do think a valid interpretation of the film is that HAL moved beyond his programming and became a conscious being, and thereby became more than a tool. But putting that interpretation aside, you're right that HAL is basically a sophisticated gun or hammer.

So what does that mean for the film? I guess that means in the first part of the film, we learn to use tools to kill others, and by the end, our tools get so far beyond us that they try to kill us.

And maybe, if that is the point, then the final evolution where Bowman is in the room without any sort of obvious tools (excluding silverware), and then is reborn in space without any obvious hardware, maybe the ultimate point of the story is that man needs to rid himself of his tools?

Is that how you would interpret it?

ambisinistral said...

I think if I would have had to spend another 5 minutes sitting in the theater, drumming my fingers on the armrest as I watched that damned pod rotate I would have turned as murderous as HAL.

Regarding the comments about 2001 revolutionizing sci-fi movies: I've often thought that 2001 was actually the tail end of a sub-genre of sci-fi instead.

It is, in its execution, the direct descendant of the 1950s film Destination Moon (interestingly, Heinlein had a hand in that movie too).

Starting in the 1950, and through the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Lab missions the public knew what space flight looked like, and even bad sci-fi paid lips service to that -- even if it was corniness like apples dangling on the end of strings to simulate weightlessness and astronauts donning 'gravity boot' to keep from floating off in the weightlessness.

Granted, almost all of it, thanks to lack of money and special effects talent, was cheesy beyond belief, but the effort was there. What I think Kubric did was finally do a good technical job of creating realistic, albeit mind numbingly boring, space travel.

2001 generated virtually no knock-offs. In the end, it did not open up a path other film makers followed.

It was pretty much the last attempt to focus on the realistic portrayal of space flight a major the selling point of a movie. Instead sci-fi space films increasingly concentrated on the crewing and operation of ships (usually using a Naval model) which started with Forbidden Planet and passed through Star Trek, Aliens, and even 2001's sequel -- 2010.

T_Rav said...

Thanks a lot for reverse-dating me, Andrew! (I would add in a "Gee Willikers!" but that would just be overkill.) Does "2001" resonate with us twenty-somethings? Truth be told, I don't know. I may not be the best person to ask about this, because being in grad school, the people my age I associate with tend to be more intellectual or at least have the trappings of being intellectual. Among them, "2001" still has some popularity, but going by how much I hear it referenced, I wouldn't say it's that big a deal anymore. But then, I'm of the opinion that each generation is getting increasingly cruder and unintelligent, so I may be a little biased.

I'm not sure how well I like your theory that HAL snapped out of an inability to adjust. That doesn't seem like the logical result of such a predicament--his circuits would probably have overloaded and caused the whole machine to shut down first. Plus, I think any speculation on this level is reaching, mainly because it doesn't seem like any movie, including this one and, for that matter, the Terminator films, have properly addressed what it means for a machine to become self-aware. What's that mean? Can they act spontaneous, try to commune with God, attempt artistic expression, all of the above, some of the above? Okay, "Blade Runner" did a lot of this, but "2001" didn't, which is a real failing in my opinion.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I need to run out for a bit, I'll be back in a couple hours and will respond then!

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)
In this case, much of what Kubrick does here was done before, but no one outside of the hardcore science fiction fans noticed. Thus, 2001, not the prior films, is the one that has proven to be influential.

In terms of what that influence is, it is the change in the way people viewed science fiction. Before 2001, science fiction was viewed as entertainment for children or a small hardcore of science fiction fanatics, who were viewed much as adult readers of comic books are seen today. But 2001 made it acceptable for regular adults to say in public that they enjoyed science fiction, without being seen as a weirdo. That's huge, as it really opened up science fiction for Hollywood to fully exploit.

Moreover, I would argue that 2001 raised the bar on special effects and making science fiction more real. Before 2001, rubber suits and plastic ray guns were the norm, afterward, most science fiction needed to at least give a nod to believable science.

Finally, I'm not sure that 2001 is anymore a film about the realistic portrayal of space flight than a movie like Red Planet or Mission to Mars. All three of those films try to show what spaceflight might really be like, while interweaving some crisis for the crew to solve. Even a film like Moon (which I did two weeks ago) focuses heavily on the technical.

Thanks for the comment. If you disagree, feel free to say so.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, I certainly won't say you're wrong about the pacing. I know people disagree (see Anon's comment above), but I personally think Kubrick's pacing was too slow. And I do think that if he did the film over today (putting aside his death), he probably would have sped it up and filled in with more detail. Keep in mind that 2001 came along right at the end of the big art-movie era, where nothing was considered something and many directors considered long periods of inactivity to be deep.

I do disagree about the influence however. First, its undeniable that the film has staying power and that it continues to resonate with the public today -- you see it at the top or near the top of many "expert"'s top films list, everyone involved in science fiction cites it as an influence, and even the public at large continues to enjoy it as it continues to appear on television.

Secondly, I've found that the lack of knock-offs is not evidence of a lack of influence as it can also mean that the film has attained iconic status and can't be copied without people screaming "rip off!" Close Encounters is another example of a film that simply can't be knocked-off because it is iconic.

Third, in terms of not being original, i.e. other films having done similar things before, I don't think originality is the appropriate standard -- I think awareness is the appropriate standard. In other words, if one person has an idea, but few people know about it..... and then someone copies the idea and turns it into a widely-seen success, the person with the real influence is not the creator of the idea, but the person who exploited it and brought it to the public consciousness.

(continued)

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

This is a little bit too much reading into Kubrick for me. Kind of like taking a look at a Picasso and seeing what you want to see.

This movie and book is more of an atheist's viewpoint of how we got here on earth. This is why the glitterati liked it so much.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, Another excellent review. I like Kubrick more than you, but I don't care for "2001". To me, each of his other films have a point wrapped around a solid plot. "2001" is more of a point looking for a plot. Also, what that point is remains a mystery. I feel like he was trying to say something, but failed because he couldn't communicate it.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, You're welcome! LOL! Trust me, being in your 20s is nothing to be ashamed of!

"I'm of the opinion that each generation is getting increasingly cruder and unintelligent".... yeah, I can't really disagree with that. I was playing an online game at one point (trying to see if it was any good... nope), and I ran into people that I was pretty sure were foreigners because their English was so bad in terms of spelling, ability to communicate, and ability to understand what people were telling them. No, they were American teens. Ug.

In terms of 2001, one of the problems with the movie, in my opinion, is that Kubrick tries to get away without developing anything. He throws out all these symbolic ideas but never assembles them in any meaningful way and never explores them. That leaves us guessing at his meaning and does ultimately weaken the film.

In terms of computers coming to life, I agree with you, that's not an issue that any movie has really explored. A lot of movies have used it as a premise, but only to make the computer do something bad -- they don't really ask how the computer would act. But that's a common problem with most Hollywood villains -- they're one dimensional and they exist solely to cause the plot.

Of course, that could just mean there's an opportunity there to write the next big film? Are you up for it?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I can't disagree with that either. I'm just speculating as to possible meanings, not necessarily what Kubrick meant because Kubrick never tells us. That's ultimately the problem with this film, he tosses out things that you can look at as forming ideas, but he never gives you enough to solve the real meanings -- in fact, pretty much any avenue you choose falls apart.

In terms of the film being atheistic, that could be his intent and I'm sure a lot of people wanted to take it that way, but I don't think that's a necessary interpretation. In fact, the contrary, I would think the film is rather pro-God unless you decide that God can't be behind the obelisks.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Anon (I assume you're unrelated to Anon above),

As I've said above, I do think Kubrick is a genius, I just don't enjoy his films -- I don't doubt their brilliance. A point looking for a plot? That could be a good description.

In terms of failing, I think that's probably a little harsh. He has created a film here that has staying power and that captured the imaginations of multiple generations of people. So in light of that, it's hard to say that he failed. To the contrary, he succeed pretty wildly, he just didn't achieve what we would have wanted.

Doc Whoa said...

"What would God need with an obelisk?" I think it was "what does God need with a spaceship?" but close enough!

Crispy said up-thread that she's impressed with how many things you see in films, I am too. I love your reviews, they always give me a ton to think about. Keep 'em coming.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, never doubt the ability of the public-school system to fail its students miserably. (sigh)

No, I most certainly am not up to it. Criticism of a work does not equal the capacity to create, and I'd like to think I'm honest enough to admit that.

By the way, speaking of Kubrick films and movie reviews in general, have you ever done one on "The Shining"? Because even though I know we've discussed it here before, that one still bakes my noodle to no end, which is probably partly why it's among my top horror films.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! I tend to see a lot in films because I kind of watch them for their parts as much as the film as a whole. For example, I love listening to dialog to hear the writers words, not just to get the story. So when I find something that is beautifully written, I take note. It's the same thing with beautiful imagery or clever storytelling, etc.

That's the quote! James T. Kirk!

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Honestly about oneself is the best trait to have, it will save you much frustration! And you're right, ability to dissect is not the same thing as ability to create.

You're right about the public schools. I can recount all kinds of stupidity from my experiences -- everything from having classes where I knew more than the teacher (sad, but true) to being told at one point to forget how to write in cursive, because "we don't do that for another two grades." As~holes.

I have not done The Shining, but I definitely could. I find it to be a fascinating movie, especially in the way it differs from the book.

(By the way, I've been meaning to put together an easy index of the films I've done... but I'm hopelessly lazy.... in the meantime, you can always hit the tag and sort through them if you want to see old reviews. And if you feel like discussing them, the moderation is on, which lets me know when people comment on them.)

Joel Farnham said...

T_Rav,

Just because you say you can't doesn't mean you can't.

Truthfully, the hardest part in writing a screenplay is understanding what a Haiku is and how it applies to a screenplay.

The next is how to write a scene. It starts with a short description of the set, followed by action or dialog or both.

Third part is understanding what an act is and understanding how three acts comprise a screenplay.

Acts have beginning, middles and ends. A screenplay has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Beginning is the setup.

Middle develops from the setup and creates a dramatic dilemma. Or some idea. This is even in comedies.

Ending resolves the dilemma or dilemmas in a satisfactory way or an artistic unsatisfactory way.

Whether dealing with a scene or a whole screenplay, less is more. The whole concept is maximum minimalism.

Comedies usually are resolved in satisfactory ways. So are actions. Dramas usually aren't resolved that way. They usually involve the wrong person dying, losing the perfect mate, or not achieving the goal.

On average, a movie screenplay is any where between, 90 pages and 120pages long.

This is the basic structure of screenplays. Use words that are suitable for fifth graders. Vary too far from it, and it won't be read.

There is even a look to screenplays.

Teleplays are shorter.

T_Rav said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Joel. But really, I don't have any creativity. I could never dream up anything like "2001," flawed as it may be. I have no doubt that in a technical capacity, I could probably do a lot to make the project "work" for the screen; I've read enough books and seen enough movies to get an idea of what flows and what doesn't. But I don't have that talent to create. At best, it would only be a talent to adapt and modify, and maybe not even that.

Joel Farnham said...

T_Rav,

Argue for your limitations and sure enough they are yours.

Shucks and other nonsense. If you can get up in the morning and plan your day, you have enough creativity. If you think for one minute that movie came full blown from some writer's forehead, I am going to call you a liberal and it will stick.

Story ideas are all around you. Accessing them is up to you. Having a non-interest in writing a screenplay is what I am hearing.

T_Rav said...

Joel, touche. Excuse me while I go curl into a corner and weep...

Joel Farnham said...

T_Rav,

Weep? What are you? Some kind of metro-sexual? Sheese! You do know conservative women don't find that attractive!

Joel Farnham said...

T_Rav,

I hope you know I am just kidding! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Joel, You've written a screenplay right? What was the topic (if you don't mind sharing)?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel and T_Rav, Creativity comes from experience and imagination. Think about the things you've done and expand upon them. . . ask the "what if" questions. That's most of the battle right there. The rest is about enjoying to aspect of creating the work -- do you enjoy playing with the language or building the world that your characters inhabit?

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

"It's About Family" An Air Force Captain heads home to attend his uncle's funeral. His father had died when he was young and his uncle ended up being the father figure. His Uncle's construction business is in trouble, his cousin is running it, but doesn't know how to deal with the suits backing the lastest building. His mother is still alive and feisty. His sister acts like a flibberty gibbet but isn't. To top it off, he has a son he doesn't know about, being raised by a woman.... It gets involved.

This is more of a study about how we perceive our family and how those unconscious assumptions color our reactions. Things aren't exactly what they seem.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That sounds like an interesting premise. I think stories about discovering that our perceptions are wrong can be very powerful stories.

Did you enjoy writing it?

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

At the time, it was more an exercise to keep my mind occupied. Something that consumed my off time completely.

I had always wanted to write because of my favorite author. Robert A. Heinlein.

What propelled me into it.... I had a drinking problem. I didn't want to go to AA to declare myself an alcoholic. Nor did I want to leave myself anytime to get bored and drink. Writing a screenplay was a good solution for me.

In order to keep my mind clear to write something that I can read after I wrote it, I had to stay sober.

Keep in mind that I didn't write about drinking, alcoholism, alcohol or dependency etc, etc, etc. I didn't want that to be the theme. Most people don't relate to it, and wouldn't want to.

Enjoying it, wasn't the reason. Writing a screenplay is time consuming and as one author said, "You stand over your typewriter and cut your wrists."

In writing it, I cleaned up my abilities and sharpened my thoughts. I bled a little, cried a little, fought with myself and commiserated.

In order for me to do it again, I would need to feel that my abilities have increased to the point I can write what I can think up. I can't yet. Give me time.:-)

Until then, I will comment. Hope that wasn't too much and that it answered your question.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, No, that's not too much.

I think your reasoning makes a lot of sense. Keeping busy tends to be the best way to overcome bad habits. I suppose that would help with alcoholism? I have no personal experience with alcoholism as I rarely drink because I don't like the taste of alcohol. But I've had clients who were alcoholics and they seemed to do better when they were busy.

It's interesting that people write for a lot of different reasons. Most of the best authors seem to have reasons to write other than just to be an author. I get the feeling that writing takes an inner drive beyond just "I think it would be fun to be a writer."

I've recently finished a book (legal thriller) which I started just to see if I could do it. I didn't like what was out there, in terms of being unrealistic and shallow, and particularly because most authors cheat to create tension. So I set myself some rules (things to avoid that are common in publishing and that I thought were cheating) and then I set out to see if I could do it.

In the process, I really began to love the whole process.

It turned out pretty well and people have suggested I try to get it published. But I'm kind of torn at the moment. I started looking for an agent and then I found a bunch of information about the publishing industry that makes me think it's pretty exploitive. So I'm debating self-publishing, but I'm not convinced either way yet.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

WriterX has given you guys an article on self-publishing. Check it out.

By the way, have you found anything interesting about writing other than you enjoy the process?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I remember.

Yeah, I've found a lot that's interesting about it.

For one thing, it's fascinating how real the world becomes -- after a while it becomes a real place and the characters become real people.

Indeed, on that point, I was amazed how independent the characters became. When I started out, they were all basically me, because they were voicing my lines. But after a while, they took on a life of their own and started to develop personalities that weren't me. That made them oddly independent of me. Also, my opinions of the characters changed over time and I became more or less sympathetic to them as I went. Because of this, the book actually didn't end the way I'd originally planned.

Equally interesting, the more I worked on these characters, the easier it became to spot how other writers had built their own characters. I'm not sure how to explain it, except that it's very easy now for me to tell when a writer created each character independently or when they just rammed them into the story without any real existence apart from satisfying the plot.

I also found that it definitely affected my mood depending on what part I was writing.

Beyond that, I found it really interesting how much it sharpened my writing in terms of how much fluff I was using -- particularly adverbs. One of the goals I set for myself was to not let the audience into the character's minds, and that meant the characters had to act in ways which let the audience understand them without a line that said, "X thought this was dumb." That resulted in a lot of adverbs, which I then had to remove, which really is where my brain got a work out -- fiction calls for very different skills than legal writing. The whole process really sharpened my writing skills.

How about you? What did you find?

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

I found that when I wrote a line of dialog that didn't fit what the character would likely say, the line sat and basically wouldn't move. I had to find a new word or phrase that the character could say. Or eliminate it entirely.

I also needed to finish the screenplay. At a certain point... I had the characters doing different things and the writing came easily but then it stopped and I couldn't go on until I resolved a portion of the play. I was told this could happen. Writer's block, but I think it is more a creative block than anything else.

It was horrible. I couldn't NOT think about the screenplay. To resolve it, I reread the play the umpteenth time, but only from one character's position.

That is when I found the offending line and I removed it from one character and changed it and gave it to another character to say. That broke that block and then I finished the screenplay.

I found it odd that this could stymie me. But it did.

The other thing, since I am a fan of a science fiction author, I started out to write a science fiction screenplay. It totally transform itself to what I wrote.

I started with an idea of a guy coming to pick up a child, not of his own. He was to take the child because the mother was about to be removed. She had called him.

After that, I started to develop the characters and make up backgrounds for each of them. As detailed as I could, but not write the story just yet.

This made the story work.

Joel Farnham said...

One other thing Andrew.

I find that I do have to write something. Each and every day. I am not writing a blog. I am writing comments.

I try to keep it pithy and short, but as you can see. I get longer and longer....

Robert Heinlein remarked that writing was a horrible addiction. As the addiction progresses, it takes longer and longer to get that feeling of .... completion.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I've found something similar, both in legal writing and in fiction -- the wrong word or line just throws the whole thing off, and until you can find that word/line, the whole story/document doesn't work. And once you do find it, everything suddenly falls into place.

I want to write science fiction. In fact, I've got several clear ideas for science fiction books already partially outlined in my head. But there are two things stopping me. First, I'm in the middle of doing a couple legal thrillers and I know I can't do both simultaneously. Secondly, I found that I need to have a challenge to write, and while I want to write the SciFi books, I don't have a real challenge yet -- though I'm thinking of making one of them a comedy, which would be a real challenge.... humor is very difficult to write.

In terms of writing every day, I write every day -- legal, fiction, and blog. It's probably a little too much, but I don't really want to give one up.

Ed said...

Not my favorite film. Good review though!

T_Rav said...

Joel, you mean I suffered an emotional breakdown this afternoon and had to resume my anti-psychotic meds for nothing? Thanks a lot! :-)

Andrew, you're writing some legal thrillers? That's cool. Are they going to be published any time soon?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Thanks!

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I'm torn on trying to get it published. I started the process, but then stopped trying to find an agent when I discovered what they pay (about $6,000 per book) and that they do no actual advertising/marketing. That got me (1) offended as it seems exploitive, like they're buying a lottery ticket when they buy your book -- you either make them rich or they toss you, but they don't help you, and (2) I started thinking I could do better through self-publishing.

I'm still collecting data on self-publishing costs, etc., but in the meantime I'm deep in a second book and that's got me distracted.

This might actually make a good article to see what people think?

rlaWTX said...

I haven't read the article and I haven't read all of the comments. I just want to say that I HATED this movie. That's all.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, LOL! You're not alone. Some people love it, more people hate it, and a lot of people just scratched their heads not knowing what to think!

T_Rav said...

Andrew, an article sounds great if it's got some excerpts or something. I'd be interested in reading it, especially by way of contrast with the books by John Grisham, whom I understand you're a fan of. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I don't think I would include an excerpt, at least not at this point.

Yeah, Grisham is not my favorite. In fact, he's the definition of what I was trying to avoid.

FYI, we'll probably be updating the site this week! :-)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Andrew!

Excellent review and comments!
I concur that this film, and nearly all of Kubrick's films are seriously lacking in several areas...especially when it comes to rewatchability.

Many faults can be overlooked if the director can get you to care about the characters...or at least make them interesting.
I think ytou nailed it when you said Kubrick brings a lot of nihilism to his movies.
And nihilism is just another way of sayin' "this film and other Kubrick films may have genius parts but they sure as heck ain't fun to watch for most folks...particularly not more than once."

I think some of Kubrick's films do a better job of getting the viewer to care such as Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, but IMO he pretty much went downhill from there.

The best part of 2001 is the part where HAL enters the pic. The only part I wanna see if it's on that is.

It's been awhile since I read the book but I was under the assumption that HAL had received updated orders from someone on earth...after the mission had started...to eradicate the crew.
Apparenbtly someone on earth wasnb't keen about the idea of possibly making contact with potentially violent aliens.
I could be wrong of course.

Also, when Dave reached his destination I was under the impression that either Dave completed human evolution and became a god or had godlike powers or he morphed into the aliens that left the monoliths (or both).
Again, it's been a long time since I read the book.

Incidently, and a bit OT but one thing I liked about Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is something I don't think he intended to happen.

That is, it looks like Kubrick is tryin' to cast the DI, Ermey (who did a spectacular job btw) as a really bad guy who is sadistic and only concerned about producing more "killers."
A common view of most leftists at the time and also today, but most leftists today at least try to pretend they have respect for our military.

Anyhow, I thought Ermey managed to get us the viewers to care about him (a rare thing in a Kubrick film) and to see that what he was doing would save lives by preparing his recruits, and that he did indeed care about them doing and being their best.

I could be wrong about this, but I seriously doubt that was Kubricks intention, especially since he was anti-all wars, anti-military, and anti-our founding Father's ideas about life, liberty and property.
IOW's he was a leftist.

Be that as it may, the man did some groundbreaking work in some areas of film making so there is that.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew:

I look forward to seeing your books in the future.
FYI I have a friend that has self published a book and if you like I would be glad to arrange an online meeting between you both if you wanna see how he did it.

Hey, howzabout a
scifi-legal-thriller? I can't think of one that has been done so that sub-genre is wide open. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, I've actually thought about a sci-fi legal thriller, but I'm not sure if people could relate? I supposed they could, as long as the proceedings were somewhat similar to what we have today? It is an interesting thought!

Let me get back to you on the self publishing. I'm deeply in a rhythm on the second book and that's keeping me from focusing on the publishing aspect at the moment, but I will turn my attention back to it once I slow down in the new book.

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, Thanks!

It's very possible that HAL got orders from Earth, but those aren't mentioned in the film. It's clear that the crew was kept in the dark about their real mission for some reason, and presumable so was HAL until they were well underway. That could be what sparked his killing spree? I doubt he was specifically told to kill anyone because of his deception -- if he was just following orders, he shouldn't have tried to hide what he was doing? Unfortunately, we just don't know. This an aspect that I wish Kubrick had developed.

In terms of Dave becoming a god, that's very possible. Again, there just isn't enough to tell us what Kubrick was hinting at, just enough symbols to make us think he had a specific point (which I don't think he really did). In fact, it feels a lot like the way college kids try to deep meaning into stories by interpreting symbols that aren't really symbols.... "oh, he said 'circle that must mean reincarnation!"

On Dave, I have wondered if he isn't already dead by the time he reaches the obelisk? It's possible that he died when he killed HAL and what we are seeing is a sort of "after-life journey" or that this is a version of his life passing before his eyes. I can't say one way or the other that he become a god or God or anything else, but it's definitely a valid possibility. And that's sort of my problem with what Kubrick has done -- there are many possibilities and there's no way to sort through them. Kubrick basically punted.

I agree with you about the drill instructor. I think we were meant to hate him, to see him as sadistic and solely concerned with abusing the recruits. But Ermey does a great job of infusing enough humanity and purpose into the character that we understand what he's really doing and why, and that I think makes us respect the guy rather than hate him.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew:

I concur. I was giving those speculations from the book. The movie totally lost me as to what the point was, especially at the end, and the lack of pacing really made me wish I had gone to see the Revenge Of The Pink Panther instead
(which I eventually saw...very funny!).

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, LOL! I love the Pink Panther movies! :-)

I never read the book, so I can't comment on that, so thanks for that perspective!

I really wonder if Kubrick made 2001 over today (assuming he was still alive), would he have made the same choices or would the film be very different? I'm honestly not sure. I would think it would be different, except that his style never really changed.

Dave Olson said...

OK, I'm almost 2 years late to this discussion. I was just minding my own business and said "Gee, I wonder what topics are at the index link labeled 'Stanley Kubrick?'" So here I am. Now, to business:

1) The Monolith (as it is called in the novels) is the way They travel throughout the universe, whoever the hell They are. They went from planet to planet encouraging development among its more promising species. They suggested to Moon-Watcher that he could do something useful with that bone over there, and he did. It set us on the path toward civilization. So Moon-Watcher, having just smashed the skull of a rival man-ape throws his bone in the air. And in one of the great cinematic cuts ---

2) It suddenly becomes....what? You're thinking of a spaceship, right? Well, no. It becomes an orbiting nuclear weapon. The movie and the novel were written at the heights of the cold war, the arms race, and the space race. It was assumed that they would merge and we would put nukes in space. Fortunately it didn't work out that way. (There's a reason the spaceship on "Mystery Science Theater" was shaped like a bone.) So another Monolith was found on the moon. It was deliberately buried there. The moment it was brought into sunlight, it signaled its big brother that was floating around Jupiter. You see, They left it there as an intelligence test. Once we made it to the moon and dug up the monolith, we passed.

3) HAL killed the crew because it was the only way to proceed with the mission. As it was explained in "2010", HAL was programmed to want the mission to succeed. He was given full knowledge of the mission in case the crew was lost. He was also programmed to not tell Poole or Bowman anything about the alien monoliths. But HAL's prime directive was the accurate presentation of data and information. This conflict literally drove him insane to the point where he believed the only way to complete the mission was to kill the crew.

4) IMHO, the ending was totally unnecessary once HAL was disconnected. Kubrick himself said that you weren't really supposed to know what the ending meant. (Oh great, if we'd all known that, we wouldn't have paid to get in the theater to watch the first 3/4 of the movie.)

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Excellent discussion of the obelisks.

John Jameson said...

When I first saw 2001, I enjoyed all of it up to the stargate, when it became too surreal and psychedelic for me. To appreciate the movie as a whole, I think it is necessary to realise that it is a deeply symbolic movie, aimed at the subconscious as much as the conscious mind. As in many (subsequent) scifi movies, such as Bladerunner, the plot is quite minimalist, but with a subtext inviting us to expand our mindset.

The invitation comes in the form of two mysteries: the monolith, and the behaviour of HAL. As Dave Olsen explains above, both have explanations in the context of the plot (especially with reference to the 2001 and 2010 novels by Arthur C. Clarke). The monolith is the swiss army knife of a highly advanced galactic civilization, which is monitoring and encouraging the development of intelligent life, while HAL's apparent insanity can be traced to the conflicts within its programming (mission success, accuracy and secrecy).

However, these metaphors also draw us in to the symbolism of the movie. Kubrick is drawing attention to the fact that we are currently passing through a new era in our evolution as a species, in which we can create and use tools without understanding how they work or what they can do. Most of us now have computers and phones that do things we do not understand, often without us realising it. HAL is a metaphor for the dominant computer manufacturer at the time, IBM (the acronym being a one letter shift). There are many (more or less) subtle references to IBM in the movie. On the other hand, the monolith represents enlightenment, coming from an external source. The black rectangle as a symbol for the monolith is even more pervasive in the movie than the IBM references. It is usually presented in a vertical orientation, with the second shortest side as the base. However, in certain key moments (e.g. the alignment of the planets) we see it in its horizontal orientation. This also happens during the intermission and in the stargate sequence, where there is a switch from vertical to horizontal views, a subconscious invitation to reevaluate what we have seen from a new angle.

Part of the genius of this movie, and of Kubrick, is that he disguises from us a symbol that we all instinctively recognize. In its vertical form, the monolith, as a source of information and enlightenment, is a mystery, but in its horizontal form, it is a commonplace.

AndrewPrice said...

John, It's undeniable that this is a fascinating film and it's captured the imaginations of millions.

That said, I am on the fence about Kubrick and whether Kubrick actually had a point or if he was just throwing out symbols to make us think he has a point. This is something I wonder about with many of his films, which seem to have suggestions of meaning, but no actual meaning. In this case, there are tons of symbols and ideas, but I'm not sure they actually add up to anything.

Ultimately, it seems that the only message he really included is the obvious one, which is that "humans were evolved by the creators of the monoliths." Then there's a sub-point about humans becoming machine-like and machines becoming human. I'm not sure what else is really being said.

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