2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

2001 impressions 2019

Part of Lise's Hal's Birthday Rewatch list.

Mood: excited!

It’s really long and slow!

Is the usual sentiment of first time viewers these days. Those less inclined to see potential in it will also include ‘boring’. Those who venture back usually soften this opinion over time, and some even come to appreciate Kubrick’s luxuriating on a scene that could serve its purpose much more expeditiously. After all, the Orion shuttle could just zip towards space station V at full tilt boogie, with requite 'swoosh' sound, firing it’s thrusters at the last moment, and touch down like a pouncing cat on the landing platform. How much time you need for that? 30 seconds tops, I’d say. So why did Kubrick insist on taking nearly 6 minutes to show the same thing? Wonder, Poetry, Timelessness.

When the Intermission title card flashed, I was actually quite amazed. It’s not that I didn’t expect it’s coming … I knew down to the frame where it would appear … but what took me by surprise is how quickly the first segment passed. Part of that, I think, is because when you know the film well, you get lost in it’s spell. When you’re waltzing on the dance floor, time has no meaning. You’re lost in the moment; such is the Orion flight scene for me, as are many others.

To be fair, as almost everyone who loves 2001 will spout, ‘to really appreciates it’s beauty and grandeur, and to get into the moment, it must be seen on the big screen’. I’ve been lucky enough to see it this way the majority of the 6 dozen or so times I’ve watched. If you’re introduction to 2001 is on an iPad, I can appreciate those who don’t appreciate it’s wonder. I must add, though, that my LB buddy Del, who initially had real problems with it’s pacing, had his epiphany watch on an airline seat back display, so, big ain’t everything.

Always Something New

I was beginning to get skeptical this year about discovering something new. While I bandy about that you always see something new, after so many viewings I had my doubts. I was wrong.

Speaking of airline seat back displays, Kubrick’s prediction of them ( for the youngins’ - airlines used to have 16mm film projectors built in to the upper cabin that would project onto a screen in the front of the cabin back in the mid-60’s when the film was made ), and his prediction of the iPad, are universally recognized as genuine precognition. One thing that sprung out at me this time is that Kubrick also predicted widescreen TV’s. In both the seatback display on the Orion, and the displays on the Aries 1B where the flight attends watch martial arts, it’s a 16x9 display. It would be another two decades before the Television industry made the switch from 4x3 to the now universal aspect ratio.

*edit / update*

In many data displays, the panel is 3x4 portrait orientation. This isn't just a coincidence, or a production designer's plan. This is something that must have been discussed decades before OS's had a GUI, and those discussions resulted in a portrait orientation as the best way to display some types of data.

Goodbye, HAL

This annual watch is to mark HAL’s birthday. It was only at the beginning of the Jupiter Mission act, where we first see HAL’s iconic red eye, that it hit me. We lost Douglas Rain this year. HAL is gone. I remember reading the news last Remembrance Day, and it making me profoundly sad. While I’ve had the good fortune to see Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and FX supervisor Douglas Trumbull at various TIFF events, it never occured to me over all these decades to take the short trek to Stratford to see Rain perform Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival, which he co-founded in the 50’s, and continued to perform at into the 90’s. I must say that this is one of my biggest regrets.

Alas, 2001 was a bitter experience for Rain. Discovered by Kubrick as the narrator of a Canadian National Film Board short called ‘Universe’, he was hired on to provide narration for 2001. When Kubrick scrapped the narration, and became disenchanted with Martin Balsam’s reading of HAL, he asked Rain if he would fly back to England to read the part. He did so, and over two 10 hour sessions, with apparently very little direction from Kubrick, Rain, and his dulcet tones, had created what would become the film world’s most iconic AI, and one of the cinematic universe’s greatest villains. 2001 was already way over budget, so Rain wasn’t really rewarded in the way he should have been ( particularly galling as Balsam publicly crowed about the ‘princely sum’ he extracted for his performance.) Worse, Kubrick gave him 8th billing .. the last of the 5 name ‘Featuring’ credit card, behind the actors portraying the Russian scientists on Space Station V, and last before the ‘With’ acting credits. Rain never got over it, and steadfastly refused to talk about the film over the years. This makes me even sadder.

Nonetheless, when people talk about 2001, they don’t talk about Dullea or Lockwood’s purposefully cardboard performances. They talk about HAL.

Godspeed, Mr Rain, and see you on your most famous creations birthday next year, and in years to come.

Also part of my Jonnie's musings on 2001 list

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