It must be a minor cinematic sin to watch Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 Space Odyssey” on a laptop computer. I’m a low-tech kind of woman and I don’t have one of those expensive big screen televisions, nor do I want one. Perhaps it’s not a cinematic sin to watch this famous sci-fi/art house classic on a laptop. After all, I’m just imitating the cosmonauts that watched the news on prototypes of my laptop. Do you know the scene on the spaceship when the 2 cosmonauts are eating their daily mush and watching a BBC News report on their notebook PCs?
I was only 4 years old when this classic was introduced a new era of cinema (1968) so needless to say, I didn’t watch the original release. And it would be about 15 years later when I would watch the film as part of an art house series at the university I attended. So fortunately I missed out on audiences dropping acid and taking advantage of the psychedelic visual effects the film provided, not to mention surreal images that would cause envy in the likes of Federico Fellini (who came out with “Satyricon” around that time), Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.
Kubrick’s movies in general inspired artists of various disciplines, not to mention David Bowie who responded with his debut album, “Space Oddity” in 1969 and a titular song that quickly became my favorite back in the 1980s when I discovered it. Bowie donned flaming red hair, a space suit (which he would also wear for “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”), and platform boots. The folky acoustic songs on the album resembled Donovan more than any other performer of that era.
The late 1960s was a time of radical change, in politics, economics, education, human rights and the arts. Lighter weight cameras were introduced to cinema, both here in North America and abroad. French New Wave competed with Swedish, Italian, and a younger generation of Hollywood movies. The race to the moon also garnered public attention and the first American landing on the moon happened one year after Kubrick’s film hit the screens. Sci-Fi was much hipper then too than today. Children played with battery operated astronauts, drank Tang like the astronauts and watched the cartoon “The Jetsons” so people were looking towards a high-tech future even if they didn’t know it at the time.
All that aside, Kubrick’s cinematic team (director of photography, music director, visual effects, costume and set designers) did a bang-up job with this movie. From the psychedelic light show that takes place in the wormhole towards the end of the movie, from the beginning sequence with apes learning how to make and use tools thus introducing violence, “Space Odyssey” is just that, an incredible journey from simple tools made from bones to a computer-controlled spaceship in which the computer HAL, has a mind of his own. And who hasn’t experienced the frustration of their computer getting the upper hand?
In an era where houses built with computer-controls (airflow, heating, lights, etc), shouldn’t we feel somewhat nervous that the computer could have a mind of its own? While this might sound absurd, so would a future of people owning cell phones, laptops and communicate through space and time over optic cables. I just hope I never end up alone on a spaceship in outer space with a computer rebelling against me! Man versus machine, who actually wins?
Kubrick’s combination of startling visuals and familiar music adds its irony too. “Blue Danube” for outer space sequences and “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” for more intense moments. Dissonant music employed to portray the energies in the monolith and even the dissonant music mixed with sacred choral chants which speaks volumes about humanity, the cosmos and spirituality, even if Kubrick himself wasn’t spiritual or religious. I don’t know enough about the film director to delve into his spiritual beliefs.
The 2 1/2 hour movie provides all sorts of memorable images from the ape tossing the bone in the sky which segues into a space ship of the distant future to the “star child” shown next to the planet earth at the end of the film, and the wormhole traveling which compares to getting consumed by a lava lamp. Kubrick’s dry humor isn’t lost on me either. I found the scenes with Frank (the scientist) at the beginning quite amusing and satirical like when he phones his daughter on a video phone and tells her he’s traveling (he’s in space) and isn’t able to make her birthday which is the next day. Then there’s the scene in the space version of Howard & Johnson’s with low tables and chairs resembling fuchsia mushrooms. There’s just no way Kubrick wasn’t getting a chuckle from the film directing and script writing for this movie. And by the way, he partnered with sci-fi author Arthur C. Clark.
I’m not a Kubrick fan, but I enjoy his movies. I once sat through a 3-hour documentary on Kubrick at the Seattle International Film Festival and almost fell asleep a few times. I also watched screeners and videos of Kubrick’s films before attending this special documentary event. And I watched the revival showing of “2001 Space Odyssey” in 2001, without seeing the irony of the computer age. I’m not sure how I managed that.
So is it a forgivable sin to watch this Cinerama classic on a laptop? Hopefully the next time I watch it, I’m not stuck in wormhole traffic.