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By Cassandra Goh

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Directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a story revolving around a series of encounters between humans and mysterious black monoliths. The film is themed with elements of the human evolution, artificial intelligence, technology and extraterrestrial life. Well-known for its scientific accuracy, minimalistic use of dialogue and special effects, 2001: A Space Odyssey earned an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

“The film is as exciting as the discovery of a new dimension in life.” – The Boston Globe’s review.

However, this film has also been critic with negative reviews for its hypnotic appeal and slow pacing, in which often alienates modern audiences.

“One of the grimmest films I have ever seen in my life… 2001 is a disaster because it is much too abstract to make its abstract points.” – Andrew Sarris, an American film critic.

2001 is considerable as an influence to special effects technicians, where a segment entitled “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001” was included in the 2007 release of the film. George Lucas labeled Kubrick as “the filmmaker’s filmmaker” and mentioned that the film was “hugely inspirational”.

In this film, there are 4 parts to the plot – The Dawn of Man, TMA-1, Jupiter Mission, and Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Seemingly, the hidden message Kubrick is suggesting is challenging the intelligence of audiences. The use of fractional messaging, fascinating and vivid images and repetition of similar scenes keeps audiences in awe.

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One notable transition is the scene in which the ape touched the monolith, and soon realizes the ability to use a bone as a tool. After which, the ape threw the bone in the air and the camera pans to follow closely – as it flips upwards and downwards, before cutting to the shot of an orbiting spacecraft which was interpreted as a nuclear warhead by many, one of the most advanced technology in existence. This is reflective as to the theme of human evolution and technology. It also has an underlying meaning of the destruction that such technology can cause.  The way human evolves from being an ape to a man, learning the abilities of critical thinking, surviving and transformation. As for technology, it suggests the advancement in technology where there is a change in the environment and surrounding.

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Commonly found in 2001 is the tendency to have plenty of white spaces – empty space – where there is no distinctive movement or dialogue. This creates a form suspense and tension, which is mostly accompanied by classical music – never played during dialogues. Also, 2001 is known as a film hard to decode. As part of fractional messaging, the monolith is a good example where it is through of information and concept throughout the film where one is able to piece them up together – the monolith may be the symbolism of intelligence and the discovery of new dimensions or even a representation of Kubrick himself.

Sound edits in this film is one of the key factor because it is what’s dominating the story. With a relatively sparse dialogue, music plays a crucial part in evoking moods and carrying out the essence of the film. The introduction of the film is a black screen, accompanied by a long calming music, in which probably is a reflection of space being therapeutic. It creates an imagery of space being empty and calm.

In The Dawn of Man, the setting of the film begins million of years back in the past, introducing a tribe of man-apes, trying to survive under the conditions of a drought. The sounds produced by the apes are a reflection of their desperateness and helplessness in surviving the drought.

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In scenes where the astronaut is out in space, the film is totally silent. This fits into the theme – scientific accuracy, where sound is unable to travel within space because of the lack of atmosphere.

Kubrick started the trend of using front projection as a film style. One of the scenes is the backdrop for the African scenes of the apes. The use of front projection technique allows the scene to appear more realistic as compared to green screen systems or painted backdrop. Additionally, most of Kubrick’s shots in 2001 are in wide angles. The wide angles in scenes is seemingly used a form of representation of meanings, opposed to just dialogues alone.

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The setting of a clean and corporate look of the Space Station, alongside the uniformly arranged modernized furnitures and neat outlook emphasizes on the portrayal of sterility in the film. The portrayal of travelling through colored lights in the Star Gate sequence, accompanied by therapeutic music that keeps audiences in suspense seemingly suggests that it is the idea of transformations and advancements of the future. This further portrays the film as a futuristic film – themed with scientific accuracy and technology advancements.

All in all, this film seems to hold the power of being an influence in playing with the human mind, where it is formed through subliminal messages and reaches audiences mostly through the use of sound, especially music. In the last scene of the film, it shows Bowman witnessing himself progressively growing old and eventually to be reborn – this suggests that there is then an evolutionary change.

The film also holds power in its own paradoxical nature. It centers around human logic, science and real human technology yet it takes people beyond the human mind, beyond what we think is right, beyond our logic and reality and makes us think more about what the universe really holds and what our future will be.

List of References: 

1. Space.com, 2013. A Look Back at Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. [Online] Available on: http://www.space.com/20482-2001-space-odyssey-infographic.html [Accessed 23 June]

2. Collative Learning, 2008. 2001: A Space Odyssey – “Kubrick: and beyond the cinema frame.” [Online] Available on: http://www.collativelearning.com/2001%20chapter%206.html [Accessed 23 June]

3. Cinema Autopsy, 2010. Free Will, Technology and Violence in Futuristic Vision of Humanity – 2001: A Space Odyssey. [Online] Available on: http://blog.cinemaautopsy.com/2011/06/03/free-will-technology-and-violence-in-a-futuristic-vision-of-humanity-2001-a-space-odyssey/ [Accessed 23 June]

* Cassandra Goh is a sleep deprived student trying very hard to survive in school. Aspiring to be a director/photographer. To know more: http://www.twitter.com/_kasandura

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2 thoughts on “2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

  1. HI CASS.

    Firstly, i would like to say that these was actually a very in-depth analysis of this what some people may call “an extremely boring film”.

    I like the fact that u elaborated on how the lack of dialogue actually gave a meaning or an attitude to the film itself.And also how u described the many key scenes of the movie, such as Clarke throwing the bone in the air. However i have some suggestions, you could explain more about the underlying meanings of the metaphors used in the movie. The bone that clarke threw in the air was actually a metaphor.

    The whole film is also largely based on scientific accuracy instead of the lack of logic as you have said, so maybe you could explain how this realism actually differs this movie from other movies such as Star Wars.

    Just some friendly suggestions! Otherwise goodjob! 😀

  2. Hello!

    I agree with what the previous comment said, that this was quite the in-depth analysis of ‘A Space Odyssey’.

    I like how you linked each scene to what kind of effect it would have on the audience and also how you wrote about the subliminal messages within this film. My favourite part was when you managed to identify the trend in the film – the white spaces that kept appearing.

    However, I felt that you could have elaborated on Kubrick’s obsession, which is widely known to others, the relationship between artificial and the natural. Also, Kubrick’s films had a lot of negative reviews so I felt that when you mentioned about the negative reviews for this film, you could have mentioned more about critics. For example, many thought that Kubrick was anti-technology or anti-nature so probably you can research more about that!

    Just some small suggestions to make your essay a even better one even though it is already good 🙂

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