Sunday, 4 July 2010

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)

“I honestly think you have to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over.”

“Those men in monkey suits seem to be getting terribly excited about something.” “HAL 9000 sure ain’t as funny as C-3PO.” “This is going on foreeeeeeeeever … er, hang on, what just happened … is that the end?” These were my thoughts on first seeing ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

In many ways I saw it too young. In many other ways I saw it at just the right time, as it went on to influence the way I saw films and has meant something new to me every time I’ve seen it since.

It was the early 80s and I would have been about 12 when I saw it for the first time on my grandparents’ video player. This was back when you had VHS on one side of the video rental store and Betamax on the other (always deserted) side. And you still had to wait a year or two for new films. And whole loads of stuff was either banned or unreleased. So it meant you ended up renting ‘Escape From New York’, ‘Death Race 2000’ and ‘Mad Max’ over and over again. They seemed to have a never-ending supply of these three films. It’s why they’re so immensely popular with my generation. Every so often though, even the most die-hard Snake Plissken fan would need a change from this steady diet of near-future sci-fi shockers, so you’d pick something else from the shelf that had a cover featuring outer space or aliens or, preferably, both. And that’s how I came to watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

That first time, confusion reigned. But you knew you were watching something with some weight. Something that you had to work hard to appreciate. Something that had been filmed with passion and insight and vision. And then you went back to the store and rented ‘Mad Max 2’.

I must have seen ‘2001’ every year since then. You begin watching it again for its allegorical and philosophical puzzles. For the bold use of imagery and soundscapes over traditional narrative. For Arthur C. Clarke’s prescient writing. For HAL’s iconic ‘Daisy Bell’. For Douglas Trumball’s model-making. For the ‘match cut’. For the fleeting appearance of Leonard Rossiter. There’s always a new reason to love the film.

We’re almost a decade on from the year Discovery One takes its journey to Jupiter – in fact, we’re up to the sequel year: ‘2010 – The Year We Make Contact’ (I wouldn’t bother making contact with this one ). The film is still years ahead of us though and will remain a wonder until the Star Child becomes a reality. If I owned a rental store today, I’d make sure I had plenty of copies of ‘2001’ on the shelf – on Betamax, VHS, and even those DVDs that I hear are really popular today.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke