Saturday, January 10, 2009

2001 in 2009

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had no Blu-ray discs when I purchased my PlayStation 3. Since then I have purchased a few. One is an excellent BBC documentary series on Planet Earth, another is the superb final cut of Blade Runner, and third is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The high-definition beauty of these discs is a real feast for the eye visually. Everyone knows about the improved quality of image (and sound) in Blu-ray. I was a bit skeptical, however, when it came to
2001. That film came out in 1968. How good could you make an image look that didn't have the benefit of today's computerized technology?

I was impressed. The clarity brings back the original, almost breath-taking, richness of
one of my favorite films.

Kubrick, with Sir Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Ridley Scott, and - more recently - Christopher Nolan, tops my very short list of favorite directors. I have all his films either on VHS or DVD.

I remember when I first saw 2001. I was about 9. I saw it with one of my best friends at the time. Being that age we sat on the front row of the theater, of course. Due to some mix-up I don't now recall we came in to the film during its intermission. (2001 has a "traditional" epic film structure of an overture of music, an intermission, and a musical presentation after The End.) So, what I saw was the last half of the film, first. Then the beginning.

It didn't matter. The story was beyond my comprehension at that age. Many adults don't get the film at all either.

2001 is a highly visual experience - some one called it a silent movie in the sound era - with very little dialog. It blew my mind in terms of its special effects and its whole science-fiction aspect. I had never seen a sci-fi film so realistic looking. I would go so far as to say 2001 was one of the fundamental reasons I went on to study film in college years later. Certainly, it has influenced several generations of visually appreciative artists and admirers.

Through the years, I have come to increasingly appreciate the deeper and broader metaphorical and philosophical issues inherent in the "space movie". What it suggests about the nature of God, the nature of humanity, of intelligence, of technology, etc. All these themes and more are liberally explored throughout the course of the slowly paced, richly photographed, work of Art.

The weakest aspect of the film is the depiction of the Earth itself. You have to remember that this film was made largely in 1966-1967. No one had ever seen the Earth in its entirety at that time. It was only after 2001's release that the famous Apollo astronaut "Earthrise" photo (and others like it) informed us of exactly the color and shade of our "pale blue dot".

Otherwise, the famous scene featuring the space station presented with Strauss' "The Blue Danube", the various shots of Jupiter with its moons, the first spaceship into deeper space, the landing at the Clavius moonbase, all these compare strongly with the best special effects of today. That's why I wanted to see it on Blu-ray. They are outstanding.

It is so easy to get carried away with the ground-breaking special effects. All Kubrick films are visually interesting. You react to what you see, even if nothing is really going on with the film's story. However, after you consider the story later you see a wonderful depth to it. This is almost staged acting. Scenes specifically construct a series of ideas Kubrick wishes to convey. Kubrick wants to make you think while you are being visually entertained.

One of Playboy Magazine's most famous interviews in its long history of publication was with Kubrick just after the release of 2001 in 1968. The interview covers a wide range of ideas presented in 2001. (Being 9 at the time of seeing the film, it would be several years later that I would be exposed to this interview. It would inform me of some of the film's broader possibilities.)

At one point in the interview Kubrick states something that gives you an example of the kinds of things 2001 is offering for the viewer's consideration which I find personally appealing.

"Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it's worth living?

"Kubrick: Yes, for those of us who manage to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. ...The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." Stanley Kubrick: Interviews; (page 73)

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