27 November 2014

Author Sarah Alexander

Background

In 1968, a sci-fi extravaganza hit cinemas worldwide, opening up new possibilities in space travel and not only reached a cult status of unimaginable proportions but cleared the path for another five decades of unearthly bound projects. We are talking about the one and only- 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey is first and foremost, a scifi cult classic, and inarguably as good now as it was 48 years ago. Visually mind blowing for its time, the ambition, scale and innovation in Kubrick’s unearthly epic, is something filmmakers of today strive for and rarely achieve. 2001: A Space Odyssey is still cited and voted as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, continuing to inspire and act as a comparison when today’s box office contenders such as Gravity and Interstellar step up to the criticism plate.  In 1991 the United States Library of Congress deemed it to be “Historically and Aesthetically significant” and was chosen for preservation in the national film registery.

Co-written by director and novelist Arthur C Clarke, the film charts the progress of civilisation through the influence of mysterious black monoliths on prehistoric apes developing their skills and, later, on astronauts. Working with a crew of 36 technical designers, representing 12 countries, and working in association with 40 industrial research scientific concerns, Kubrick insured (for the time) scientific accuracy and logic in his of space exploration much like with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar which looks at black holes, relativity, gravitational waves, folds in space, time dilation and worm holes amongst other scientific theories.

We have of course travelled light-years in the way science fiction is presented to us cinema goers since the early 1900’s when Georges Méliès created what is considered the first ever sci-fi feature-a short silent film called Le Voyage dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902. The animation drew inspiration from the likes of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells The Sentinel depicting images of a spacecraft being launched to the moon –the story of which features in 2012’s Oscar winning Hugo. The special effects used by Méliès are the foundations on which the award winning visual effects used in today’s mega feature films are built upon. Everything from the production process to unimaginable technological advances that have created and shaped blockbusters such as the War of the Worlds reboot, Independence Day in 1996, James Cameron’s Avatar and today’s current box office no1 -Interstellar.

If you have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey you would not be wrong in summarising that there is in fact very little plot to work with and perhaps the most striking attribute is the largely dialogue-free scenes, with Kubrick allowing instead for specific engaging music (Ligeti, Khachaturian) and the beauty of the clean sterile images to work their intergalactic magic.

The first scene is set unmistakably in pre-historic times. Ape-men scrabble for food in a rocky wilderness, cowering in fear of wild beasts, screaming abuse at rival tribes from a discreet distance. Suddenly a strange black monolith looking object appears in their midst and after one of the ape-men discovers the secret of killing with a club made from bone, it is tossed into the air before transforming into a spaceship. We are instantaneously transported forwards into 2001 where another monolith has just been unearthed. 

The majority of ASO is spent speculating about the monoliths, when they were buried, by whom and with what purpose, evidently the answers are centred around Jupiter and a mission to explore further is launched. HAL 9000, this ships AI and on-board computer system is almost the villain of the production, when he begins to behave very strangely leading to an almost mutinous intense showdown between man and machine. The result is a mind-bending voyage through time and space.

The film touches on various subjects focusing on Human Evolution, Survival, Space exploration, our life-long obsession with finding A.I and the desire to the break boundaries of science even if it is solely based on speculation and wonder. All of which are still relevant and in question today. We must remember that Kubrick’s production came only 7 years after Russian Space explorer-Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to exit our atmosphere and reach beyond the stratosphere. There was a huge global excitement around what this meant, what we would find, if Russia would fail or succeed and finally answer that black hole sized questions-are we alone in the universe? Even now with the recent Comet landing the human race is almost genetically designed to want to explore the possibility of escaping earth and finding somewhere and something else. 2001: ASO supplied audiences with a suggestive, majestic experience of what space exploration MIGHT be like and far surpassed the expectations of MGM and Stanley Kubrick’s initial goals taking in an almost unheard of $190Million at the box office.