As we stand on the cusp of a New Year (2013! Wow, does that sound futuristic!) I thought I would end the year with this classic from the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.
Made in 1968, this stunning visual achievement, which took home the Academy Award that year for Best Effects, it still stands a s a towering achievement that would not be equalled for another 9 years (at least in the effects department)
Based on the first in a series of novels by sci-fi luminary Arthur C. Clarke (who also served alongside Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay). the film follows the course of man’s evolution. It charts the rise of our species from our early dawn, when, according to the film, we were gently shoved up the evolutionary ladder but a slab of alien technology, simply known and seen as a Monolith to our forays into space, and the discovery of another Monolith deliberately buried on the Moon, which when it exposed to sunlight in the presence of man, sends a signal towards Jupiter, where one of us takes the final steps forward, Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and becomes something even more, and then returns to Earth in the final frames of the film as the Star-Child.
Kubrick’s legendary attention to detail is all over this film, from the detailing on the models (and the model work on this film is capital “I” Incredible) to simple things like instructions on using the zero-g toilet, as well as the replacement instructions for explosive bolts on the work pods that are housed in the Discovery’s (the ship sent to investigate Jupiter) shuttle bay.
It’s of note, that the images used for Earth in the first space sequence were all matte paintings… because up until that point, pictures of Earth like the infamous Blue Marble (taken in 1972) picture didn’t exist. Satellites had taken pictures of the Earth from space, like the Explorer VI satellite in 1959, and black and white photos taken in 1946 by a camera mounted on a V-2 rocket, but nothing of the caliber like those that would follow when the Mercury and Apollo projects kicked into gear.
As hinted at, the film is broken up into 3 parts, each unique, and each tied to our evolution in one form or another. The first is set amongst a group of neanderthals, the second features the investigation of Doctor Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) into the TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly), or the Monolith, and features a moon-base, vid phones, a fantastic space station (which houses a Howard Johnson’s and a Hilton hotel), and Pan-Am flights to and from. There are rumours of intense relations between the Soviets and the Americans, though there is a healthy respect on both sides, despite the fact that Floyd and his group are keeping the discovery of the Monolith a secret.
The third and final part of the adventure follows the inter-planetary ship, Discovery, her crew, Bowman and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood – Gary Mitchell from the classic Star Trek episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”). Bowman and Poole keep busy on their 18 month journey to Jupiter, minding the scientists kept in suspended animation, and playing chess with the ship’s computer the HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain).
However, things start to go wrong with HAL, and as the final confrontation with the unknown draws closer, Bowman and Poole match their wits against the computer.
This film was also one of the first films to correctly portray the fact that there is no sound in space, so everything is eerily quiet, unless underscored by classical musical, or the anxious breathing of Bowman and Poole.
Of course the final act of the film, gets a little surreal and mind-bending as Bowman travels through/into (?) the giant Monolith that hangs over Jupiter, ending with his arrival in an oddly appointed room, where he moves along the time-stream moving forward in his own evolution until he dies and is reborn, a step further up the evolutionary rung.
This is probably my favorite Kubrick film of his entire work, the look of it, the working reality of it, the design, and the execution of the spectacular effects, not to mention the added mystery of “what’s out there?”.
It’s still a fantastic film, taking its time with its story, letting us take in the beauty of space travel, and lets us ponder those big questions, where did we come from, and where are we going?
This is one of my all time fave sci-fi flicks…