[REVIEW] 2001: A Space Odyssey

If there is anything scarier than the twin girls showered in their own blood in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it would be his earlier masterpiece in 1968 that, shockingly, is still relevant in today’s society. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a science-fiction film that deals with several themes such as man vs technology, the concept of God, Darwinism and many more.

TECHNOLOGY: A BOON OR BANE?

The heart of 2001: A Space Odyssey lies in the debate of mankind’s growing reliance on technology in all parts of our daily lives. Since the first Moonwatcher arc where we see a bone being used as a weapon to fight against the rival ape clan, the use of technology has evolved to be no longer just a tool for survival but something that poses a dangerous threat to our lives. As proven later in arc three, the super-computer HAL-9000 revolts against the crew onboard Discovery One by switching off the life support machines of the remaining hibernating crew and fellow onboard astronaut Frank Poole.

The classic match cut that skips to millions of years later

It seems as though that as time escalates, man’s dependence for technology increases exponentially. After the signature graphic match cut which brings audiences to millions of years later, we see that technology has advanced and man has explored space travel. But it is not as developed yet as the space personnel still struggled with space walking. They were merely having liquid food for meals, a sign that food technology has not evolved to that level of sophistication. Kubrick’s choice of “The Blue Danube” waltz only serves to show how at this point, humans are still at peace with technology.

The troubling and disturbing concern only started 18 months later where technology has become a major driving force in society. By then, humans have already conquered space travel. David Bowman and Frank Boole are capable of running and moving easily in the spacecraft, men are eating solid food, and HAL-9000 has commanded control over Discovery One. The space odyssey is going well until HAL shocks the crew with a glitch, prompting Bowman and Poole to disconnect HAL. But unbeknownst to the spacemen, HAL is intelligent enough to lipread their mouths. While Poole spacewalks outside, HAL retaliates against its creator – mankind – and cut off Poole’s oxygen hose. This startling chain of human violence continues to intensify when HAL switches off the life support functions of the hibernating scientists, making Bowman the only human being onboard capable of confronting HAL.

Death of the hibernating scientists

But what makes this scene so effective is Kubrick’s use of mise-en-scene and silence. The way the scientists’ deaths are depicted are unlike conventional Hollywood films. Instead of loud screaming noises and blood dripping all over the floor, it was represented by silence and the flashing of bright red screens with giant capitalised white fonts that serve to warn Bowman. It is as if the passing of humans is merely another computer malfunctions. The bright white interiors of the spacecraft give off a cold, clinical and indifferent attitude towards the deaths and the absence of sounds only makes the whole scene more uncomfortable to watch.

As we start to lose our faith in humanity, here is our hero David Bowman who preferred to rely on himself than technology. Just after HAL locks him outside the ship, Bowman opened the emergency airlock manually instead of depending on technology. As a Star Wars fan myself, this part seem to resemble how Luke Skywalker counted on the Force to fight the Sith. Anyways, back to the topic. Bowman’s symbolic discard of technology here represents a hope in mankind, and maybe as a result of his achievement he is deem worthy to progress to the next phase of human evolution: the Star Child.

Bowman vs HAL (note how Bowman’s pod is tiny compared to HAL’s controlled-Discovery One)

DEATH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT

The technological advances seem to run parallel with the dehumanisation of mankind. In the first segment, we are presented with tribes of barbaric apes brawling over a waterhole. While acts of violences are expressed explicitly and loudly back then, we do see moments of intimacy as the apes cuddled each other when they faced threats by the leopard which had devoured the zebras. Mankind still has the very emotions that distinct us from robots.

Cutting to millions of years later, tensions between human groups still exist and this time, it is no longer over water or food but over territories. This made absolute sense bearing in mind that the movie aired during the hike of the Cold War. It is interesting to note that the very first human voices are only heard after more than thirty minutes into the film. While Dr. Heywood Floyd still maintained courtesy with the Russian scientists on the Space Hilton Station, one can easily detect the political tensions beneath the conversation. Not to mention, in that birthday video call Dr. Floyd had with his little girl, the whole scene is so emotionless. The birthday girl is not able to communicate her excitement of seeing her dad (he is light-years away from home!) or the fact that it is her birthday, maybe, as a result of dehumanisation.

Chat at Hilton Space Station (note the blood-red chairs and clinical-white interiors)

Eighteen months later, we see the humans getting increasingly detached from one another. As a parallel mise-en-scene to the scene described earlier, Frank Poole is indifferent to his parents’ birthday wish. Bowman and Poole also exchange few conversations and when they do so, it is all about detaching HAL from the system. Additionally, there exist few differences between the two astronauts. In fact, if you did not pay close attention you might not remember who is Poole and who is Bowman; there lies not much difference!

At its first viewing, I mistook David for Frank

In an unexpected turn of events, HAL, shockingly and very alarmingly, is the one who acts and behaves like a human. Other than his logical thinking abilities, HAL shows curiosity, he fears and he displays more emotional capacities beyond Poole and Bowman combined. This resemble the scenario where man exchanges his emotional skills with technology in return for greater knowledge.

ALIENS, GOD, HIGHER INTELLIGENCE

As said by the Stanley Kubrick the man himself, the concept of God is at the heart of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whether you believe in a God or not, you cannot deny the presence of a higher intelligence or alien; the metallic black rectangular monolith is its symbol. We first see it before the ape learnt that bones can be used as weapons; the second time was on the crater Tycho where the monolith emits a burglar-alarm-like high-pitched sound as though informing the higher intelligence that humans are another step closer to reaching them; the third is not in the third segment, surprisingly, but it emerged just before Bowman is sucked into the “light-show”. Finally, the monolith presents itself to us right before Bowman passes through it to emerge as a Star Child.

The four times it appeared

Each time it appears, mankind takes another step forward in its pursuit of technology and knowledge and this proves that the monolith must be a very powerful being. I would go as far as to say that this being is omnipresent and omnipotent; it knows what humans want and need without us uttering a single word.

And finally, among many other puzzling questions, who or what exactly is the giant floating baby with sparkling eyes at the end? Did Bowman die or did he evolved? There are no answers to these at all but from my point-of-view, I have an optimistic view of our’s reliance on technology at the end. David was chosen to continue and finish the space odyssey. He has reached the last phase, won against the hands of technology, and after the higher intelligence (note the animal sounds in the Enlightenment era room at the end) has observed Bowman, he was allowed to be a Star Child. This is solely my view and others may share differing opinions on the film’s ending.

I have to give Stanley Kubrick credit. How a man like him could create an outstanding piece that outshines today’s science-fiction movies , I have no idea. Kubrick does not force upon a story to viewers, no he expects and wishes viewers to understand the sights and sounds and establish a theory of their own. 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly a masterpiece.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

[REVIEW] Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

THE STORY OF A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAYHAS ENDED

The latest and highly anticipated addition to the Skywalker saga has finally premiered worldwide on 19 December 2019 and being a fan growing up, making advance purchases to catch this screening on its first day of release was a must-do for me. To be frank, I was not expecting much when I stepped into the cinema halls yesterday as I personally felt that the 8th episode The Last Jedi to be a rather lacklustre and anti-climatic sequel with the sudden murder of former First Order Supreme Leader Snoke by his apprentice and Master of the Knights of Ren Kylo Ren and the ambiguity over Rey’s deceased parents. But thankfully, these answers were covered in the final installation of the Skywalker saga (SPOILERS ALERT IN THE BELOW POST).

KYLO REN’S FAMOUS QUOTE “LET THE PAST DIE”?

Chewy’s new companions on the Millennium Falcon

It certainly was not easy for J.J. Abrams to continue and end the Star Wars legacy after the commercial success and public reception of the Original Trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi). There seems to be a preservation of the personalities of the classic characters in this new trilogy. The carefree, reckless and proud owner of the famed spaceship Millennium Falcon Han Solo has been represented by the Resistance’s best pilot Poe Dameron who we later know in The Rise of Skywalker is also a smuggler in the spice trade. Siblings Luke and Leia Skywalker bear some resemblance to Finn and Rey, the new heroes and in non-canon possibly a couple too. And with Princess-turned-General Leia’s quote “Never underestimate a droid” which was repeated throughout the 9th movie, fans’ favourite droids and species Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO (“Hello, I am C-3PO human-cyborg relations.”) returned to the screens in this new sequel trilogy as well.

A NEW TRILOGY, A NEW CENTURY, A NEW HOPE

Call him emo Kylo Ren or the meme lord Ben Swolo but his character was definitely or at least portrayed by Adam Driver to be more complicated. A stark contrast to his grandfather whom Kylo idolised so very much, Kylo Ren or Ben Solo is often seen without his mask and thus, revealing an emotionless, troubled and later scarred handsome face. I myself was surprised by his willingness to remove his mask at Rey’s request in The Force Awakens. It just seemed to me then that he was a feeble and weak Dark Lord who would succumb to the demands of his captive and truly, that is the case for Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. While we audience get to admire Adam’s beautiful face, the occasional removal of the mask in the trilogy signifies Kylo Ren’s conflicted personalities. Occurring since The Force Awakens before he killed his father Han Solo (I know, it was a tragic death), this inner conflict persisted and became wilder as he communicates more and more with Rey. He knows that the path to the dark side is a wrong one and he wants to go back but is afraid of the challenges that will befall him. Not daring to make a U-turn, he then killed Han Solo but the murder of his father only tripped his conscience even more.

Kylo Ren with the mask of his grandfather Darth Vader

Blood is thicker than water

The above quote was really the means to redeem Ben Solo. While duelling with Rey in the now-flooded planet of the old Jedi-Sith war Endor, Kylo Ren heard his mother Leia’s voice calling out to him from thousands of miles away and she died (or become one with the Force) shortly after. His dad Han Solo later appeared to him in a vision and managed to convince his son to turn back his ways. Of course, not forgetting Han Solo’s signature “I know” when an apologetic Ben wanted to apologise for his bad deeds. He discarded his metallic red lightsaber and went on to assist Rey in the final showdown against Emperor Palpatine whom was presumed dead in the Death Star II. No longer a member of the Knights of Ren but the only offspring of the Skywalker lineage, Ben Solo discarded his black suit of armour and confidently went into the battle field in a simple black oversized sweater and a blaster. Like a simple human clothed in nothing but confidence in the Force.

Ben Solo and Han Solo

The plot would be more solid if it had more explanation to the formation of the Knights of Ren, what exactly was it and how it differ from the Sith. But all’s forgiven as we are finally given a touching moment when Ben Solo and Rey shared a kiss before he, presumably, gave his life to Rey. His death made sense and letting Ben live would only make the whole movie turn into a kid’s bedtime story where no good persons die. But what could have been done better is perhaps giving Ben or Rey lines after the kiss or at least let him live for a little while more. Then again, the romantic attraction between the two has never been explicitly stated although they have many moments together.

THE FORCE-IS-NOT-STRONG-WITH-THIS-ONE SCENES

All’s well, end’s well. Not in the case for the kinship between Emperor Palpatine and Rey or should I say, grandfather-granddaughter relationship. It’s possibly the most anti-climatic moment in the entire Star Wars series, even knocking the revelation of sibling ties between Luke and Leia scene off the charts. Maybe that was how the cinema-goers felt in the 80s when George Lucas revealed the family tree of Darth Vader, Luke and Leia Skywalker. Just how is it possible and why did J.J. Abrams chose to forge this connection? While it explains why Rey is sensitive in the Force and later has abilities to heal and use the Force lightning, it does not an compelling nor attractive case for viewers to believe it.

In fact, bringing the Emperor back to the new sequels only brings forth the fact that Anakin Skywalker did not bring actual balance to the Force, well at least not permanently. It is as if every events that had happened was all part of Emperor’s “I hate Jedis, Sith rocks. I want to Rule the Galaxy” Masterplan, which is something that fans can get tired of.

Again, J.J. Abrams could have done better in developing General Hux’s character. I mean who really reveals itself as a spy with “I am the spy”?And all the betrayal because of his animosity with Kylo Ren was simply not worth it. Like Ben, it is sensible for his character to be killed off but there simply seems to be no room for development anymore.

Lastly, Rey’s ending in Tatooine has probably left many puzzled. The symbolic burial of the Skywalker’s lightsabers brings a closure to this saga with Rey later whooping out her newly-constructed yellow-orange lightsaber. But, will we get to see her ending her Jedi training and lead her a new generation of leaders? We did see Leia and Ben’s bodies disappearing at the same time but we are only given a preview of Leia’s Force Ghost. And if Anakin Skywalker had his Force Ghost, where was Ben’s? He honestly had done more to redeem himself than Anakin did in my opinion so surely J.J. Abrams should have included him inside. My only theory is that the inclusion of Ben’s Force Ghost (if it exists at all) will not make any sense to the ending of the film. When Rey was at Tatooine and questioned by the old lady on her name, she chose to reject her family name (again I still cannot fathom why it is Palpatine) and stick with her other family – the Skywalker family. It made no sense for Ben’s Force Ghost to appear as he was technically a Solo and not a Skywalker (by father’s name) and he did not guide Rey to becoming a Jedi although he played major role in messing with her mind. Nevertheless, it would be great if J.J. Abrams could give us a confirmation on whether Ben Solo has a Force Ghost because he truly deserves it.

A MAGICAL CROSSOVER?

There were also some moments when the movie felt like a fusion of Avengers and Harry Potter. The opening scene where Kylo Ren dug out the Wayfinder resembled how Lord Voldemort stole Albus Dumbledore’s Elder Wand in Harry Potter 7 Part 1. Not forgetting how Rey spoke to the giant snake in the old ship; making her an heir of Slytherin instead of Palpatine perhaps would be more plausible.

So yes, Kylo Ren and Rey can now communicate and detect each other’s presence, similar to how Harry observed that Nagini was Voldemort’s last Horcruxes. While Snoke, actually a puppet leader of Palpatine, forged this telekinesis communication, the actual effect makes the show more of a magical fantasy. And let’s just admit that the whole Rey’s parents-hiding-Rey thing is pretty much like how James and Lily Potter tried to protect Harry from the Dark Lord.

A STORY FOR EACH GENERATION

Since its first movie premiere in 1977, the Star Wars series has accumulated many fans worldwide and even a cult following. In fact, it was even deemed as an official religion (Jediism) to some people internationally. I was actually surprised to see some 5 – 6 year-old in the cinemas. I mean, when the Prequel trilogy came out they probably were not even conceived yet. Star Wars, I guess, is probably a story that can bring generations of families together.

Each trilogy is about the Skywalker family and their interactions with the Force. We have seen the rise of Anakin Skywalker from a slave in Tatooine to the best pilot in the galaxy and prophesied Chosen One and ultimately his tragic fall to the Dark Side in the Prequel; Luke, a farm boy in Tatooine too, to the Jedi Master in the Original; and lastly the redemption of Ben Solo in the Sequel. If watched very closely, it can be argued that there are only few differences to each trilogy. The bad person is redeemed, Palpatine dies (at least we hope so in TROS) and the Resistance/Rebel wins.

What makes each Star Wars episode so appealing is its character development, the alluring landscape, space creatures on each planet and detailed spaceships, as well as the friendships within and between generations of the Jedis.

THE FORCE IS BALANCED

The Rise of Skywalker marks the end of the Skywalker saga and itself is a grand tribute to many stars that have befallen before us. We saw the return of our dearest Princess Leia (played by the late Carrie Fisher), the scruffy-looking nerf-herder Han Solo, our traitor-turned-ally Lando Calrissian including his signature laugh as well as the ewoks – the faithful allies of the Galactic Civil War – in Endor and many more classic characters. Not to mention, there are several voice cameos including Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Franz Oz (Master Yoda, not Baby Yoda people.) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-wan Kenobi).

We see the past having a significant impact on the present. Kylo Ren was so hung up about upholding the legacy of his grandfather he becomes so cut off from his parents and drawn into the Dark Side. While the past haunts him, the memory of his father Han Solo was also the motivation and strength Ben really needed to push on. On the other hand, we have our female lead who does not have a single clue on her past. What is her family name? Where did she come from? Nobody, not including Rey herself knew. Rather than playing a victim card and sulk about it, she chose to believe in her instincts and pursue the Jedi path. Granted she did not had the burdens Ben Solo/Kylo Ren had because of his family legacy.

Though there were still some weak plot holes in the story and sequel itself, J.J. Abrams has successfully fused elements of the old and new to create a distinctive story line that can win the vote of many. I cannot foresee a continuity in this story, not at least for the main Palpatine vs good guys part. Nonetheless, if you watched closely (at least from my point of view), we did not see the Emperor fully destroyed. If there is any more spin-off, I do hope it would focus on Rey’s future since Disney has left us with a cliff-hanger or at least touch a little on the Knights of Ren.

From the fans to the stars, heroes and heroines (or Princess) of the Galaxy that have gone before us,

May the Force be with you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.