Last week, you may recall, I mentioned seeing John Ford's Fort Apache on the big screen at a Saturday matinee. What I didn't tell you was, on the same day, there was also an opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddessy at the World Theater in Kearney, a sister burgh, where I had already seen the likes of JAWS, Swiss Family Robinson, and Young Frankenstein as they were meant to be seen. Alas, this was also bill paying day; and no matter how hard I crunched the numbers I just couldn't creatively finance or justify the scratch for the tank of gas needed for this screening. And so, I settled for the next best thing and finally broke open my BlueRay copy of 2001, which I had rescued from a $5 bin the day I bought the player nearly two years ago. (I rescued a copy of The Outlaw Josey Wales from the same bin. Haven't watched that one yet either. *sigh*)
And so and so, I finally saw 2001: A Space Oddessy, digitally remastered, and in the right aspect ratio, and my mind was blown all over again in the comfort of my recliner. Not the same by any stretch, but it would do.
Now, the first time I tried to watch this movie ended in disaster. I was probably seven or eight years old when 2001 made its broadcast TV debut and I nearly gave up on it during the opening 'Dawn of Man' sequence but decided to stick it out -- for about another ten minutes, when I officially gave up during the interminable space-docking waltz and started cranking through the other channels. Both of them, and settled on something else. Most probably a Dukes of Hazard rerun.
I revisited it again in my late teens on video, but still didn't really get it, taking the film at face value -- or the value of the face that I saw: a pretentious sci-fi movie / cold-war parable about a man's hubris and a villainous super-computer turned homicidal that took an odd and exhaustive route to get there and then got really full of itself for the last ten minutes or so. Then, about a decade later, returning home one Friday night from the bar, bombed out of my skull, I found 2001 playing on one of the SuperStations and watched it for a third time, mesmerized, and the quarter finally dropped and I finally 'got it.' I think. Maybe. The long and the short of it: I just wasn't thinking big enough.
To me, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not about space exploration or a paranoid sentient computer in need of some Clozapine. (Teenage me thought the alien monoliths turned HAL homicidal.) No. Those are just means to an end. Nope. It's about the evolutionary progress of man -- more to the point, the moments which trigger or cause advances up the scale of such things. We begin at the beginning, with the use of basic tools and then warp ahead to show how far we've evolved and taken this technology: to the point where it is on the verge of surpassing us -- if it hasn't already; and also to the point where the tools we invented that allowed us to kill to survive and dominate is now capable of killing us to do the same. I've also felt that this was to somehow show that we, as a species had gone as far as technology could take us. The completion of a first step, if you will. We've built these amazing machines, but are still fallible. Thus, the question is: Are we ready for the next step? Whatever the hell that may be.
Of course, according to the film and the books it was based on by Arthur C. Clarke (The Sentinel), these steps have been prodded along by some higher power, who left benchmarks (the Monoliths) to spark and mark our progress as a species, which signal to the Big Unknown whenever an objective is reached. (From the Earth to the moon, and now, to Jupiter.) And when we are finally able to reach that last threshold, the Big Unknown deems us advanced enough and worthy of a closer look, which leads to the infamous stargate sequence, where Bowman's pod is reduced to a sperm-like speck as it warps into another place and another time, destined to be reborn, where he is observed further in the 'cosmic zoo', where everything happens at once like a theoretical tangled ball of cosmic string. (The second step.) And, in the end, we are judged to be worthy. (I think.) And the 'Star Child' is returned to Earth to mark a new beginning and trigger the third step.
What that third step is, well, that's up to each viewer. Mine is probably a little too optimistic, but, it was at this moment, with this interpretation, right or wrong, when I officially fell in love with the movie and never looked back. It's also one of the reasons I'm torn over the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which I enjoyed but kinda blows this theory all to hell since it basically says that we weren't worthy after all and the Big Unknown was starting over on Europa.
All of this seems fairly obvious in hindsight. I freely admit it. But! The best part is, there is no 'right answer' when talking about opinions -- and none, no matter how much we trumpet them, are never definite. Philosophical debates and different interpretations aside, the film is a true technical marvel and a visual feast in its production design and execution -- which is a whole 'nother conversation for another day altogether.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick Productions :: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Stanley Kubrick / AP: Victor Lyndon / D: Stanley Kubrick / W: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke (novel) / C: Geoffrey Unsworth / E: Ray Lovejoy / M: Patrick Moore / S: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack