Sunday, 19 February 2012

2001:A Space Odyssey

Ambitious is too small a word - Kubrick has crafted a film that attempts to capture all the essence of humanity in a few short hours. This staple of sci-fi films is also a captivating experience, that engages deep questions of life, and like life, leaves them largely unanswered, but better explored.

C.S. Lewis describes pride as 'the great sin' - the greatest flaw in humankind.
"There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others" (Mere Christianity)

I know Stanley Kubrick wasn't a Christian, and probably disagreed with Lewis on many things,  but I bring this up because when I watched his film this week, that quote stuck in my mind throughout the dialogue scenes. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film very much about the human condition; it was poorly received when it first screened to critics, but over time has become known as one of the greatest films ever made, partly for it's groundbreaking effects, and partly for its unconventional narrative that touches on some of the biggest questions of life...

I'll address the films technical merits before I explain the Lewis quote. The effects are simply superb! It's a shame about the title, because that's really the only aspect of this film that has aged. 2001: A Space Odyssey could probably pass off as something done in the past 20 years... but it was actually made in 1968! There's never a moment where the strings are visible - no obvious CGI, or lame looking puppets, simply good, well executed tricks of light, camera and staging used to give us the impression of infinite space. Researching this film, it's amazing to hear how much effort went into coming up with space ship designs that were realistic and practical - every part on screen has a hypothetical purpose, even the almost comically elongated Discovery has a legitimate reason for being so. Arthur C. Clarke was also a genius at predicting the future - perhaps he inspired the tablet, which features so prominently in a movie made before

The editing is classic Kubrick - designed to draw attention to itself. Kubrick believed that editing was the most unique thing about the medium of film, and he uses it to great effect in his filmmaking. Harsh cuts away from a rising musical score are bold and striking, as during the opening scenes with the apes, and on the moon. Long takes are slow and meditative as ships glide or dance through space. The few moments of fast cutting inject a sudden excitement to the plot as Frank is thrown into space. Flashes of Bowman's face in the stargate sequence are surprising and disturbing - and we mimic the face.

The whole film has a very slow and steady pace to it. Don't watch if you're sleepy; I'd imagine zoning out and waking up to the final sequence would mess with ones head. Watch with a sense of patience and a willingness to let the film take you on a journey. It's an experience more than a story. A thoughtful meditation on the progress and potential of humankind - as well as our struggles, dreams and pitfalls. It spans from the age of prehistoric man, to the possible future, and the suggestion that we are mere children in our understanding of the universe.

To the quote: I know it's a little obvious (spelled out by a news reporter in fact), but the HAL 9000 has a problem with pride. And of course, why wouldn't he? He's made by humans to be human like, but humans are proud, even if they don't realise it. Proud enough to try and build a machine that eliminates the possibility of 'human error'. A flawed being can only create a more flawed being, so in trying to fix the obvious flaws of humanity, they only exaggerated the less visible ones. It makes complete sense for HAL to be a tall poppy, just as it makes sense for his proud creators to not see it in him. It takes an outside observer to see our pride. It is a powerful motivator, but a dangerous one. It is only when we overcome our pride that we can realise how small we are in the universe, and then we have the potential to mature beyond the child that we are. Only once HAL is disconnected can the humble Bowman venture across the star gate, and become like a child once more. A star child, with so much potential.

On an unrelated note: I hope this will be a return to form for my blog. I've had an awful bout of writers block over the past few weeks, but Uni starts back tomorrow, and I will probably blog mostly about films I watch in class, because those are the ones I need to be thinking about for good grades. :)