It’s been nearly 50 years since 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered. I had never seen the film before, but the anniversary of the film’s release on April 3 encouraged me to finally watch it.
2001 is an epic. It set forth a standard for the genre of science fiction films that would come to fruition in the 1970s and 80s. The fantastic choices of music, breath-taking cinematic effects, eerily spot-on predictions of aspects of the future and the discussion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) all defined the way future sci-fi films would discuss the future.
The film’s music was a character itself. Bombastic classical music filled the otherwise quiet film to highlight the incredible nature of the moments taking place. Stanley Kubrick intentionally chose to keep the silence of space intact, the first film to share a realistic depiction of space exploration.
The only exception in the otherwise perfect score is the gut-wrenchingly horrible clashing chords that made me wish I didn’t have ears, and I was oh-so-happy I had a mute button on my TV. However, the chords do play an important part in telling the story. Kubrick created a 3-hour movie and only used 40 minutes of dialogue, meaning that imagery and music had to tell most of the story. The chords help to highlight the tension, mystery and claustrophobic aspects of the scenes. They also demonstrate the unnatural nature of man in space.
The imagery Kubrick used in the film is outstanding, even by today’s standards. It is still amazing to watch, especially knowing that the creation of the images was painstakingly long and difficult. The sweeping views of the spaceships and planets are incredibly intentional and never cut away too soon. The designs on the bodies of the spaceships undoubtedly influenced the design of ships in future works, most notably in the Star Wars series.
Kubrick shot scenes of people differently than he shot the space crafts. He would intentionally take harsh, angled shots of the actors in the ship to display emotions of the characters and unnatural nature of living in space. There’s a scene of Dr. Ralph Halvorsen sitting on a bench, and the view slides to be looking up at his face, which is tilted to the side. These create two conflicting angles and make the effect even more jarring.
Images from 2001 are entirely intentional. Kubrick requisitioned the assistance of Carl Sagan and experts who had worked at NASA, helping to ensure the accuracy of the footage in representing space and residences in space.
His predictions for the technology with the space stations and shuttles were also eerily accurate. Throughout the movie, we saw films embedded in the headrests of the seats on the shuttle, voice recognition software being the equivalent of Skype or Facetime, and of course, AI.
Along with the help he received from Sagan and former NASA workers, Kubrick also spent time with an MIT professor who was developing AI. HAL 9000, commonly known as HAL, was the AI that ran the shuttle in the third part of the movie. HAL represented the potential future of what AI could do — and the risks that could come with it. Even though HAL was created to be flawless, the AI did indeed have flaws … very fatal flaws. There are still conversations today about what AI passes the Turing Test, the exam to determine whether a robot could pass as a human.
HAL as a character is much more than a prediction of the future. Even though he’s nothing more than a voice and a robotic “eye,” HAL is one of the most compelling characters of the entire film. He had moments of being truly emotional, displaying pride, humor and fear. These moments provided us with some of the most iconic lines of the film. My favorite is “What a nice rendering, Dave. You’re really improving.” Because who doesn’t want praise from a murderous, hyper-intelligent robot?
One of the most compelling moments of the film was when Dave had to kill HAL. There are other deaths throughout, most marked in quiet, understated ways. When HAL is shutting down, you hear the voice slowing down and getting deeper, as HAL experiences the feeling of his brain shutting down. Within the scene, HAL says he’s afraid and begins to “remember” his “youth.” In his last moments, he sings the song “Daisy,” building a strangely touching moment for an AI that already ruined an entire space mission by killing almost the entire crew.
HAL wasn’t the only interesting choice Kubrick made throughout the film. Kubrick boldly went where no man had gone before: starting a movie about space with a scene of apes. Besides jarring the audience, the beginning portion of the film served two important purposes. First, it grounded the movie and reminded viewers that humans are unevolved in the vastness of space. Second, it set up the mystery of the curious black monolith that reappeared throughout the movie. My favorite part of the apes, though, is all the apes in the film were actually played by mimes in costume with the sound of chimpanzees placed over the recording.
This first exploration of the final frontier set forth an exploration of space in film and media. 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced creators of future stories in the sci-fi genre and accurately predicted parts of our future technology. The legacy that this film left is much more than being the trend-setter for future films — it has a legacy of incredible directing choices, a fantastic score and amazing film technique.
If you haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, definitely take time to do so. While I’m happy I didn’t have to sit through the three-hour film in theaters, I am happy to have experienced a classic film and to have seen why people have so much to say about it. Hopefully its 49th birthday will encourage you to watch too!
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Stephanie Wood at Stephanie.a.Wood@colorado.edu.