Making the Grades
You either love it, or hate it. Those who hate it have probably never got themselves past the opening ape scenes. Those who love it have never quit debating about the mysterious monolith or its symbolic meaning. No matter which camp you belong to, one thing is certain--Stanley Kubrick's cinematic version of Arthur C. Clarke's monumental novel will always stand in film history as the first real space movie made.
With no dialogue during the first half-hour, 2001 readies its audience with a few minutes of oddly structured sounds followed by its hallmark theme, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Strauss--a classical piece that will forever be related to 2001.
Next we are taken to a pivotal moment in the evolution of man when the monolith, a perfectly formed rectangle, appears from nowhere and alters the infamous screaming apes forever. (If nothing else, no one can deny the poor saps working in those costumes are some of the best primate impersonators on the planet.)
Cut to the "future." The year is 1999, and a group of scientists have made an astonishing discovery. A black monolith buried beneath the surface of the moon is beaming a strange signal to Jupiter. Wanting to investigate further, the U.S. dispatches a huge ship, The Discovery, to Jupiter. With all but two of its large crew in cryogenic hibernation, Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are responsible for supervising the voyage with the help of HAL, a state-of-the art computer.
But as the space vehicle nears Jupiter strange events begin to unfold, starting with HAL, who erroneously suspects a component on the ship is about to fail. (Having experienced years of computer glitches, this hardly seems surprising today, but back in the future of this movie, HAL was a perfect specimen supposedly incapable of making an error). Things rapidly unravel, eventually leaving the entire crew dead, except for one man. Orbiting Jupiter alone, Dave embarks on an odyssey that has left people speculating ever since.
Despite our increased expectations of special effects and the portrayal of "realistic" space travel (as if we know what "real" is?!), 2001 is an elegant masterpiece that has aged very well. Images of sleek Concorde-looking space planes docking at the round orbiting space station surpass the squat Space Shuttle or the "Tinker-Toy" style International Space Station scientists are actually getting off the ground.
Besides some tense moments when Dave finds himself locked outside of the ship, followed by the confusing voyage he endures (which may also frighten young children), there is little content to concern parents. If you have a problem with evolution being portrayed as the origin of man, simply fast-forward the first 25 minutes and pick up from there. You'll hardly miss a thing.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Why did Arthur C. Clarke leave the purpose of the monolith as a mystery? What do you think it represents? (Those interested in gaining greater insight into the author’s intended meaning may find some answers at their local library by reading later books in this series, such as: 2010, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey.)
You are living at the time when this movie was supposed to take place—33 years after the film was made. Why were people in 1968 so optimistic about what we would achieve in space travel over the next quarter-century? If you were to make 2035: A Space Odyssey, what do you think people would be doing?