From Under A Rock: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Today’s pick is truly iconic — a film that some consider Stanley Kubrick’s finest film and among the greatest ever made. Others look at it and just see something overrated and pretentious. What do we think?
You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.
Last week Michael chose Rick & Morty. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him 2001: A Space Odyssey.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Released: April 3rd, 1968
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Keir Dullea as Dr. David Bowmen
Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole
William Sylvester as Dr. Heywood Floyd
Douglas Rain as The Voice of HAL 9000
Daniel Richter as “Moonwatcher”
Aaron Hubbard: I believe Michael actually requested this one. But I’m glad to talk about it; the movie blew my goddamn mind the first time I saw it and I’ve been meaning to rewatch it. It’s never going to land in my favorite movies but I have immense respect for it as a piece of art.
Michael Ornelas: Believe it or not, I requested it because what I had seen of the movie, I absolutely did not enjoy, but I was a less mature viewer then who couldn’t appreciate certain aspects of filmmaking. I was hoping my tastes have evolved and would allow me to enjoy it this time. They totally have.
Technology and Evolution
Aaron: If 2001 has one objective, it’s to create a modern myth. Its story spans millions of years, starting with the most primitive humans and looking into the future of what might become of the human race. “The Dawn of Man” really tells us everything we need to know about 2001’s themes: primitive men come into contact with the alien monolith and obtain a higher state of consciousness. They develop tools; initially it benefits them, but it also works against them. Kubrick cuts between the ancient bone tool to the space satellite, equating both as human technology. Then the same basic narrative repeats itself in space, showing that even after years and years of evolution, we are still primitive.
Michael: It’s really an interesting idea, one that I hadn’t picked up on the first time I half-watched the movie. It was much more apparent this time, and created a thruline to the end of the film. It was evolution right before our very eyes. My favorite component of evolution in this film was watching Dave learn how to outthink Hal. Humanity’s greatest quality is resiliency and when one recognizes a threat, he comes up with a way to combat it, either directly or through avoidance. But at the end of the day, the human spirit of survival will prevail. One of the more standout scenes to me is watching Dave get back into the ship by launching himself out the back into the airlock without his gear on, and rushing to close the airlock so he can stabilize the room. It was a brilliant plan that felt like the “check” before the “mate” in a chess match, that was brilliantly foreshadowed with a literal chess match between the characters earlier in the chapter (which Dave lost, by the way).
Aaron: The HAL section of the film is outstanding, and probably the most beloved part of the movie. It’s also a direct nod to Homer’s Odyssey, with HAL being the cyclops that our hero must overcome. HAL is also a thematic crossroads; he is both technology and a sentient being created by us. The aliens helped make us, and we helped make HAL; it really makes one think about what will happen if we ever do come into contact with our creators (be they aliens or gods or something else). Will we be HAL, and will they be Dave?
Michael: Pause this movie at pretty much any given moment and analyze the frame; you’ll find that there’s something being said in every single shot. Kubrick was a master, and I lost my mind so many times at the sheer beauty of some of this film’s imagery. And this applies to every portion of the film. When we’re watching apes evolve, the landscape shots show the expansiveness of the Earth. When we’re watching mankind explore space, we’re treated to the beauty of intelligent design in the form of the ship. And when we find ourselves staring at a star baby after drifting through space, it was a visual treat. This movie (and director) provides audiences with unique cinematography from start to finish, and that (to me) is the film’s calling card.
Aaron: All of Kubrick’s best films are visual delights, and his framing is probably the one unifying theme between such disparate films as 2001 and The Shining. The film is also brilliantly constructed and edited. The glacial pace is intentional, and combined with the classical music, it invites the audience to really look at the images and think about their meaning. Combined with practical effects that still hold up today, this film is just an incredible and even emotional viewing experience. For some, it will fall flat, but for others, it can be profound.
Michael: Some of the effects that stood out the most to me were obviously the space station and the way gravity was represented (I loved the “jogging around the walls” sequence), the documentary feel of watching the apes at the beginning, and of course the design of HAL. I also loved the sound design and the respect for the fact that sound doesn’t travel in space. Anytime they were out in space, we couldn’t hear anything and that attention to detail is still often overlooked in modern movies.
Intelligent Design, Forbidden Knowledge, and the Afterlife
Aaron: Hoo boy, does this film have a lot to chew on with its themes. While the film is definitely “scientific” sci-fi and tackles weighty subjects like evolution and the proper use of technology, it also has a more spiritual element to it. Evolution occurs because of intervention from intelligent designers; the first interaction with the monolith allows us to create tools and dominate the earth. When we get to the moon, we develop space travel that can take us beyond. And once we reach Jupiter, we ascend to a higher state, reborn as something new and alien. Those are mind-blowingly big ideas. And Kubrick again calls attention to it with the music; the monolith theme is the single most unnerving piece of film music I’ve ever listened to. I actually felt physically ill the first time I watched the moon sequence.
Michael: The monolith idea is just so ominous and adds a lot to the film without ever overtly explaining it. Actually, the film doesn’t overtly explain anything, but that’s Kubrick for you. It lets the audience do half the work and requires brainpower to fully appreciate it. I’m lucky in that I don’t need to expend brainpower because I know you’ll break it down for me, Aaron. It’s a bit of a cop out, but hey, don’t fix what ain’t broken! Your explanation actually helped me tolerate the ending, because “random space baby” isn’t something I can really handle without seeing it tied into the themes of evolution and achieving higher consciousness. We do know that man came from ape, but we don’t know what will sprout from mankind, so it’s off-putting to see a visual representation of it. I harbored so much resentment for that “stupid” ending from the first time I watched it, and I’m glad I have a context for it now. The themes are what propel this movie into greatness, and this column is such a great outlet for us to dissect them.
Aaron: I enjoy that the film requires effort to decipher. In that sense, the film is almost easier to enjoy after you’ve seen it and analyzed it. One of the scenes that felt like filler to me was when Dr. Floyd makes a call to his daughter. But it’s a mirror of how the aliens are leaving messages for us; we are their children, from a certain point of view. The stargate sequence (an impossibly cool practical visual effect) is a crazy thing to experience, but it works so well as an answer to what it’s like to interact with those monoliths. Everything fits together very well, and I eventually realized that everything came together perfectly and there isn’t any fat. That’s impressive as hell.
Michael: I’m going to contradict myself here, in that I’m going to admit that I don’t like the ending, but I’m still going to give this movie top marks in spite of it. I think the themes of this movie are so strong that I chalk up my distaste for the ending as a mere misunderstanding on my end. This movie is a masterpiece from a visual standpoint, and I will definitely be revisiting it down the road.
Aaron: 2001 is special; the ambition is insane and the execution is nearly flawless. It has big ideas; it’s a meditation on evolution, intelligent design, death and rebirth, the very nature of humanity. It isn’t the most accessible film ever, but I consider it a transcendent masterpiece.
Michael: Man, we’re pretentious.
Aaron: This is what happens when you cross the Stargate.
What are your favorite Kubrick films?
Michael: I’m picking next week’s film because it actually reminds me a lot of 2001, but underwater. That’s not a perfect comparison, but it has elements of this that will make it a fun back-to-back viewing.
Aaron: I know nothing. This actually makes me excited, as your picks that I’m unfamiliar with almost always over-deliver for me.
Michael: What does that say about your expectations of me…?
What’s your favorite James Cameron film?
Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey