Thursday, August 30, 2018

2001: A Space Fantasy

For one week only they dusted off the film cells for 2001: A Space Odyssey, tweaked them, and put them in IMAX theaters.  And, it was exactly how I remembered it; a slow prodding film, with plenty of time to contemplate what you were seeing, and lots of well framed static camera shots.  Yeah, it’s a long film and it feels that.
 
In fact, the movie itself feels like three films, at least, three distinct acts.  The first act, with the “ape-men,” is the act that stylistically and visually feels the most out-of-place from the others.  It also is the only act with no dialogue, and no clear discernible characters (all the ape-men look the same).  I wonder now, how different the entire film would have been (received at least) if the first act had been cut out completely and it started immediately on the rocket ship going into space.  Imagine going into a theater in back in 1968, thinking you about to see a space adventure film (A SPACE ODYSSEY!) and for the first thirty minutes you watch a bunch of similar looking ape-men in a desert wasteland yelling at each other in monkey-like noises.   I’m sure that it was, plus the difficult to understand plot and ending, a factor in the film not doing well at release.

But whatever, that’s not what I thought about while watching the film this time.  What I thought about was how wrong they got the future.  The movie and book, both, were attempting to be something called hard science-fiction.  You know, the kind of sci-fi with realistic expectations that’s been thoroughly researched, and, is loved by snobs a lot (no offense).  However, 2001 turned out to be pure fantasy.

We are never going to see real stewardesses in space
Don’t get me wrong, you tell how much thought was put into the film from velcroed shoes in low gravity to what food would be like in space (a selection of different colored baby shit for adults).  But, I thought it was funny to see people using corded phone boxes to make calls back to earth and see people watching low definition television shows as if those technologies had never improved as space travel did.
     
Ultimately, like all science fiction that presumes to predict the future, the film fails to get it right.   The time was the late 1960s though, so I bet a lot of this was from just pure optimism.  The idea of having regular charted space flights with attentive stewardesses that would take you to a space station with a hotel and staff waiting probably made a lot sense back then.  I imagine teenagers believed that one day they would be able to vacation in space or even on the moon.  2001 felt like a long long way away from 1968, and everyone assumed space technology would just keep progressing as did from the 1940s.  Yet the sad truth is, space travel tech slowed, and eventually hit a wall.  The current world, at least, can’t seem to keep rockets and shuttles from exploding too much.  The idea of a space hotel or a moon base sounds like a pipe dream now.  And, traveling to another planet?  That’s pure science fiction nonsense.

Yes, I took a picture of a ticket stub
In a way, this makes 2001 seem that much more depressing now than before.  I also have to wonder too, if the film got the future wrong, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the film got the past wrong too.  The first act, with the ape-men, probably doesn’t actually resemble how “early man” looked or behaved.  I got a hunch that there were a lot of unchallenged, um, ideological assumptions held by the film makers when they set out to make this film.  But, what do I know.


If you haven’t seen it before, then you should try to see 2001 in IMAX (although you are probably too late as of reading this unfortunately).  It’s definitely going to be a long time before it’s in the theaters again.

I give the IMAX version of 2001 a B-.

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