2001: A Space Odyssey has created a school. It is a work of extraordinary imagination that has transcended the history of celluloid to become a kind of cultural phenomenon. And since 1968, it has penetrated the psyche not only of other filmmakers, but of society in general.
It is not an exaggeration to say that 2001 single-handedly reinvented the science fiction genre. The visual effects, music, and themes of Stanley Kubrick’s classic left an indelible mark on later science fiction that is still evident today.
When Kubrick started working on 2001in the mid-sixties, executive Lew Wasserman told him: “Boy, nobody spends more than a million dollars on science fiction movies.”
By this time, the golden age of science fiction cinema had come to an end. During its heyday, there was considerable variety of content within the genre, and even serious attempts at predicting space travel. Destined for the Moondirected by Irving Pichel and produced by George Pal in 1950, and The conquest of spaceby Byron Haskin, fantasized about space travel and, in Haskin’s film, even a space station, which Kubrick would develop in 2001.
However, most science fiction films of the 1950s were cheap B-stories. These were about alien invasions with an ideological and allegorical subtext. They were cultural and cinematic imaginings of the danger of communism, which in the excited political atmosphere of the time was seen as an imminent threat to the American way of life.
The aliens in most science fiction films were simply out to destroy or take over humanity; They were expressions, to use the title of an essay by Susan Sontag, of “the imagination of disaster.” There were some exceptions, such as the film version of War of the Worldsby Byron Haskin, and The day the Earth stoppedby Robert Wise.
In 1968, when the lights went out, very few people knew what was about to happen. And, of course, they were not prepared for what happened. The film began almost in the dark, while the chords of Thus spake Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss. The cinema was dazzled by the light, as if Kubrick had remade Genesis.
The next 160 minutes (the length of its original cut before 19 minutes were shaved off) took the viewer on what was marketed as “the ultimate journey.”
Kubrick had eliminated almost all explanatory elements, leaving a film that was elusive, ambiguous and completely confusing. His artistic decisions resulted in long silent scenes, which contributed to the film’s almost immediate critical failure, but to its ultimate success. 2001: A Space Odyssey It was practically a silent film.
It was also an experiment in cinematic form and content. He exploited the conventional narrative form, restructuring the conventions of the three-act drama. The narrative was linear, but radical in form, spanning eons and ending in a timeless realm, all without a conventional cinematic score. Kubrick used 19th century and modernist music, such as Strauss, György Ligeti and Aram Khachaturian.
The film was shot during a tumultuous period in American history, which it seemingly ignored. The Vietnam War was already a very divisive issue and was entering a crisis. The Tet Offensive, which began on January 31, 1968, had claimed tens of thousands of lives. As U.S. involvement in Vietnam increased, internal unrest and violence intensified.
Young Americans increasingly expected their artists to address the chaos raging around them. But in exploring the origins of humanity’s propensity for violence and its future destiny, 2001 It addressed the big questions and those that were hot at the time of its release. They fed what the magazine Variety called the “coffee cup debate” over “the meaning of the film,” which still endures.
The film’s design has influenced many others. run in silenceby Douglas Trumbull (who worked on the special effects for 2001), is the most obvious debt, but Star Wars It would also be unthinkable without it.
Popular culture is full of images of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The music Kubrick used in the film, especially The Blue Danube by Strauss, is considered “space music” today.
Images from the film have appeared in iPhone ads, on The Simpsons, and even in the trailer for the new movie. Barbie.
Warnings about the danger of the technology embodied in the film’s HAL-9000 killer supercomputer can be felt in the films of tech noir from the late 70s and 80s, like Westworld, Alien, blade runner and Terminator.
HAL’s only red eye can be seen in the children’s series Q Pootle 5 and in the Pixar animated film Wall-E. HAL has become shorthand for the unstoppable advancement of artificial intelligence (AI).
In the era of ChatGPT and other AIs, Kubrick’s computer metaphor is frequently evoked. But why is this when there have been so many other powerful images such as Frankenstein, Prometheus, Terminators and other killer cyborgs? The answer is that there is something especially strange and human about HAL, who was deliberately designed to be more empathetic and human than the humans in the film themselves.
When rolling 2001Stanley Kubrick created a cultural phenomenon that continues to speak eloquently to us today.