Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2001 A Space Odyssey

2001 A Space Odyssey is a must see for anyone in the Science Fiction fan club. It takes high rank in my Sci/Fi Fantasy class. But, not that many students see the beauty of it. They do, however, see the effect on our pop culture. I say that they will see direct references in other movies, cartoon, television shows and literature. And they will see many subtle similarities in many science fiction movies that followed. Jokingly, I say that from henceforth, with every reference, they will raise a fist to the sky and take my name in vain. It set the standard, and after viewing, it will be a part of their lives for ever (insert evil teacher laugh here).

The first thing to know about 2001 A Space Odyssey is that it is just a part of a journey, the journey of mankind. It starts with the Dawn of Man and goes through to the future where man is about to step into the next era of evolution and existence. Secondly, it was a movie made with a much different purpose than most movies. It was not made to just entertain, but to make us think. Every scene and every sound had a purpose.

I shared the movie with the latest group of high school students last week. I explained that it is an allegorical film: a literal level and the symbolic level. An example would be the ballet music that plays during the first sequences of space travel. It illustrate the beauty, grace and precision of space travel. It also illustrates man's infancy in space. Stanley Kubrick (producer, director and screenwriter) and Arthur C. Clarke (author of the book and fellow screenwriter) use many colorful sequences and several powerful musical pieces to tell the story.

With everything having a purpose, students, when asked, know why there are two minutes of blank, black screen at the beginning of the movie. They understand, but do not appreciate, the lack of dialogue for the first twenty minutes of the film. They are frustrated by the slow walking, continuous breathing, and detailed aspects of space. Yet, they agree that it shows the challenges of space travel, the ‘out of our element’ motif, and the tedious precision of technology.

And there is a lot they don’t get, either. However, that’s what I like about it. It provokes discussion and supposition. It challenges them to pick at it. After we talk, I go to a website: www.Kubrick2001.com. It explains the movie. It also starts out with a quote from Kubrick says that we “are free to speculate, as you wish” about the movie. He wants everyone to take what they want from it. The website offers one interpretation.

Wait, then there’s the HAL 9000 computer. It is ranked 13th in the American Film Institutes Top 50 Villains. What makes him a villain is his impersonal logic, which is as cold as space itself. I tell my student that HAL is not evil; he does what he does because of what he calculated as the best option for success, not from malice. With is red camera eye and his mild mannered, “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that,” the viewer is introduced to the first, truly, unemotional killer.

Yes, 2001 A Space Odyssey does come with questions and long, slow (but purposeful)  parts. Yet, with music as crucial as the scenes, a great villain, awesome congruity to actual space travel and movement, and special effects that set the standard still, this movie must be, and always be, a part of any Science Fiction collection.

By the way, just the other day, another former student contacted me after seeing a reference in a jewelry commercial and said that my parents were never married (insert evil teacher laugh again).

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