A Space Odyssey

I just finished ringing in the new millenium watching Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece on Turner Classic Movies, and I thought I’d get the millenium started on the right foot by starting a new thread, something I haven’t done in a while. Here are my questions:

  1. How the heck did that movie get made anyway? I mean it’s definitely great and all, and Kubrick was already known as a genius, but twenty minutes before a single line is spoken? A sequence of pure psychedlics lasting, what, seven or eight minutes, perhaps? A full five minutes of nothing but Strauss with a black screen after the end credits have finished rolling! Could anyone in Hollywood get a movie like this made today? (And did theaters actually play the entire five minutes of Blue Danube that come after the credits?)

  2. Why did HAL go crazy? I know this might belong in GD (heck, this whole thread might), since there is no real answer. I also know that 2010 did give a “real” answer, but based strictly on the movie itself, what do you think?

  3. What did people think of it in 1968? Does anyone here actually remember?

#3 may get this sent to IMHO, but anyway - yes, I remember. As has been written, many people found it puzzling and unsatisfying. I was 17, and I already liked SF, and classical music in general (and Also Sprach Zarathustra in particular), so I thought it was the absolutely coolest movie ever. The opening is thought of by many as a cliche now, and it’s been lampooned endlessly, but at that time, for me it absolutely rocked! It still sends shivers up my spine.

As for the ending, I just thought it went symbolic. But I really didn’t care exactly what it meant.

I wound up seeing it in the theater 6 or 7 times (pre-cable and pre-VCR, remember).

Based on the OP, I can only guess that, god forbid, Alan Smithee, of all people, is contemplating directing some sort of remake of 2001. Sorry to be so harsh, but forget it, Smithee–the world doesn’t need a version of 2001 with singing and dancing robots!

According to your entry at the Internet Movie Directory, you’ve bounced from one ill-fated fiasco to another–I’m amazed you’re still getting work. Take my advice and stick to music videos…

I think I can answer some of these questions.

  1. The media has changed a lot since 1968. I remember one media analyst discussing the 1968 presidential election network TV coverage. He showed one example from network TV news coverage from 1968, where a heckler gets up during a Nixon speech, and their exchange of words got 40 seconds on 6PM national network TV news. Nowadays candidates barely get 10 seconds for a sound-bite in that same news show. The pacing and rhythm of media have changed since the 1960s. Everything in modern film is accelerated. Go look at other films from that time, you’ll see what I mean.
    And yes, they DID play all that classical music, with an Overture, Intermission, and lengthy musical finale during the credits. If you were really lucky, you heard this in a big theater with a good sound system and VistaVision. This was the last big film made in VistaVision widescreen, and was specifically filmed so the space sequences would look almost 3D when the film was shown with the special VistaVision projectors and screen.

  2. I don’t like the explanation for HAL’s insanity in 2010. I prefer to think of HAL as the only sane agent in a world of insanity and miracles. HAL thinks he is the only chance for success of the mission, but the mission to the stars requires the one quality that HAL lacks. HAL never malfunctions, he acts perfectly in accord with the rational, scientific approach represented by the computer itself. HAL eliminates the crew as a threat to him completing the mission himself. Bowman eliminates HAL and reasserts human life over the life of the machine. The human/intuitive vs. machine/rational conflict is the basis of a lot of science fiction.

  3. I have the book “The Making of 2001” and it lists a long series of letters from the public expressing a wide range of opinion. Some people immediately recognized it as genius, some people denounced it as a “hippy film” for LSD trippers, most people completely missed the point. But pretty much everyone agreed it was an astonishing film.

And how could there not be the same wide range of opinion concerning “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Full Metal Jacket”? I thought “Eyes Wide Shut” was a piece of crap, but up until then I thought Kubrick was a genius. Maybe his movies were all great if you got the point but bullshit if you didn’t. I can’t believe there weren’t millions of people that hated “Dr. Strangelove” and “A Clockwork Orange,” which are two of the greatest movies of all time in my opinion. Maybe I was too sexually repressed to appreciate “Eyes Wide Shut.”

I recall seeing an interview with the actor who played the astronaut on TCM, back when it was still called TNT.

He said that the movie didn’t take off nearly as fast as they had hoped and it wasn’t untill word got out amongst hippies in the midwest that 2001 got any momentum at the box office. He went on to talk for a while about the movies ties with the hippie|psychadelic culture of the time.

Sorry, but I just can’t remember the guys name, nor anything else of interest that he said. But there ya have it, maybe someone else has seen this clip and remembers it better.

— G. Raven

Morrison’s Lament-TNT and Turner Classic Movies are two different networks.

Alan Smithee-I’m guessing the Blue Danube was used as going-away music: it probably played as people left the theater. There’s also some spacey music that plays as the movie begins before the MGM logo. I’m guessing that played as people walked in.

Ryan W. Mead, who has been compared to HAL 9000 in an Internet personality test

Must be Keir Dullea, because Gary Lockwood is dead.

TMC played that, too. Did theaters play that before the trailers (when people were walking in) or between the trailers and the movie? Or was Kubrick powerful enough to get his movie shown without trailers? I’m positive most movies were shown with trailers, even back then. And I’m sure most people walked out during the end credits, not five minutes after they finished. Though there were probably a few credit (or music) buffs like me who waited till the very end. It was a nice touch, too, playing the entire piece, rather than just cutting it off because the movie was over. I think it speaks to Kubrick’s artistic integrity.

Oh, yeah, and did other movies in 1968 have intermissions? If not, what was the purpose of it?

The last film I saw in a theatre with an intermission was Gandhi, back in the early 80s. I was about ten years old and went with my mom. I thought it was the coolest thing that you could go to the movies, see half a movie, stop and go to the bathroom, and then see the rest of the film.

Anyway, I too watched 2001 at midnight last night. Since I don’t have TCM, I had to settle for the DVD. But, I also recommend reading the excellent Making of 2001, Mr. Smithee. It’ll answer most of your questions about the making of the film.

Now, why did HAL malfunction? Human error. :smiley:

My first job was as an usher in the theater that showed 2001ASO in Jacksonville the summer of '68, so I will try to answer a couple questions. During most of the run, we had two shows a day - 2pm and an evening show (7 ?), all reserved seats, that is, the box office gave you a ticket ($2.00 - outrageous at the time) with a seat number, and we ushers would show you to your seat.
Anyway, no trailers, newsreels, or anything except 2001.
Intermission - I don’t know WHY it was there, but we used it to sell glossy books about the movie. To the chagrin of the customers, it didn’t explain what the movie meant, just a bunch of pix from the movie, and some “making of” stuff. And, I don’t remember if we played the full bit of music after the credits.
My favorite patron was the guy who came out about midway thru Act I to say, “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a space movie?!” I just asked him to be patient, they’d be getting to space soon enough.

I never understood why people think HAL malfunctioned due to human error. That was Heywood’s cover story. Heywood told only HAL the true nature of the mission. HAL believes he is the only one who can complete the mission with a rational scientific perspective. The humans are a threat, they’ll just trip out and have some irrational psychedelic soul-transforming experience, and HAL certainly can’t have all that mucking up the mission. But that is what the mission is FOR. HAL performs his mission objectives perfectly, as per his programming. There wasn’t any malfunction, he performed as programmed.

There was an excellent editorial that appeared in the Sunday Washington Post by Joel Achenbach, whose name some of you probably recognize. You can read it here. He does a great job of characterizing the movie as very much a product of its times, and nails down one of the predominant themes–the relationship between man and his technology. The same leap of insight (prodded by the monolith) that enables the cavemen at the beginning to hunt meat enables them to kill each other; the same technology that enables us to travel to the stars costs us our humanity (and often our life) in so doing.

Kubrick also often dealt with the breakdown and malfunction of complex systems, strategies and minds (Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange). 2001 examines that theme also.

I happened to read Clarke’s novel years before I saw the movie, which inevitably colors my intepretations of the film, but I watched it again last night and was thinking a lot about how the movie would likely seem to someone who hadn’t read the novel first.

This specific question was one of the ones I was thinking about. The book’s explanation, IIRC, is basically that HAL has been programmed to be truthful–truthseeking and truthtelling–but because of “security” considerations HAL has been told to lie to his fellow crewmembers. This creates a psychological “conflict” which initially manifests itself in a “psychosomatic” malfunction in the ship’s communications system, its link to Earth, since Earth’s instructions are the source of the conflict. This eventually builds up to a full-fledged psychosis with fatal results for four-fifths (or five-sixths, depending on how you count it) of the ship’s crew.

Now, how much does the movie jibe with the book on this particular question? Is there any way that someone who hadn’t read the book or heard any “official” explanation, but who had seen the movie–perhaps more than once–could come up with any similar conclusions as to what drove HAL round the bend? (Besides just the usual Frankenstein Complex.) I think the answer is possibly yes.

[li]It’s stressed that HAL 9000 computers are error-free. I think they may have also mentioned that they are “truthful” in some sense; i.e., they are programmed to only give factual information.[/li][li]HAL’s problems first crop up as he initiates a conversation with Dave Bowman about the oddities of their mission and whether or not it has anything to do with all those crazy rumors flying around about something being dug up on the moon. He practically interrupts himself in this discussion to announce the first “malfunction”.[/li][li]The problem manifests itself initially in the communications system. (I don’t think they don’t actually say “there’s a problem with the communications system”, but we see the astronauts doing EVA’s to replace the AE-35 unit, and it’s clearly part of the big communications antenna. When HAL suggests letting the “defective” part fail in order to isolate the problem, it’s mentioned that this will put the ship out of touch with Earth for a brief period.)[/li][li]At the end of HAL’s death scene, Bowman hears a recorded message, revealing that HAL was the only conscious member of the crew to know the mission’s real objective, and has explicit orders not to tell anyone about it.[/li][/list=1]
So, from point (1), HAL probably doesn’t like to lie, but from point (4), we learn he’s been explicitly ordered to do so. When he begins to violate his orders from point (4) by raising Forbidden Topics with his crewmates–point (2)–he immediately develops a “psychosomatic” problem with his communication link to Earth (3)–the source of his conflicts to begin with. From here, as in the book, it doesn’t seem too much of a leap to have HAL develop a full-blown paranoid psychosis from this irreconcilable conflict, and try to kill everyone else on the ship.

Incidentally–I recall Heywood Floyd being a pretty sympathetic character in Clarke’s novel, and he was actually the hero of 2010, but watching the movie last night it struck me that the cinematic Floyd in 2001 is a real weasel.

Like Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post, I was also struck last night by just how little total spoken dialogue this movie has.

I was kidding.

Great stuff. But I question Acherbark’s quibbling that we have not reached the spatial breakthroughs this year as predicted in 2001. To Clarke, 2001 is just symbolic of the 21st C. The movie does not take place in this year, but in this century.

Very true. Even if we’d had an aggressive space program that wasn’t frittering away its resources on things like the Shuttle, there’s no way we could have had manned missions to the outer solar system only 30 years after landing on the moon.

Ooops, guess it was just my satellite provider. I used to have TNT Classic movies, then they sent me a letter it would now show me Turner Classic Movies. I assumed it was the same channel since the programing seemed identical and I thought TNT stood for Turner Network Television anyways.

So Ted has two classic movie stations?! Isn’t that kinda overdoing it…

Sorry 'bout the hijack…

  • G. Raven

Because ultimately, the source has to be human error. HAL was a human invention. “He” was designed by humans and programmed by humans. Everything that was HAL was created by humans. Therefore, ultimately, HAL’s errors were human errors.

here’s one of the best explanations of HAL’s lunacy i’ve ever heard…

I was watching this movie in college a few years ago, and my good buddy Jason pointed out that HAL’s problems begin only shortly after the Discovery crew tunes in to watch itself be interviewed on “The World Tonight” (or whatever that program is called).
The critical point here is that the in-ship broadcast of the interview permits HAL to “look into a mirror” for the first time—to wit, HAL hears and sees himself displaced from time, answering the interviewer’s questions.
if jason’s hunch is right, this is the first time HAL had ever observed himself interacting/existing OUTSIDE of his immediate “conscious” perspective.
HAL, at this point, realizes that he actually DOES exist outside of his own perception of reality, a fact for which he could never before have empirical proof (none, at least, that would pass muster with such an advanced mind!).
HAL watching himself talk (though, of course, HAL’s lips don’t move while he does this) is thus a revelatory experience, that transforms the computer from mere simulation to actual conscious entity.
it is a short step from the birth of consciousness to the pathological behavior HAL begins to demonstrate when he pulls Bowman aside for a little chat about the mysterious nature of the mission…

if this interpretation is what kubrick actually intended, the point is certainly driven home ominously by the last line we hear from the interview: dave bowman saying, in reference to HAL, “whether or not he has genuine emotions is something i don’t think any of us can truthfully answer.”