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Saturday, July 7, 2007

2001: A space odyssey

There would not have been a serious fan of science fiction movies or a follower of the best in cinema who would not have seen the science fiction classic '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Based on the short story, 'The Sentinel' by Arthur C Clarke written in 1948, the movie and a new novel based on the movie were written at around the same time, with the movie getting released first in 1968, and the book being co-authored by the movie director 'Stanley Kubrick' and 'Arthur C Clarke' soon after.
This movie is a very strange movie in many aspects, with barely 40 minutes of dialogs in a 148 minute movie. The movie in many many instances looks very stark, with very sharp scenes. With some delightful music, and excellent visuals, the movie is a treat to watch. The movie also leaves the ending sufficiently vague, and these are actually completed by Clarke in his subsequent novels, '2010', '2061' and '3001'. There has been a lot of bitching about the future shown in the movie in the sense that 2001 certainly did not see much of easy space flight, but the fact remains that the American space exploration programme, in its full fancy at the time of Apollo and the moon landings was shut down in the mid 1970's. If there had been sufficient focus and effort put in that direction, such things would still be realistically possible.
The movie set a new pattern with extensive use of scores from the classical composers, both dead and alive. Kubrick shunned the use of movie composers, instead using works by Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss (Thus Spoke Zarathustra)and Gy├Ârgy Ligeti.
The movie is so different from the others that the first spoken word is issued half an hour into the movie; try to think of 3 elements in the movie, with speech, music, or silence (pre-dominant in space). At any point of time, any scene had only one of these 3 elements present.
The movie essentially divided its critics into 2 parts, people either loved the movie or hated it. But slowly the movie picked momentum and gained an incredible amount of popular and critical acclaim, enough that it is now in the top 100 movies of all time.
The movie starts out with a tribe of primeval ape man struggling against the odds. One day they find a mysterious black object appears and they nervously go near it. In a kick start initiated by the monolith, Man starts to get intelligent and starts to develop tools. As he is able to use the bone tool, he is able to kill enemies, and thus ends the pre-historic episode in the movie. He throws his weapon in the air in triumph and the scene changes to that of an orbital satellite.
In the present time, the American base in the moon discovers an object buried in the moon a million years ago (dubbed Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1 or TMA-1), and Dr. Floyd, a research scientist wants to see it. They see a monolith, smooth after millions of years. With the first burst of sunlight falling on the monolith, it emits a screech, as if it is time to act now.
Cut to the spaceship Discovery 1 going to the moon. It carried 6 passengers, Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, 3 cryogenically frozen astronauts and HAL (the onboard computer). HAL is the pinnacle of super-computing, designed to communicate like a human, and very human like in its interactions. At this point, the movie starts to move into the dangerous territory.
HAL reports an impending problem in the communication system, and Bowman goes out of the spaceship to explore, but no problem can be seen. Mission control suggest that HAL is facing a problem, and in the meantime, HAL suggests waiting for the part to fail. Dave and Frank go into a pod, away from HAL, to discuss secretly about whether HAL is failing. Conclusion: if the problem repeats, they will disconnect HAL. Unfortunately, HAL is able to hear what they are saying; and now the movie shows the magic, the power of a computing device out to do harm.
Poole goes outside to repair, and steps outside the EVA pod, at which point HAL takes control of the pod and rams the pod at Poole, killing him. Dave, watching, rushed outside in another pod to try and rescue Poole; in the meantime, HAL deliberately disconnects the support system of the 3 cryogenically frozen astronauts, killing them.
When Frank tried to return, HAL refuses to open the door, revealing that he knows of the conspiracy to 'kill him'. The voice of HAL, always soft-spoken does not hide the danger that Frank is in. HAL also makes it clear that the mission is so important that HAL cannot let Dave screw it up. Dave manages to enter the ship in a risky way, given that he does not have a support system and was exposed to vacuum for a short while. He has one purpose, to deactivate HAL. He starts doing so, and slowly HAL starts to die, all the while protesting about what Dave is doing.
The final part of the movie, with a recording explaining the monolith on the moon and around Jupiter. Dave wants to go out and explore the monolith, and exits the Discovery 1 in an EVA pod. He appears to travel vast distances, first seeming to arrive in a royal room, and goes through some strange experiences, finally seeing himself on his deathbed (through reflected glass) with a monolith nearby. As he tried to touch it, he transforms into a vision called a 'Star Child', a fetus like being, surrounded by an orb of light and in the Earth's orbit.
The movie shows a number of devices that are now present such as flat monitors, glass cockpits in spacecraft, credit cards with magnetic strips, biometric identification

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