2001: A Space Odyssey – how it affected my life

Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968 had a profound effect on my life. I didn’t understand the film when I first saw it on my 11th birthday, but after reading the book, seeing the film again and enjoying the soundtrack album, I realised this film has had a profound effect on my life.

In this article I will show you the trailer for the movie, give you a brief summary of the story then  explain how this film changed my life.

Here is the trailer for the film

The screenplay was written by the director in conjunction with the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The film is about a series of encounters between mankind and mysterious black monoliths that appeared on the earth and moon and somehow affected human evolution.

The Story

The film is divided into five major narrative segments.

  1. Prehistoric times on Earth. A community of apes at the pre-dawn of history. A black monolith appears. One of the apes “learns” that a bone can become a weapon and kills another ape. In the last shot of this section the bone is seen ascending into the air and then cuts to the next scene.
  2. A trip to the Moon at the turn of the 21st century carrying Dr Heywood Floyd to a space station. There he meets other scientists and discusses the discovery of a black monolith on the surface of the moon. He visits the surface of the moon and sees the monolith. When the monolith is exposed to the light of the sun it emits a piercing signal. It is obvious that the monolith is in communication with an unknown intelligence.
  3. A trip to Jupiter eighteen months later. The spaceship Discovery One is bound for Jupiter to locate the source of the black monolith. The spaceship is controlled by a computer named HAL (notice how the letter after H, A and L spell IBM?) who interacts with the crew by speaking and seeing with a fish-eye lens camera. Some of the crew are in cryogenic hibernation while David Bowman and Frank Poole are alive and active on the spaceship.
  4. HAL suffers some sort of breakdown and attempts to kill the crew by luring them outside with reports of a device failure. HAL shuts down the life support system, and Bowman shuts down the computer.
  5. Bowman leavs Discovery in a small space craft and finds another monolith in orbit around Jupiter. As he approaches it he is pulled in to a tunnel of coloured light (the “Stargate sequence”) then finds himself in a bedroom, seeing himself as an old man. A black monolith appears at the foot of the bed, and as Bowman reaches for it, he is transformed into a fetus-like being (the “Star Child”) enclosed in a transparent orb of light.

How did 2001 affect me?

The film awakened my interest in music, science fiction, computers, artifical intelligence, space exploration, and great movie making.

How many times have I seen the film?

I first saw 2001 in the cinema in 1969, then again in 1977 (approximately) when it was screened at Sydney University and at Walker Street Cinema, North Sydney (now a Bollywood Dance studio) around 1983.

A new 70mm print became available in the 1990s and my friend Phil (another 2001 and NASA fan) saw it at the Cremorne Orpheum cinema. Many audience members were in their early 20s so another generation was getting to know Kubrick’ wonderful film.  Now I have the film on DVD but it is not the same experience watching it at home compared to a grand cinema.

Arthur Clarke (1917 – 2008)

In my early teenage years I read the book of 2001: A Space Odyssey which Arthur Clarke wrote based on the screenplay for the film. Reading the book helped clarify parts of the story.

I also read The Lost Worlds of 2001 published in 1972 as an accompaniment to the film. This book included the short story “The Sentinel” which was the basis of the film.

I continued to read other novels by Arthur Clarke  including the sequel 2010: Odyssey Two and 3001: The Final Odyssey.

Stanley Kubrick

2001 was the first Kubrick film I saw in my life. Kubrick’s films are beautifully crafted with memorable soundtracks of classical music. He would have to be my favourite film director. My favourite Kubrick films are

  • 1964 – Doctor Strangelove
  • 1971 - Clockwork Orange
  • 1975 – Barry Lyndon
  • 1980 – The Shining
  • 1987 – Full Metal Jacket
  • 1999 – Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick died in 1999 )

Film making

2001 introduced me to the craft of film-making and special effects. I learnt that the special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull who was recently used as a consultant on Terence Malick’s film “The Tree of Life”. I became aware of editing techniques such as the “match-cut” that linked a bone thrown by an ape to a space ship.

The Soundtrack

2001 introduced the world to the Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra which means Thus Spake Zarathustra – the name of a philosophical novel by Friedrich Nietsche. This music can be heard at 2:10 in the film clip above. I heard this music played live in 2001 by my daughter’s school orchestra at their speech day in the Opera House. What appropriate music for the year!

The soundtrack has some other wonderful music. Click the YouTube link to watch in a separate window.

  • Johann Strauss – The Blue Danube Waltz. YouTube
  • Aram Khachaturian – Adagio from the ballet Gayaneh – YouTube
  • Gyorgy Ligeti (20th century composer) – Requiem (Kyrie movement). YouTube
  • Gyorgy Ligeti  – Lux Aeterna (for 16 unaccompanied voices). YouTube
  • Richard Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra – YouTube (conducted by Herbert von Karajan) – wonderful recording!

Computers

The HAL 9000 computer on board the discovery was certainly a computer of the future. It had visual input through a fish-eye lens, responded to voice input and spoke to its users. One of the most famous lines from the film is HAL saying “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”. HAL was a machine with Articial Intelligence and showed it had some sort of conscience. I am sure that HAL 9000 influence my decision to pursue Computer Science as a career.

Now that you have “met” the HAL 9000, the following cartoon should make sense.

For more information about 2001, the Wikipedia article is a good starting point.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Phil on April 25, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Like Charles, the movie has had a profound effect on my life. I consider it to be the greatest film of its generation and is still my all-time favourite film.
    I agree that it is a movie for which a cinema is the utlimate venue. Hence I have refrained from watching on it a television screen. However, now I have a Blu-Ray copy and a large format LCD television with a theatre sound system, I am ALMOST at the point of recanting!
    Like Charles, I pursued a computing career, and recall, during my university years, much conjecture as to the origin of the name HAL for the “extra” member of the crew. Many pundits believed that there was a link to IBM, given that each letter of HAL’s name is just one short of IBM’s.
    I must admit that the “Stargate sequence” made no sense to me the first timne I was the film (I would have been quite young). But on reading the book all became clear.
    The registration plate on my car is my initials plus 2001, my own personal tribute to the film.

    Reply

  2. Thanks for your feedback Phil ….in recent years I realised how important this film was for introducing the music of Gyorgi Ligeti. Listen to his Requiem – it will send shivers down your spine – it is such profound music. Also Sprach Zarathustra would have remained in obscurity if it wasn’t for this film.

    Kubrick introduced me to so much wonderful music from his soundtracks – especially Clockwork Orange (Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Rossini and Elgar), The Shining (Bartok’s Music for Celeste, Percussion and Strings) and Eyes Wide Shut (Shostakovich and more Ligeti)

    Reply

  3. An intEResTing blog with A Good combination of historical facts and personal experience. Trailer and the cartoon all help to enrich the story to give it multiple dimensions and layers, enjoyed it thoroughly.
    EmiLy

    Reply

  4. […] 2001: A Space Odyssey – how it affected my life | The … – Apr 25, 2012 · Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968 had a profound effect on my life. I didn’t understand the film when I first saw it on my …… […]

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