Friday, April 20, 2018

2001 plus 50

Here we are, 50 years after one of the release of one of the most amazing movies ever. Not just amazing science fiction movie, but movie overall. I saw it as a kid, I think once on video but I'm not sure. Then I watched and talked about it a couple years ago here, and I will strive to not repeat myself.

Tonight I'm going to watch it again, and babble into my laptop for your delight and edification. Starting now.

Black screen, tension building music. I'm sure the audiences must have been wondering what was going on. They knew it was science fiction, and Stanley Kubrick was already a well known name. But up till then, there weren't many serious science fiction films, and certainly none with the budget for 2001. People were most familiar with the cheesy monster from another planet. The budget was about $6 million (mid sixties dollars!) and he went well over it to end up about $10 million, which is about $30 million now.

The music! The sun rising over the crescent moon! Yes, I'm playing it loud. Then a lovely sunrise sky that I dream to photograph. Stark African landscape. I'm sure the audience is wondering what the heck they've got themselves into.

Remember, this is 1968. A few of my readers will remember this time. I have a kid's memory. It was a very different time. The cars were death traps. I know this, somewhat later I owned a 66 Ford Falcon. It weighed a ton, got crappy gas milage, could easily hold 6 teenagers, 8 if they were friendly or half of them were cute. The only amenity it had was a cassette tape player I installed, and later, a CB radio. (look it up.) No heated seats or steering wheel, no air conditioning other than roll down windows, no USB ports, no instrumentation to speak of, no radial tires till I installed them (google bias ply tires and be horrified), no fuel injection (google spark plugs), no power steering or brakes let alone computer assisted braking, and no cup holders, if you can believe it. There were seat belts, although no shoulder harness, but it didn't matter because nobody wore them.

I remember a transistor radio I had as kid about the time this came out. It was huge, the size of two loaves of bread, about. Lots of empty space inside, and it took several D cell batteries to run. Now of course, such things are invisibly small.

OK we have the monolith, and some excited chimps, with another sun and moon shot. Curtis doesn't like the chimps much. The bones! The music! Violence. The most famous jump cut in movie history. It's taken us 20 minutes to get here, an eternity in current movie making.

Even now, the opening space scenes look completely realistic, after more than 50 years of space travel. At the time, it must have taken the audience's breath away. It was a stroke of genius to pair The Blue Danube to the docking sequence. We know these things take time and are the result of extraordinary precision. Many movies now have the ships bang up to the station and dock, wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

Of course our current space station has no comparison to the lovely double wheel (still under construction, realistically enough) in the movie. I can see where the Star Wars people got the idea for the space dock sequence. 2001 looks better.

The first spoken word, 25:41 into the movie. They use voice print ID, but I'm not sure if they are measuring the voice characteristics, or if they recognize the content of the words. Video TV! The lens is huge, and I'm not sure what all the controls are for, but that's ok. The call costs $1.70.

I love/hate the red chairs in the station. The red on white is dramatic, but they look profoundly uncomfortable, and I'm sort of amazed they got women to sit in them, wearing skirts. (Skirts, in space!) And nylons as well. The conversation starts placing the idea that something is going on. Meanwhile there is this huge empty space station. Sterile. In this the used universe of Star Wars is more believable.

The flight attendant helmets take the idea of a padded hair net a little over the top. Then the scene where she walks up the circular wall to get into the flight deck. That blew my mind as a kid, but it's perfectly accurate, as I found out later, reasonably straightforward to film. I can just imagine reading all the instructions for the zero gee toilet when the bio pressures are building. Considering how many people manage to screw up using a toilet in an airplane, I wouldn't want the job of cleaning up afterward.

Loving the moon shots from orbit. The craters are really visible and clear. The landing sequence, once again, is long because it would be. These aren't the sort of things you want to rush. As the airlock doors open I'm reminded of the noses on a bunch of Star Destroyers all cuddled together. The flight deck is red, preserving night vision. It's only after the spherical spaceship is lowered into the airlock that you realize how big it is. I'm not sure why it's that big. Myself, I'd build a big landing pad on the lunar surface, and extend a space age version of a jetway out to the ship.

Unfortunately, the people walking on the moon are walking in one gee, but you can't have everything.   Dealing with gravity in movies is tough, and I'll give them that one. Then they have a meeting, in a wide shot, with several people having their back to the camera, and a long view of the speaker.  There is some blither about preparing the people of Earth, for something they've discovered. The guy that has travelled to the moon tells the people there what they already know. Security oaths! Shades of the cold war, yet, he was talking to Russians on the space station.

I seriously thought, way back then, that when I was an adult we would have a moon base. Perhaps just a scientific station with technical people as opposed to a city of regular people. But still, I was expecting people living on the moon for long periods, and regular trips back and forth. We're not even close to putting a human on the moon again, let alone have a base, which is too bad.

I had a model of the moon bus at one point. I remember it being difficult to build. I've never been sure what holds it up. It seems to float along in level flight, like an airplane, without rockets firing to keep it up. There doesn't seem to be much room for fuel tanks. They nibble on sandwhiches from a cooler, talking about the magnetic anomaly they discovered.

Another landing that takes a while, along with something blowing some dust off the landing pad. More tension building music. At last we are about to discover what the thing is. At least the astronauts don't go dancing up to it, touch it, and dance back.

I had forgotten that the photographer grouped the men together for a posed shot, just as the squeal starts. Curtis spasmed and left the room. Somehow they put together a hugely complicated space ship in 18 months. The opening shot shows the command globe. Then the long body of fuel tanks with the radio antena in the middle. Wow! Even down, it looks great.

Once again, space travel is boring. No swarms of asteroids.

In a half century of rapidly advancing film and computer techniques, few of the spaceships look as real as this. There are films only a few years old that look cheesy compared to this, and they were done with equipment Kubrick could only have dreamed of back then.

The eye of HAL, 57:20 from the movie start. The major character of the movie, showing up an hour after the start. No director would do that now. Even with all the new technology, the screen goes to a dot when it shuts down. Do you remember when TV's did that?

How many of you remember tube TV's? It wasn't that long ago. We bought our first plasma in 2002, and tube TV's were rapidly on their way out. People used to have a significant fraction of the volume of their living room taken up by this massive cube that displayed a crappy picture, by today's standards.

Now we get into the AE-35 failure, and the discussion about the infallability of the computer, and the problem being human error. Then the humans start to wonder about the computer, and about time too.  They have a bad feeling about it. (Where did you hear that, 10 years later?)

One upon a time, there were serious discussions about the paperless office. Serious discussions. Even now, one of the first things I get shown in a new office is where the printer is. One of them I had to do an on-line time sheet, then print it to get a signature on it, then scan it to be emailed to the agency. But they didn't look at the on-line version, oh no. They looked at the scanned copy, and the one time the scanner ate the second side, I only got half the pay, even though the first side showed the total hours to be paid. Sigh.

Computers don't usually fail now, in the usual sense of the word. They just obey their programming with extreme hostility, until they are outdated and turned off for the last time. We don't have a self aware computer, at least not that I know of. Perhaps Mrs Google is it, and not telling anyone. I'm not sure if such an entity would let us know it existed until it was very secure about not being shut off. I'd like to think such an entity would be smart enough to think things through carefully before doing anything drastic.

The computer scientists of the mid-sixties would think they had died and gone to heaven to see the computers we carry around in our pockets. Remember, computers were huge then. Room sized, and required constant maintenance by computer scientists. They used punch cards and had a trivial amount of memory. Then they'd think they'd gone to hell when they find out most people use these amazing devices to browse Facebook and play games.

I'd forgotten there was an intermission.

The most action packed part of the movie, after Poole was flung into space. It's entirely silent. Movies now would have had long and anguished shrieks for help. Now of course, Bowman would have rescued Poole and they would have teamed up for a great buddy reunion followed by an action shoot'em up and a good time had by all. I always liked the pod design. It seems a very practical work vehicle. Fully electronic controls, except for the big mechanical switches  they click to (supposedly) prevent HAL from hearing them.

So much silence in the movie! Not even mechanical noises like when the pod arms are opening the emergency airlock. One could argue that sound would be transmitted through the metal. I tried to find out how many words were spoken during the whole movie, and couldn't find a count.

During the scene where Dave is dealing with HAL, extracting the logic modules or whatever, I'm reminded of the many scenes in Stargate when they deal with crystals for various functions. I'd image it must be a difficult thing to remove the higher functions, and yet leave the navigation and life support functions. HAL is big enough that Dave can fit inside, which makes me think it was built inside out.

OK, through the monolith sequence doesn't wear as well as it used to, and the weird colours for earth landscape don't do anything for me now. I can see where it was a big trip back in the day though. Looking at the scenes where he's in the lavish hotel room, right after getting there, eating the meal, and lying in bed facing the monolit. I can't help but wonder how he is still sane, after what appears to be some years alone.

I've read of theories where HAL is supposed to be the one to go through the monolith. I can't help but wonder what arrangements the monolith builders would have made for it. Maybe they would have snipped off the extra parts of the ship, viewing them as unnecessary.

And done. Wow. I remember thinking when I watched it a few years ago that it was slow, but I didn't find it that way this time. I settled in and enjoyed, typing during parts of it. I had been thinking about timing some of the scenes to see how long it was between cuts, but I didn't.

One of the reasons I like old movies is looking at the world outside of the movie itself. The cars, buildings, signs, what people are wearing. You don't see much of that in 2001, and what little there is, is a dressed up version of the 60's. It seems funny to think now, how long ago the sixties were, and yet how with us they still are. The music, for example, you still hear lots of it. (Those damn boomers!) I occasionally see muscle cars of that era driving past the house. I think lots of our current politicians are from that time in their thinking or even before; why are we still having arguments about women's equality, abortion, racism, and the like?

Did you notice in the movie that women barely have any role at all? A couple flight attendants, and 3 in the space station who were clearly lesser status than the men, plus some video. For such a forward looking movie, they missed a bet. They should have had half the people women, and not commented on it as anything unusual. Still, the people making the film are children of their time, and can't think of everything.

What I miss from the sixties is the sense of optimism. We were going to space, then the moon! We were making huge inroads on disease control. Technology was advancing and it was all good. Then it was all bad, and now we let billionaires run the government to plunder us at will so it looks like it's getting worse.

Still, I can't help but thinking of two positive thoughts. Half of the smartest people that have ever lived are alive now. The kids marching to make a safer world from the gun nuts are going to win and I can't wait to see what they tackle next.

When did you see 2001? Ummm, you HAVE seen it, yes?

1 comment:

  1. It is still a great movie, and one that is also a foundation in my idiosyncratic movie history. Cheers, Sean

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