Reviews of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and related work

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968Text)

Arthur C. Clarke (writer).

Read in 2019.

Extraterrestrial intervention in human evolution. The spark of our intelligence was lit by an artificial black stone. In 1999, an identical monolith is found on the moon, and in 2001, an exploratory mission is sent to Jupiter, identified as the source of the mystery. The Jupiter ship carries an artificial intelligence in addition to its human astronauts.

The hard SF aspects are very nicely played. Bowman is the classic early-astronaut type with Tom Wolfe’s right stuff. Written before Apollo 11, there are many little reflections on everyday life in a culture where spacefaring is taken for granted, and most these still make plenty of sense. However, not all of the science has aged so well. In the 1960s, Jane Goodall showed that chimpanzees also tools, as do some other animals. There are birds who dance; it’s not just us. Clarke’s ape-men don’t behave according to the scientific consensus of fifty years later; it would be a miracle if they did. The narrative of numinous intervention on our behalf seems to rest on some latent human chauvinism, no matter how cleverly composed and engaging.

fiction text

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968Moving picture, 149 minutes)

Stanley Kubrick (writer-director).

Perfectionism, sincerity and imagination in a rare combination. The film was released before the novel but the novel was written to develop ideas for the screenplay, in collaboration between Clarke and Kubrick. The film omits much of that background material. This leaves the ending overly mysterious, but I quite like the omission of the stated reason for why HAL goes haywire; it seems more reasonable to me that HAL would consider itself a competitor for alien uplift. The film leaves this open to interpretation, to good effect. Douglas Rain’s voice for HAL is especially brilliant.

References here: Planet of the Vampires (1965), Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977), Armored Trooper Votoms (1983), “Daicon IV Opening Animation” (1983), Ex Machina (2014), Interstellar (2014), First Man (2017), The Wandering Earth (2019).

adaptation fiction moving picture