'2001: A Space Odyssey' Continues To Impact Film 50 Years Later

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Friday, June 8, 2018 - 1:46pm
Updated: Friday, June 8, 2018 - 1:50pm

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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Fifty years ago, a groundbreaking film that changed how moviegoers looked at science fiction was released into theaters. 

GOLDSTEIN: That film is "2001: A Space Odyssey," directed by Stanley Kubrick. To learn more about the film's impact at the time and the power it continues to have, I'm joined by Monte Yazzie. He is with the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival. All right, Monte, let's go back to 1968. What was sci-fi like then and how did "2001" change things?

MONTE YAZZIE: You know, at the time, we're talking Cold War era. We're talking, you know, influences that are vast in our political structure. We're talking science fiction that is still very much tied into space men from outer space with this disconnection between ourselves and the future, our disconnection between ourselves and technology, and technology is taking on a whole new shape and form at this time. So, Stanley Kubrick brought all those things together and kind of really wanted to make a film about humanity's relationship with the universe.

That's probably paraphrasing something that he said, you know, about the film himself. But when I look at this film and I analyze kind of the structure of when it came around, it feels so out of place for the time and the fact that it initially was received as something that was a flop, people didn't understand it, people were confused by it, people didn't understand what the connections were. There are deliberate steps in the production of this film that it just seems odd when you look at it from afar, especially as a film fan. If you're looking at this movie that pretty much the first 20 minutes of the film is silence and just images before you get to a commentary between people that really doesn't hold no ground with the whole story itself, it just feels so backwards to start in darkness playing music to, you know, have all these images just kind of float and fade in at you. There's something that's mesmerizing about it, but at the time, 1968, can totally understand why it was probably so misconceived.

GOLDSTEIN: What is it really about?

Monte Yazzie
Monte Yazzie
Monte Yazzie, Director of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival Festival.

YAZZIE: I think the interpretation is different. So, when I first watched "2001" when I was a young man, I had no idea what the movie was about. I watched it 10 years later and I got this idea of like, oh it's about how we fear technology. I watched it 10 more years later and I realized that oh, maybe it's a film that is more about our evolution as human beings and I just watched it a couple of nights ago and thought to myself, wow, you know, as a father of a couple of kids now and in a whole different realm than I was ten years ago, I think of it as a film about isolation and almost a film about how we are slowly but surely separating ourselves from humanity and you'll look at the world that we live in today, cell phones, social media, all of these aspects. People can be different people never have the opportunity to have what we're having right now, which is an honest discussion and I think that's the scary thing, when you think about it, and you know whether or not Kubrick was feeling that at the time, in my point of view, I think it is very much about humanity and kind of the isolation that we feel. But again, you could ask 10 people on the street right now and they'd probably have a whole different examination of what it is.

GOLDSTEIN: But your description, is that one of the main reasons you think it has lasted in a way that goes beyond film, goes beyond science fiction, the fact that it is something that makes us think about bigger things?

YAZZIE: Completely. It's a technical masterpiece. So people who are filmmaking gurus can break down that movie over and over again. The special effects still hold up to this day. People that want to talk about narrative structure and storytelling, they can break that down as well, too. People who want to go theoretical and talk about what Kubrick was bringing up, I think they can go on a whole other tangent. Those are three different rooms where three different conversations can happen and those are three intense conversations you're going to have about that film. Science fiction, good science fiction, has always done that. Even in literature, it has always brought in aspects of our real life and applied them to the futuristic life. Kubrick does that in a way that is subtle, that is imaginative, and three, that is wholly unique at the time.

GOLDSTEIN: One character that really comes to mind is "HAL." Explain who HAL was.

YAZZIE: HAL is an artificial intelligence that operates the entire space shuttle that our lead character's on, and HAL is a menace in the most subtle of ways.

2001: A Space Odyssey (film still)
Warner Brothers
A still from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."


DAVID BOWMAN: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL 9000: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

BOWMAN: What's the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

BOWMAN: What are you talking about, HAL?

HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

YAZZIE: He is a computer system. He operates on such a level that is so mute to almost — you can feel him thinking, and his responses are so monotone that it's almost hard to pick up on whether or not he's deceiving or being genuine or whatever. But HAL has grown to become a character that people have utilized. I mean, AI in films now, you know, people have utilized Kubrick style to build these villains of the separation of, is it humanity's choice or is it going to be technology's choice? I mean, the Terminator films did all that themselves, you know, AI becoming self-aware and making decisions that destroy our ultimate future. HAL is like, the beginning of that. So when you think about the dawn of man at the beginning of that movie, where we see the apes slowly evolve and utilize bones to make weapons and they become these new people, when you think about with HAL, that's the beginning of HAL evolving into something different. So when you have these moments where HAL and our lead character are at odds with each other, they are tense. That scene with the, "Open the pod bay doors"? Man, you'd play that scene over and over again. It is still unnerving to this day.

GOLDSTEIN:  This is not a movie you can get up and go to the bathroom, you've got it on Netflix, whatever it is, you can go and get some popcorn. You really need to be sort of enmeshed in this movie.

YAZZIE: And I think that's the best way that you can see this movie. I remember when I first saw it, I saw it on a VHS that was split. So you had to change the VHS over the first time. But a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, they did a 70 millimeter presentation in this beautiful theater and it just felt like an event, and I remember sitting down and you get this opening and the music is blaring and it just pulls you in. Next thing I know, it's two and a half hours later and I'm like, "It's over?" Like, just feeling like just so entrenched in it, and I'd already seen it many times before that.

GOLDSTEIN: Monte Yazzie, thanks for coming in.

YAZZIE: Thank you so much.

GOLDSTEIN: Monte Yazzie is with the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival.

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