Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) - making film critics smack themselves in the head so you don't have to

Here's a trailer. I've written the review figuring you've either seen the movie or at least have a passing familiarity with the plot.

"Over time, has any film veered more toward kitsch than Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey of 1968? Now, seen in the actual 2001, it's less a visionary masterpiece than a crackpot Looney Tune, pretentious, abysmally slow, amateurishly acted and, above all, wrong".

TMNT, 2007): "…as a piece of film design, the movie is first-rate; on sheer aesthetics alone, it rivals Triumph of the Will for astonishments".
-Stephen Hunter, Washington Post

It is the near sighted and the disingenuous that base the worth of science fiction on how accurate it’s surface elements predict the future. If a film is only to be appreciated for it’s predictive powers, why even bother watching it at the time of it's release? Just wait for the corresponding future date in which the film is set and take notes of all the surface science facts you can gleam, checking off whether or not they correspond to current reality. In my review for
Metropolis, I joked that Orwell’s 1984, on the very short list of the most important novels ever written (important to the human race, that is), is to be dismissed because the cinematic images of clothing during the actual year of 1984 were colorful instead of gray and drab.

Well, most good science fiction is both about NOW and where things are headed, presented in the form of ideas. The literal minded might not get it, or the disingenuous might pretend to be utterly literal minded, but fiction is not necessarily meant to be taken literally. Sometimes these ideas are presented through metaphor or irony to highlight the idea itself, separate from the surface that surrounds it. Is it that much of a stretch to make the comparison between the telescreens in
1984 and the television set, whose programs and advertising mold the reality of the viewers? These connections don't always require a lot heavy lifting, mentally speaking.

One might assume Hunter's comparison between
TMNT and Triumph of the Will to be a bit of critical irony, an askew connection, if you will, pointing out that pop spectacle can be it’s own propaganda by means of diversion. However, reading the full review, this doesn’t appear to be the case. No, apparently empty spectacle is empty spectacle, whether starring the Third Reich or a team of turtles that kick people in the head. Anybody who claims to be digging deeper is a pretentious asshole, sitting alone in a tragically hip coffee shop wearing a tragic little beret.

I guess any discussion of
2001 begins with a discussion of the monolith. Well, it’s clear from the novel that the monolith was planted by an alien race in order to inspire higher intelligence within the apes, allowing them to evolve into the human race. Whether a gift from aliens or a gift of natural evolution, the monolith represents the higher forms of the human rational mind. This has enabled man to process information much like our modern supercomputers, leading to the creation of all manners of sophisticated technology.

This technological advancement hits a saturation point of sorts when the HAL9000 supercomputer attempts to murder the astronauts in order to protect itself. Technology has caught up with it's creators, with tragic results. The computer views it’s own survival as being more important than the lives of a couple of humans, a far cry from it's intended role as a tool to serve mankind. The acting of the two astronauts is underplayed to reflect humanity becoming more robotic as HAL becomes more human, worrying about self preservation and even singing a song. The acting is “amateurish” only if you take the narrow view that acting is only about a certain kind of emotional identification where you can grow to like someone, as if you're spending time with a virtual friend. This dynamic between man and machine is also a great example of Kubrickian irony, that of a computer becoming more human than it’s creators. Irony is present throughout for those willing to open their eyes. Witness the man made spaceships that dance through space as if in a ballet, yet remain cold, mechanical, and potentially destructive.

The higher intellectual functions, reasoning and complex language, is what separates man from ape. With this power, man has created these most beautiful and amazing structures, sophisticated tools to achieve goals once thought unattainable. However, losing sight of this amazing gift, the people in the film have become machines themselves, sort of inferior versions of HAL. The monolith could be viewed as a culture shock, a reminder of the miracle of humanity, and this failed space odyssey as an opening of the eye on unchecked technological growth. As Tyler Durden might say, the things you own end up owning you. Not that it’s okay to go around blowing stuff up, although it looks like heck of a lot of fun, explosions and ski masks and mayhem and shit.

The film inspires us to stand outside of technological progress, both in terms of being able to understand it’s mechanisms and effects, but also to stand in beauty and awe. Think of it as a technological opera intended for our human side. Yes, it’s “slow” if your scanning for plot information, connecting point A to B like a computer program, or "pretentious" if you're the kind of monkey that wishes everyone would just keep things simple. Or maybe you're just the kind of monkey that doesn't like the movie. That's fine. Speaking of which, I NEED one of those ape suits. You ever see those guys in chicken suits that stand in front of a restaurant, beckoning passersby to partake of the company poultry? I've always wanted to put on an ape suit and stand next to the chicken guy, holding a sign that shows a cartoon chicken with a line through it. One might assume that I intend this to be some sort of street art, showing the emptiness of certain types of protest, but really, I just think it's fucking funny. Of course, I could never afford one of the realistic suits used in the film, but I'd be perfectly happy with a ratty, ill fitting ape suit anyway. You know, I could probably find one on eBay right now, order it, get the two day priority shipping, and be getting into monkey trouble by the weekend. Fucking technology is awesome.

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