On a young planet called Earth, an alien intelligence – in the form of a large black monolith – tests the intelligence of a primitive race of primates. It also influences their development into a more ambitious and potentially more dangerous species. The monolith vanishes, having completed its task.
Millennia later, a primitive race of primates living on the planet Earth has developed the technology necessary to make short range space travel commonplace, and has discovered another monolith buried under the surface of Earth’s moon. Faced with the first solid evidence of extraterrestrial life, humankind launches a mission to Jupiter, the planet toward which the newly discovered monolith transmitted a brief signal. Astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole pilot the spaceship Discovery, carrying a cargo of three trained scientists in cryogenically-induced hibernation, though Bowman and Poole – along with most of the rest of the human race – have not been told about the monolith on the moon, and their fellow travelers were frozen prior to the mission to avoid that information leaking out. The Discovery’s onboard computer, the artificially intelligent HAL 9000, begins to show signs of unreliable decision-making, and when Bowman and Poole take steps to shut HAL down, it kills Poole during a spacewalk and tries to shut Bowman out of the ship when he goes to retrieve his fallen comrade. HAL also deactivates the three frozen scientists’ life support units, killing them as well. Bowman manages to get back aboard Discovery and shuts down HAL’s higher logic centers. But when Discovery finally reaches Jupiter as planned – with only one surviving crewmember – no amount of astronaut training, nor even the sum total of human experience, has prepared David Bowman for what he will find there, for the monolith has returned.
Cast: Keir Dullea (David Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Frank Poole), William Sylvester (Heywood Floyd), Douglas Rain (HAL 9000), Daniel Richter (Moon-Watcher), Leonard Rossiter (Dr. Andrei Smyslov), Margaret Tyzack (Elena), Robert Beatty (Dr. Ralph Halvorsen), Sean Sullivan (Dr. Bill Michaels), Frank Miller (Mission Controller), Bill Weston (Astronaut), Edward Bishop (Aries-1B Lunar Shuttle Captain), Glenn Beck (Astronaut), Alan Gifford (Poole’s Father), Ann Gillis (Poole’s Mother), Edwina Carroll (Aries-1B Stewardess), Penny Brahms (Aries-1B Stewardess), Heather Downham (Aries-1B Stewardess), Mike Lovell (Astronaut), John Ashley (Ape), Peter Delmar (Ape), David Hines (Ape), Darryl Faes (Ape), Timmy Bell (Ape), Terry Duggan (Ape), Tony Jackson (Ape), Joe Refalo (Ape), David Charkham (Ape), David Fleetwood (Ape), John Jordan (Ape), Andy Wallace (Ape), Simon Davis (Ape), Danny Grover (Ape), Scott Mackee (Ape), Bob Wilyman (Ape), Jonathan Daw (Ape), Brian Hawley (Ape), Laurence Marchant (Ape), Richard Wood (Ape), Kenneth Kendall (BBC Newsreader)
Notes: Actor Ed Bishop lent his voice to many genre animated series, including Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and an episode of the animated Star Trek series. He later appeared in the flesh in Anderson’s cult classic ’70s live-action series UFO as Commander Ed Straker, and appeared in the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound audio story Full Fathom Five. Kenneth Kendall was a BBC newsreader in real life – the first person to do so on camera in the BBC’s history, in 1955. He parlayed that unique historical footnote into appearances – more or less as himself in his familiar job – on The Morecambe & Wise Show, Adam Adamant Lives! and numerous British-made B-movies. The only actors to appear in both this movie and its 1984 sequel are Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain. Director Stanley Kubrick had the elaborate sets built for 2001 destroyed immediately after production to make sure that they wouldn’t be reused in later films (such reuse being a common practice that he felt would cheapen 2001).
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: This movie earns so many simultaneous accolades for brilliance and scathing criticisms, it’s a paradox in itself, even aside from its convoluted storyline! We’ll start with the positive. With no disrespect intended toward set designers and builders over the decade since 2001‘s release, no one has ever topped the revolutionary sets constructed for the spaceship Dsicovery. The huge circular flight deck dominates the Discovery, a ring-shaped construct built in a true circle which the characters and the camera seem to effortlessly move around. I imagine it was actually built on its side and rotated for those scenes, and then taken apart into smaller, more manageable chunks for stationary scenes. Still, it’s a mind-boggling piece of movie history, as well as being one of the few things about 2001 that is easy to understand.
At the heart of the story, there appear to be two plots: one about man’s evolution being influenced by aliens, the other about a computer’s inability to handle duplicity. Well, actually, that second plot applies only if you read the book. And the biggest problem with 2001 is that you have to read the book to understand the movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel – far from it – but the movie should be able to stand on its own, and it doesn’t. The concept of HAL struggling with the concept of lying is not dealt with in 2001, but is given a hearing in the 1984 sequel, 2010. The most obvious basic problem with 2001‘s story is that it is not complete. It starts at the beginning, but never gets to the end, and doesn’t even really offer any hints as to what the end is. Clarke claimed for years that the non-sequitur conclusion of 2001 made no allowances for a sequel, but I honestly never believed Clarke’s claim. It is so obvious that 2001 requires a follow-up that, if Clarke truly believed it was a complete story either on film or on the printed page, his grasp of the necessities of good storytelling is very loose indeed.
On film, 2001 suffers from another problem – the scientifically accurate but aesthetically questionable decision on the part of Kubrick to allow no sound in most of the spacewalk scenes that the astronaut characters couldn’t hear for themselves. Yet he does allow music to creep into these same sequences, so what’s the point, and what’s the distinction? The music is another sore point among longtime admirers of 2001 – which do you prefer, the classical “score” assembled from existing recordings, or Alex North‘s more modern original music? Both were quite formidable to listen to, and as much as I love North’s original score as later recorded and released by Varese Sarabande, I have to side with Kubrick. The classical music lends 2001 a kind of timelessness, especially the unnerving and abstract choral Ligeti pieces, and the music accompanying the first appearance of the Discovery is one of my all-time favorites. Other sound problems, however, are the large swathes of the movie which contain absolutely no sound whatsoever. That may well be much more scientifically accurate, but it can be boring as hell at times. When the aural status quo does change, often you hear the astronauts breathing like they’re making an obscene phone call to Earth.
I’ve heard many complaints that 2001 has no emotional hooks for an audience to grab on to, and is a purely intellectual film. As an experienced devil’s advocate – yes, even hell can afford a defense attorney! – I would point you toward Keir Dullea’s wonderfully subtle performance, especially in the latter half of the movie when he is the only human being to inhabit the remainder of the story. He’s clearly worried, scared, furious, and professionally calm, all at once. Real life astronauts are drilled for emergency situations until their reactions are purely instinctual, and Dullea’s performance shouldn’t be mistaken for wooden: Bowman is using every piece of emergency knowledge he’s been trained for, under extreme stress, and stopping for a visible emotional breakdown will accomplish nothing (or give HAL an extra chance to kill him). The psychedelic montage at the end of the movie is interspersed flash-frame stills of Bowman in awe, screaming in fear, and stunned into non-comprehension, and that the viewer can instantly sense all of these sensations in the brief seconds that his face appears amid the much more colorful “stargate” imagery is a tremendous testament to Dullea’s skill. Unfortunately, he was reduced to recanting Zen-like promises of wonderful things to come in the sequel, when his appearances there could have been much more frightening and meaningful.
2001 is a well-stirred soup of good and bad, brilliant and banal, and like the meaning of the movie itself, it’s ultimately up to each individual viewer to figure out what’s really going on in this film.