Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Story:  With this section of 2001: A Space Odyssey (combined with this one), I think I've covered nearly half the dialogue of the movie.  2001 is mostly images, the dialogue is spare, oblique, and in patches scattered throughout the movie.  The only things left are the conversations with the Russians, "Open the pod bay doors, Hal" and the Clavius conference.  After that, I'll be forced to do the ape sections and interpreting the hoots and screams (that were recorded for Mogambo, it seems) phonetically—which I don't mine, really, as they're some of the best laugh-lines in the film.

Once, again, we're in conversation with HAL, the ship's majordomo, in constant analysis mode, here, first as art critic—he's a computer!—then, as ship gossip/crew psychologist.  It still amazes me that HAL is such a powerful presence in the movie, despite being portrayed with a single shot of a red lens, and the disembodied voice of Douglas Rain.  HAL, and his appropriately distorting viewpoint, will prove to be the focus for the rest of the Discovery section of the film, and his actions will be just one more catalyst for the film's final section, which the entire movie has been building up to.  This scene is the final moment of human complacency before a cosmic event of transfiguration.

It's then followed up by a shot I still haven't figured out: a shot of Poole, taking notes on the Discovery's perspective and gravity-free bridge, looking straight down on his head.  The camera pulls out, and just in the next section is Bowman standing a full 90 degrees perpendicular from Poole's position.  Neither actor betrays any framing or position adjustment and then to cap it off—to prove he's not wired or rigged to anything—Poole moves to one of the command chairs and straps himself in.  Maybe it's the front-projection system, they used for the studio-filmed Africa sequences, but those were large slides, not a film (and the film's grain would betray it), other than a brighter register, there's no betrayal that the two men weren't filmed at the same time...and the shot rack-focuses to keep Bowman clear.

How did they do this?  Clues are available in the earlier scene: in both instances, Bowman writes and sketches with his right hand, the uniform insignias are both on the left shoulder...but in the earlier scene in the gravitized centrifuge, Bowman's hair is parted on the left side of his head but, in the control room, it's parted on the right.  It is probably a mirror shot, double-angled to project an off-axis image of Dullea into the camera lens.  Between the miming of actors throughout, the rotating sets with a single perspective, and the intricate timing of each, and pioneering hidden wire work and intricate matte shots, Kubrick was able to convey a sense of zero-gravity without having to resort to "vomit comets," (as is used today).

The Set-Up:  Eighteen months after an inexplicable event on the Moon, the planetary exploration ship Discovery moves toward a rendezvous with the planet Jupiter, manned by astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole (Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood), three mission specialists in hibernation, and monitored by a HAL 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain).  


HAL Good evening, Dave. 
DAVE BOWMAN: How're you doing, Hal? 

HAL Everything's running smoothly. And you? 
BOWMAN: Oh, not too bad. 

HAL Have you been doing some more work? 
BOWMAN: A few sketches. 
HAL May I see them? 

BOWMAN: Sure. 

HAL That's a very nice rendering, Dave. I think you've improved a great deal. 

HAL Can you hold it a bit closer? 
BOWMAN: Sure. 

HAL That's Dr. Hunter isn't it? 
BOWMAN: Mm-hmm. 

HAL By the way do you mind if I ask you a personal question? 

BOWMAN: No, not at all.
HAL Well, forgive me for being so inquisitive... 

HAL ...but during the past few weeks I've wondered whether you might be having some... 

HAL ...second thoughts about the mission. 
BOWMAN: How do you mean?

HAL Well it's rather difficult to define. Perhaps I'm just projecting my own concerns about it. I know I've never completely... 

HAL ...freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission. I'm sure you'll agree there's... 

HAL ...some truth in what I say. 

BOWMAN: Well I don't know. That's rather a difficult question to answer. 

HAL You don't mind talking about it do you, Dave? 

BOWMAN: No. Not at all. 
HAL Well, certainly no one could have been unaware of the very... 

HAL ...strange stories floating around before we left. Rumours of something being... 

HAL ...dug up on the moon. I never gave these stories much credence. But particularly in view of some of the other things that have happened I find them difficult to put out of my mind. 

HAL For instance, the way all our preparations were kept under such tight security. And the melodramatic touch of putting doctors Hunter... 

HAL ...Kimball and Kaminski aboard... 

HAL ...already in hibernation after four months of separate training on their own. 

BOWMAN: You're working up your crew psychology report. 

HAL Of course I am. Sorry about this. I know it's a bit silly. 
Just a moment... just a moment. 

HAL I've just picked up a fault... 

HAL the AE-35 unit. 

HAL It's going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours. 

BOWMAN: Is it still within operational limits right now? 
HAL Yes. 

HAL And it will stay that way until it fails.

BOWMAN: Would you say we have a reliable seventy-two hours to failure? 

HAL Yes. That's a completely reliable figure.

BOWMAN: Well then I suppose we'll have to bring it in but first I'd like to go over this with Frank...

BOWMAN: ...and get on to mission control. Let me have the hard copy on it, please.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Words by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke

Pictures by Geoffrey Unsworth and Stanley Kubrick

2001: A Space Odyssey is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

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