ALL HAL BREAKS LOOSE
“2001: A Space Odyssey” has been intimidating me for years. I was afraid I was not going to get it. But this year, I decided to man up and give in. Of course, what do I get in the first three minutes – a pitch dark screen accompanied by scary music. How the heck am I supposed to respond to that? Did I not get a secret decoder? I felt dumbstruck watching Kubrick’s masterpiece because well, it is utterly different from most movies. I’d throw in words like jarring and shocking to describe it, but one would probably mentally picture blood with these descriptions where the movie has none.
Perhaps attempting to describe is a mistake. You can’t merely put “2001: A Space Odyssey” into words. The movie has to be seen and heard to believe. It lavishes such a pure luxurious atmosphere that its first-rate and ambitious plot seems secondary. Visionary Stanley Kubrick is in top form here. He captures such a precise eeriness in mood and tone that you can’t help but gravitate towards his realized realms.
True to its title, what the movie has is a lot of space. While “Star Wars” and movies alike have treated space as just another frontier to play cowboys on, “2001” takes a step-back appreciation. Sluggish spacecrafts are observed in slow mesmerizing shots, as if floating in space is as elegant as dancing the waltz. There is also fascination about life in space, with “futuristic” inventions such as picture phone, grip shoes, and iPads to watch news on. Kubrick also presents a world of discombobulation, where we see actors walk upright, sideways, and upside-down. And I must admit that my Physics knowledge kicked in glee, when I saw the rotating space stations mimic gravity by using centripetal force.
But for all the technological inventions featured, none can match the HAL-9000 computer. “He” is prominent in the main story (the movie’s third segment) as the “perfect” brain and central system of a spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter. HAL, depicted simply as a red light with a polite male voice, is never known to err. But when two astronauts on board suspect of a computer malfunction, they must find a way to outsmart and ctrl-alt-delete the calculating machine.
No doubt HAL is one of the most memorable villains of all time. It’s genius in Kubrick’s part to use a round red light. We are conditioned to freeze to the image, as if danger awaits us if we move. And what I even find more disturbing is HAL’s calm voice, which is chilling in its lack of emotions. And then there’s the computer’s logic itself. You can’t reason with HAL. It’s more stubborn than a woman who always thinks she’s right. Hell hath no fury like a computer scorned.
I love the HAL story because, in part, it’s suspenseful and accessible. The other three segments of the movie, which spotlights mysterious black monoliths, are more vague and require interpretation. This brings me back to my initial fear. I was right suspecting I wouldn’t get “it.” But you know what, as head scratching the movie is, I don’t care. I can’t wait to watch the movie again to understand more of it. What I realized is that “2001” somehow evolved me. The movie is a symbolic black monolith of its own. It altered my primitive movie watching and took me to the next level. The advanced generation of cinema is not 3-D. It should be films that stimulate curiosity and imagination. “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which came in 1968, was not only ahead of its time, it is still ahead of ours.