2001: A Space Odyssey



Notes: MGM.
Produced and Directed: Stanley Kubrick
Written: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke

David Bowman: Keir Dullea
Frank Poole: Gary Lockwood
Voice of Hal 9000: Douglas Rain

Pre-Commentary: Shot with $10.5 million over a period of four years. Originally, Martin Balsam was the voice of Hal.

Summary: “The Dawn of Man.” It looks like an uninhabitable arid desert wasteland to me, but our ape ancestors liked it. So did tapirs. One day a cat leaps from the rocks and kills an apeman. Another day another tribe attacks. Everyone screams a lot and the original tribe maintains puddle domination. They grunt in their cave at night. At dawn, an obelisk appears. They touch it. It seems associated with astronomy. One apeman plays among the remains of a long-dead animal and discovers the game tiddly-bones. He bashes away at this symbolic image of death. After some flesh-eating, the apemen of this tribe now use bones as clubs, attack the puddle-tribe, beat one of the defenders to death, and take the puddle. A celebrant throws his bone in the air.

The bone becomes a spaceship, and Strauss waltzes accompany space footage. A stewardess in white carefully balances herself as she proceeds down the aisle. We are introduced to Hayward R. Floyd as he identifies himself to a voiceprint i.d. machine. He talks to his moron daughter on a videophone and meets with doctors concerned about a mission out of contact now for ten days. When they call, the recorded message says that “the phone lines are out of order.” They’ve heard rumors of an epidemic. Justifying the distrust these Russian doctors have, Floyd insists he is “not at liberty to discuss” the matter.

Back to the Viennese space travel, we see a stewardess turn upsidedown to serve meals. Floyd lands to take a meeting with the mission personnel out of contact. The epidemic rumor is a cover story to delay the culture shock that will be brought about by news of the discovery: a structure deliberately buried four million years ago on the moon. Six astronauts visit this and see a monolith like that the apes had seen. They touch it similarly. About to take a picture, they are tortured by a piercing alarm noise.

On another spaceship a man jogs around the wall. BBC 12 announces their tv interview of the Discovery crew of five (three in suspended animation called hibernation) and a HAL 9000 computer, the “brain and nervous system” of the operation. Interviewers ask it questions and then ask an astronaut if HAL has emotions like pride. He acts like it since he was programmed to seem human, but real emotions?

One of the two conscious astronauts, Frank, receives a video birthday greeting from his parents. HAL reclines chairs, wins at chess, and asks Dave, the other conscious astronaut, if he can scan Dave’s sketches. HAL asks Dave “a personal question” regarding second thoughts about the mission. HAL wonders about the high security and the melodrama of bringing aboard those three already in hibernation. HAL then announces that there’s a part that will fail, although nothing will seem wrong with it until it does. When the part is retrieved, HAL advises that it be put back, allowed to fail, and communications will be out briefly with no serious consequences.

Mission Control says the computer is wrong. HAL blames human error —— the 9000 series has never been wrong. Dave and Frank climb into a pod where HAL can’t hear them and discuss the need to disconnect the higher brain functions of HAL. But we realize HAL can read lips.

When Frank tries to replace the part, he becomes separated from life support and hurdles away in space. Dave in another pod rescues the body while HAL declares a computer malfunction and cuts off life support for the three people in hibernation. Then he won’t open the pod bay doors for Dave and soon cuts off conversation with him. Frank’s body is released into space as Dave dangerously enters an emergency hatch. We hear Dave’s labored breathing inside his helmet as he makes his way through the ship, and HAL’s eerie psycho-mom attempts to get Dave to “take a stress pill and think things over.” As Dave makes a series of disconnections, HAL repeatedly states, “My mind is going.” HAL regresses, disclosing that he was born January 12, 1992 in Urbana. Early on he was programmed to sing “Daisy,” which he does now as his voice lowers and dies. A secret stored message is revealed: 18 months ago, evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligent life was discovered below the surface of the moon. A monolith and the planet Jupiter are somehow involved.

Dave plunges torturously through a long light show, ends up in a glamorous mansion, sees and maybe becomes an old man eating at a table and breaking a glass. The old man is in bed next, with labored breathing. Then it’s a fetus. As the glorious Richard Strauss music plays, fetus meets planet.

Commentary: Bring back the apes.

The widescreen version of this film is particularly suited to capturing the vastness of the locale —— space. Cropped, the infinity of space is sacrificed.

HAL is nicely bland-voiced —— a mechanical Stepford pal. The idea was that if you take the next letter of the alphabet for each letter in HAL, you have a lawsuit in 1968.

It is acknowledged that the setting takes over as the central interest of the film, with Kubrick lovingly and lingeringly photographing the instruments of the spaceship, various space stations, and the enormous expanse of outer space. The few people in the film seems incidental and less interesting. The only real personality, ironically, is HAL.

Unfortunately, filmdom took this movie as its license to bore when it comes to space movies. Hence Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and that godawful 1969 Gregory Peck / Gene Hackman flick that goes by various names (e.g., Marooned) and served as torture for Joel and the bots on MST3K.

Regarding the final sequence, I’ve read that a third monolith is on one of Jupiter’s moons. I missed that. And regarding the old man followed by the fetus, I’m told, “From death is born new life.” Yeah, whatever. As for the last scene, I say “abort.”