Space Odyssey

I finally had the chance to watch one of my favourite films on the big screen yesterday at The Projector, an indie cinema space that has established itself at the old Golden Theatres at Golden Mile Towers. It’s an amazing feeling that this very film may have been screened in this very theatre half a century ago.

I first watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on television once back in 2009, when I was flipping through channels. I’m still not too sure if it was good fortune or bad that when I chanced upon it, it was already half way through at the space scenes. Whatever the case, I was immediately mesmerised by the powerful visual spectacle of a space-age futurism that has inspired generations of imagination and creation. With all the meticulous set design and ingenious use of sound and pace, it struck me that this was pretty much the venerable and ancestral predecessor to all other science fiction movies that I (in my geeky early teen days) had been infatuated with.

Odyssey introduced me to a whole new world: Stanley Kubrick, classic films, film-making, Richard Strauss, the hardcore science fiction of Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein, art and design, the typefaces of Futura and Eurostile.

It’s a lofty film, both physically (being so long there is an actually an intermission) as well as culturally, giving birth to tons of things since its debut in 1968, from Star Wars to conspiracy theories of a faked moon landing in 1969, from furniture to film-making.

I would love to spend days at an end analysing key themes and aspects of the film or even churn out essays on it, but that has already been done by generations of film lovers and film students before me. There’s even a dedicated website containing numerous academic essays and discussions on the film. Instead, I shall just comment on how Kubrick has compressed millions of years of human evolution and experience (civilisation and philosophy) into a 10 second match cut of a bone thrown by a prehistoric ape and an orbital nuclear weapon pointed at earth.

Beyond just the sharpness of Kubrick’s storytelling ability, these 10 seconds contain perhaps a poignant criticism of human existence, dehumanising it and boiling it down to its very primordial values – violence and survival. The message of this film (if there even is one) seems to transcend these values: human existence is verily insignificant, but yet at the same time, the human being ironically possesses a potential to be a plenipotentiary of agency.

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