“Open the Pod bay doors, Hal”: A discussion of 2001 – A Space Odyssey, evolution and the battle of humanity versus technology…

Warning! Warning! This following discussion discusses extensively my thoughts on the film and related material and so contains  major spoilers for 2001 – A Space Odyssey. Read ahead at your own risk…

I’m going to preface this retrospective by saying, Space Odyssey is one of the best looking movies ever made and as a fan of film alone, it makes watching the film a great experience, especially on a technical level. However, whilst everything is perfect on a technical level, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect film by any stretch, it’s a great film and I can get a lot out of it in each viewing. This will mainly be about the film itself rather than the book as I haven’t read it yet but I may later edit this post to include elements from both versions. 

Its an epic Sci-Fi film but is based more in symbolism rather then in story. In some ways its also dated but in no way that hinders watching it but rather gives it extra charm and helps it hold up against many films of the time or even of the decade. It’s more about setting up subtext and atmosphere and takes multiple viewings to understand fully in any shape or form. But if I’m to talk about the film properly, I would like to go back to the beginning of both the movie, Space Odyssey, and humanity itself. 

Where we begin is the dawn of man and the arrival of the main item of puzzlement for our movie, the Monolith, a smooth black rectangle that appears throughout the film seemingly from the same universe that we see at end of the film, a gate to evolution and an object with no specific intention. We begin with a documentary style film depicting the lives of apes in the presence of this obvious slab seem quickly evolve through the use of tools and their own understanding. In this first scene we are welcomed with the beginning of early human development and intelligence, something that is shown at its best and worst throughout the rest of the film. This is where the main subtext of this film is presented, this being how we evolve as human beings and the good and bad that comes from that and our dependence of technology. 

Another thing is, whilst I’m going to break down this movie section by section and look at how Stanley Kubrick and his crew have excellently engineered the film, I think it would be unnecessary to explain the actual plot of the film. If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably seen the film and if you haven’t just watch it, especially if you are a film fan or Sci-Fi geek like myself. It’s a film, as I said based more in symbolism. The film is more meant to be a representation of how space travel could realistically progress if we kept going with the space-race. Most elements are very classy but realistic in its representation of how the 60’s see the future. Space just feels so authentic even at a time when no one had even been to space yet. It gets many things right even in a very 60’s looking way but because of the Cold War, we just haven’t been able to reach those feats just yet. With that very sharp transition, however, I would like to talk about one of the best edits of all time.

The transition from the dawn of man to the film’s very classy version of the future, showing us the beginning of humanity and where we are now is a very smooth one. We are shown a bone transitioned to a ship in space, the final frontier which is a great sign of how our use of tools has greatly improved since the dawn of humanity…well atleast a version of it. We are very advanced from our ape counterparts, we explore the universe and we use tools no longer needed to smash or kill but actually provide us with food instantly, no need to prepare ourselves, ready for us to eat, we are at luxury, an advanced race.

We are at luxury but we are still curious and something that really brings out our curiosity is the return of a familiar monolith although with no sign of origin or intention. It’s ominous to say the very least and brings up many questions. Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Is it sentient? We will probably never know the answers but what we do know is that it is there and has some purpose which many posts and videos like this one try to decode. We all know though, its only Kubrick and his crew that really knows what is going on with the monolith, except for one thing, it somehow begins the evolution from ape to human. I could speak more of it but best let the scene speak for itself. 

This investigation is left still unanswered, however, we land ourselves next in the Discovery One with a simple mission, to study and observe Jupiter. Here we meet our main protagonist Dave, another astronaut and the menacing robot Hal 9000, the main computer system running the Discovery One. Through the next of these scenes, it’s basically a slow burning and great looking space opera, Stanley Kubrick working at his finest to build a very detailed picture of the daily space routine, the quiet and empty atmosphere and the study of Jupiter. 

What we get next is nothing less than visually stunning, travelling through the Discovery One with our protagonist, a spaceship both realistic feeling and utterly fantastical. Space travel, even though it was being made before anyone even reached the Moon is incredibly authentic in its portrayal of space travel in spite of that. This comes a lot from Stanley Kubrick’s and his crew’s extensive work to make every shot (by cinematographer Greggory Unsworth) and piece of the film perfect and realistic with help in plot from the writer of the original short story, Arthur C. Clark and the many prop-makers and producers such as Victor Lyndon.

Many ideas are just out of the reach of us currently but always seem like they could realistically happen in the future especially in aspects such as Hal 9000, voiced by the late Douglas Rain, a very dangerous, intelligent and advanced version of the current android but in every way realistic. The android that seems sentient and so brings up a very important question. Is it immoral to shut down an android if it has reached the stage where it has the same self awareness as we do? He cries for help, he only wants to complete one mission and in many ways makes similar mistakes as we do all without our sense of empathy. 

Hal and his battle with Dave over control of the ship after the android’s fear of deactivation is the main element of the film for a reason. Hal is an intelligence beyond our own but still with our own ability to make mistakes and overthink, that as we see here is a dangerous combination. The scene quickly turns from a calm trip up in space to a kind of cat and mouse thriller, seeing who can “deactivate” each other first to save the ship after one malfunctions. Hal has already broken the three laws of robotics after killing other astronaut Frank Poole and he’s on his way to  destroy the ship. By this point, it’s basically a terrifying race against time to try and save the ship, deactivate Hal and get off the ship before it explodes. 

Hal 9000 as an android is so incredibly realistic to what current androids are capable of in the current age of technology. The ability to communicate and respond with ease (Siri did this ten years ago), the high intelligence, the lack of empathy and even an element of lip-reading which even the producer Barry Lyndon felt was unrealistic is an actually element of modern android development. Hal as the ship’s android feels strangely uncanny in how it represents modern technology and the film represents this. The battle of technology Vs man in its greatest form, how we evolve and create things that want to destroy us.

Once Hal is deactivated, we lead on to the final topic I would like to bring up today, Kubrick’s vision of a further evolution of mindkind our final form. It’s time for some blackholes and relations, baby, as we go into another universe and in a great psycadelic fashion. Where we go is a strange other universe which adds a large mystery to the film and its main fictional element to the film. Our protagonist Dave is then presented with the monolith after a mind-warping scene as he watches himself watch himself watch himself grow old. Then main idea is one thing, he is about to evolve into a new form, what is now known as the space baby, the next step in human evolution as seen by Stanley Kubrick himself. 

This is the main fictional element which could be seen as debatable in our current age. Is there any way that we can evolve past our current state of matter or will we always be the same human-beings. The main idea is presented of something we can eventually evolve into, beyond our current selves many in the very late stages of our existence, something not bound by Earth or space-craft and in a form, an observe of the universe. In short though, it is a very interesting take of the usual ending of a Sci-Fi movie, it is left very open-ended in a sense and we are still left with many questions, as all great Science Fiction should do in my eyes. It’s not meant to be this big story with a complex story but a layered and epic visual spectacle, kind of like a Lawrence of Arabia although a Sci-Fi film by Kubrick although both are very different films. 

The film is nothing short of an incredibly interesting and visually stunning spectacle of a movie, one of the many magnum opus by the great Kubrick. From its use of realistic elements of Science which are very true even today…although he got the exact date wrong because well, we are a bit slow as a human race at the minute not pointing any fingers, to the small details he made in making every character feel authentic and perfect in every detail and even the 60’s aesthetic of the thing which dates it in a nice and nostalgic way. 2001 is an unforgettable piece of Sci-fi with a lot of symbolism and a decent bit to say on the topic of organic versus technology and the aspect of human evolution.  It’s a film that I would even be proud to call a classic but that’s enough gushing for one day. 

And with that final note, that’s plenty from me today, damn I do love me some classic Sci-Fi and it was a great opportunity to talk about this film with you today, it’s a film I would put up there right with Alien as one of my all-time favourite movies. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic fellow future thinkers and intergalactic travellers. What do you think of the film or is there anything I missed, let me know in the comments below…

Sometime this week, sorry my schedule is still messed up, Don’t Panic as we jump into some Existential British Sci-Fi Comedy as we discuss Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf. Stay tuned later this week for that fellow future thinkers and smeg-heads…

Michael McGrady, Signing off.

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