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2001: A Space Odyssey

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is an immensely popular and influential science fiction film, directed by Stanley Kubrick which is based on a number of short stories by Arthur C. Clarke, most notably The Sentinel (1951). The story for the movie and book were both jointly written by Clarke and Kubrick. They agreed that the movie would be presented as by Kubrick, and that the book would be presented as by Clarke. For an elaboration of their collaborative work on this project, see The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, Signet., 1972.

Warning: Spoilers follow

In the background to the story, only hinted at in the movie version, an ancient and unseen alien race uses a mechanism with the appearance of a large black monolith[?] to investigate worlds all across the galaxy and, if possible, to encourage the development of intelligent life. One such monolith briefly visits ancient Earth, in Africa, where it influences the behaviour of a group of our hominid ancestors around three million B.C.E., pushing them on the path towards intelligence. A second monolith is then buried on the Moon, where it could only be discovered by Earth life forms if they develop both intelligence and space travel.

Having satisfied those two criteria, members of our own species proceed to the Moon and begin investigations of a magnetic anomaly in Tycho crater, dubbed TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly #1). When excavations there uncover the second monolith and expose it to sunlight, it responds (according to the ancient alien plan) by emitting a powerful signal toward the outer solar system. From that point the movie details a manned mission to a moon of Jupiter to investigate the signal's receiver.

(The book version instead details a trip to Iapetus - a moon of Saturn - by way of Jupiter, using an interplanetary navigation technique known as a gravitational slingshot. According to Clarke in the foreward to the 30th anniversary edition of 2001, this storyline was removed from the movie version because Kubrick felt the special effects created to depict Saturn and its rings were not realistic enough. Special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull would re-use much of this early work in his 1972 film Silent Running.)

The ship is manned by a crew of astronauts and a sentient on-board computer called HAL 9000. The scientists being sent to investigate the signal's receiver have been placed in suspended animation, and the live crew -- unlike Mission Control, HAL, and the sleeping scientists -- are unaware of the discovery of the Tycho monolith or the nature of their mission. On the outbound trip, after discussing apparent anomalies in the ship's mission with two of the crew members, HAL reports an unverifiable error in the ship's antenna control system. Two of the members discuss the possibility that HAL might be committing errors and thus would need to have his higher brain functions disabled. HAL discovers their plans, and begins to murder his human crewmates. Crewman David Bowman manages to outwit HAL, and continues the mission to investigate the artifact. The encounter with the artifact that follows is one of the most memorable conclusions to a film ever made.

While the film's estimate for our technical progress was, with the benefit of hindsight, optimistic (though in many cases through lack of political will rather than any technical reason), Kubrick's attention to technological accuracy was unprecedented for a science fiction film, especially since the Moon based scenes were filmed before the 1969 Moon landing of Apollo 11. Moreover, the film's profound themes about the nature of humanity, intelligence, and our place in the universe, still resonate powerfully today.

The film and Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name share an interesting developmental history, with the book being written by Clarke based on some of the film's daily rushes, with feedback in both directions.

The film was also noted for its innovative use of classical music. Previously, films were invariably scored with music written especially for them, but Kubrick, in an interview with Michel Ciment, explained: "However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it's very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. . . . Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score." 2001 uses works by Ligeti, Khachaturian, and Johann Strauss II, and is especially remembered for Richard Strauss's fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra[?], which has come to be forever associated with the immensity of space. (Kubrick had actually commissioned a soundtrack from Alex North[?], who was unaware that his soundtrack had not actually been used until he saw the movie. North's soundtrack has since been released separately. A review of that soundtrack and some background notes can be found at the mfiles Website (http://www.mfiles.co.uk/Reviews/alex-norths-2001-a-space-odyssey.htm).)

A sequel to the film, titled 2010: The Year We Make Contact was based on Clarke's book 2010: Odyssey Two and was released in 1984 (The book was released in 1982.) However, both the book and the film failed to have as much impact as the original film and book. Arthur C. Clarke went on to write 2061: Odyssey Three[?] (1987) and 3001: the Final Odyssey[?] (1997).

2001: A Space Odyssey is consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films, was #22 on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies and #40 on its 100 Years, 100 Thrills, and been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

External links

Technical Note In the movie HAL features a design with triple redundancy, so that if one of the three modules fails the other two can outvote it. However, the formal study of fault-tolerant computing[?] shows that such a vote-based sanity check[?] will not actually protect against the failure of a single node in a three-node system like HAL. Thus the failure of only a single one of HAL's redundant modules would be sufficient to compromise the system, as apparently happened in the movie.

It is not known whether Kubrick and Clarke were aware of this fact when they wrote the story.



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