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2001: A Space Odyssey / Oddity !

May 8, 2012

Last night was film night, a few beers and few friends, pizza and a classic dvd (… discuss lol)

We watched a film that I’ve wanted to see for a while, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘ 2001: A Space Odyssey ‘. I’d not read  much about it, as I wanted to form my own opinions and not be swayed by other people’s views. It came out in 1968, a year before the first moon landing, and there’s a lot written about the difficult and exhausting efforts that Arther.C.Clarke (author) and Kubrick encountered in the four years of its making (see here). Below are a couple of the original film advertising posters.

It begins with 2 minutes of a completely black screen and accompanying background music, proceeded by about 20 minutes of visual explanation of man’s beginnings, as apes, discovering how to use tools as weapons. This was ( I must say) my least favourite part of the whole film, but undeterred we watched on and we were rewarded by the visuals that followed. Researchers were convinced that Pan Am Airlines would have been the type of company who would eventually have taken their aircraft into space, so Kubrick helped them on their way by adding them to his film.

Spectacular effects and visuals. Considering this was made 9 years before George Lucas created ‘Star Wars’, I can only assume that Lucas must have been greatly influenced by the look of this film.

The creation of a huge revolving set in the MGM English studios, allowed for some amazing camera scenes of one of the astronauts exercising in his spacecraft.

Other revolving scenes, allow the actors to casually walk up walls and disappear through moving hatches. Kubrick cleverly angles the camera allowing us to believe that there really isn’t any gravity in his film. Elaborate costumes and dramatic sets all contribute to the films visual ability to draw the viewer in.

The Space-craft’s main computer is called Hal. It controls everything and observes everyone, appearing in the film in the form of  a ‘ red eye ‘. Kubrick places a reflection over Hal’s red light, that shows the viewer what it’s looking at. Occasionally we even observe the astronauts from Hal’s perspective. This constant change of viewing perspective seems to be another way to leave the audience with a strange feeling of displacement. Sideways shots and filming scenes from high or low angles, also help to increase this dizzy perspective, making the viewer question who’s seeing what and whether they are in fact a viewer or more of a participant in the action. It’s a strange feeling.

I’d say that this definitely won’t be everyone’s favourite film, nor is it an easy film to watch. Minimum dialogue, long sequences of classical music accompany some of the space scenery. After saying all that and taking a step away from the analysis of what the film’s deeper significances could be.

The film is a visual feast.

It is one of the only films I can think of that principally uses silence to build up the viewers tension, rather than today’s typical usage of dramatic music to keep the audience gripped. The sequences when the astronauts are loudly breathing in their spacesuits, made me also feel breathless. The colours in the film are stunning and it’s possibly one of the earliest films to use product placement (Pan Am, Hilton Hotel etc) as a form of advertising that I’ve seen. It has also been a huge influence on films, interiors, advertising media and a whole host of space related products.

There are many sites on the internet like this one from Rob Ager, where people have done extensive research into the ideas behind the film itself and offer possible theories as to Kubrick’s hidden depth and meanings behind his space masterpiece. Apparently Kubrick has claimed that all the clues to unlock the films’ full explanation are there in the film, you just have to watch closely and decipher them ! I fear I may have missed a couple lol

Kubrick was so passionate about how his film was portrayed that according to the IMDB Trivia page the following proposal was made. “When Stanley Kubrick learned that his film would have an intermission in most cinemas (as this happened in most films that length) he not only ordered where the intermission took place, but had his film’s composer record specific music for the intermission, and requested that the theatre be plunged into darkness for a minute before the film restarted.”

As a subtle link, David Bowie wrote his song ‘Space Oddity’ (Ground Control to Major Tom) in 1969. It was obviously a nod to Space Odyssey and came out in perfect time for the moon landing too. Andrew Kolb is a talented illustrator who decided to create a Children’s book from the lyrics of Bowie’s song. Sadly the Bowie camp who own the song, weren’t too happy that he’d used the lyrics on his site and made him break all links between the two. Advertising and illustration agencies were however very impressed on hearing the tale and seeing his work. He has since earned much work as a result of his creative space book talents.

You can see Andrew’s complete book with musical accompaniment here.

If anyone has watched ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and would care to share their views on it, I’d be interested to hear them.

I’d like to dedicate this post to Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon who passed away today August 25th 2012 aged 82.

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