Sunday, 27 October 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Fig 1
There is no denying that the year 2001 did not live up to the visionary expectations of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, however with every composition and camera technique that makes A Space Odyssey such a realistic depiction of the future, the world makes one small step towards the past. With its vast time scale jumping from the Dawn of Man to days of intergalactic travel, A Space Odyssey takes the viewer on a subjective, psychedelic adventure, the body of which follows the story of a mission to Jupiter. David, the protagonist of the film, slowly becomes suspicious of the motives that ultra-intelligent motherboard, HAL, has been planning in order to secure domain over the mission.

Fig 2
All the while, there remains a curious, minimalistic structure which appears in all three acts of the film, from the wastelands of the Dawn, to the moon base and then finally at the foot of David’s deathbed. Despite the metaphorical ideas that could spring from this teleporting rectangle, Kubrick describes it thusly: “You begin with an artefact left on earth four million years ago by extra-terrestrial explorers who observed the behaviour of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artefact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe – a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artefact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.” (Kubrick 1969) Kubrick manages to make these immersive interstellar jumps appear somewhat relatable with bold uses of colour contrasting over natural environments that the viewer would otherwise recognise, making them seem other-worldly.

Fig 3
Within the big ideas of intergalactic signals and symbolic references to creation, the HAL 9000 remains one of the most surreally creepy antagonists in film history. Roger Ebert recalls the famous lip-reading scene: “The way Kubrick edits this scene so that we can discover what HAL is doing is masterful in its restraint: He makes it clear, but doesn’t insist on it. He trusts our intelligence.” (Ebert 1997) The intensely personal close-up shots presented as HAL communicates with the crew are reminiscent of the introduction to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs; however the incredible burning colours of HAL’s interface make him an all the more disturbing character, grouped with his consistently monotone voice and eerie presence.

Fig 4
The film is much more of a visual spectacle than a credible story, which is often why the musical scores fill a lot of the more cinematic scenes. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is in many respects a silent film. There are few conversations that could not be handled with title cards. Much of the dialogue exists only to show people talking to one another.” (Ebert, 1997) It is only when we consider how several segments of the film, when put together, produce well over an hour of footage without dialogue, which has become a dying practice in today’s world of cinema. Stanley Kubrick took great risks in order to produce such a feast for the eyes, which is why A Space Odyssey still has its feet firmly on the ground today.

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