23 October 2005

2001: A Space Odyssey For Dummies

Kubrick's 2001 is one of my favourite but least-seen films. It's difficult to watch in anything but ideal conditions: in a cinema, in 70mm with outstanding sound, in a mood for profundity and philosophy rather than cheap, quick entertainment. So it's not your typical movie. By today's standards particularly -- but even at the time -- it's slow, ponderous and sometimes bewildering.

Most people younger than I have never seen the film, or seen it properly. They've caught a portion of it on TV somewhere, gotten bored and stopped watching. This is understandable -- it's a dreary experience on most televisions, and much of what Kubrick did to make the film so powerful is lost in translation to the smaller screen (and, to be fair, the smaller mind -- people just don't get as introspective and strokey-beardy as they used to).

Addressing this issue, some people collectively known as New Media Giants have made a four-part, approximately 12-minute version of the film in Flash. I'll pause here while the purists and snobs (including me) recoil in abject horror. Ahem.

I have mixed feelings about the result: it's clearly a labour of love and tries to capture at least a little of Kubrick's style, but with written explanations about what the hell is going on and delineating lots of the sort of things Kubrick intentionally left symbolic. Part of the point of the film is that man must progress ... and making the original movie in that fashion was intended to help that process along by getting the public thinking again.

Ultimately, it's obvious that Kubrick's approach didn't work, so perhaps this condensed and dope-ified version will at least allow people to understand what Kubrick was trying to do. For that, and for it's technical proficiency, it must be applauded as a nobel cause.

But Don Quixote had a noble cause too -- it was just pointless and futile. People too shallow and/or stupid to recognise that 2001: A Space Odyssey requires careful, attentive, thoughtful viewing -- that it's not "just another movie" -- will probably also be bored and confused by this "For Dummies" version. It's still too long for the average videogame-addicted twit, and the ultimate dumbed-down message all spelled out with no style or wit won't resonate with today's nihilist society the way it would (and did) with the hopeful, inspired, imaginative audience fueled by the world's successes in space and on earth of the late 1960s.

Still, if you've tried to watch the film and never gotten through it, I'd suggest you take a look at this -- you'll at least get something out of the film, and perhaps even be inspired to take a "proper" look at the original under the right conditions in the future. It might even get you thinking a little, and that's not a bad thing by a long shot.

If you've never seen the film at all, don't watch this version. Wait for an art-house cinema showing or at the very least the HiDef DVD to come out. Watch it in a philosophical mood (LSD or even pot might help get you there) on a great HD TV with 5.1 killer sound in a darkened room with no chance of interruptions. Then you'll get it.

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