4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
- Paths of Glory
- The Killing
- Barry Lyndon
- Dr. Strangelove
- Clockwork Orange
- Full Metal Jacket
- The Shining
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
I think it’s best to talk about this film in terms of pro wrestling. Wrestling is about storytelling, namely the battle between good and evil, the babyface vs the heel. A great feud typically involves the prolonged antagonism of the face by the heel. Famous examples include Savage v. Steamboat circa 1987, Hart v. Michaels circa 1997, Austin v. McMahon circa 1998-2000. The fans boo the heel because he is a jerk, and cheer the face because he is being done wrong by the heel. Think of Dr. David Bowman as the face, and HAL as the heel.
Bowman is simply a man on a mission in space, by all accounts a regular guy. HAL in this case was once a face but has turned heel, also known as a heel turn. HAL starts out as a good guy, but soon feels betrayed when Bowman begins to question HAL’s judgment. HAL does a great heel turn by killing off Bowman’s shipmates. The wrestling equivalent is typically the injury angle, where the heel injures the face intentionally. A personal favorite is Randy Savage shattering Ricky Steamboat’s larynx with a ring-bell. The function of this kind of angle is that it establishes the heel as bloodthirsty and unstoppable while causing the audience to sympathize with the injured face. The heel continues a reign of terror until the face comes back to face his enemy.
In the case of “Space Odyssey”, because HAL’s heel turn leaves people dead, another face must come to the rescue. Because wrestling feuds seldom end up with the murder of their participants, there is no direct parallel to HAL’s actions. But the famed Shawn Michaels concussion angle of 1995 gives us something to compare it with. Owen Hart was wrestling Shawn Michaels on a standard televised match when midway through the match, Hart nailed Michaels with an enziguri kick to the back of the head, a move which typically stuns the opponent. In this case Michaels recovered normally and proceeded to throw Hart outside of the ring. It was here that the unthinkable happened: Michaels collapsed and had to be stretchered out. Michaels was diagnosed with a severe concussion which put him out of action for several months, during which time Hart began to gloat about his deeds. Because Michaels was incapacitated it was up to his close friend, partner and former bodyguard “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel to save the day. He wrestled Hart on pay-per-view in December of 1995 and demolished Hart with multiple jack-knife powerbombs, thereby gaining a measure of retribution for his friend.
Bowman is cast as the face because he must avenge his shipmates deaths and ensure his own survival. We sympathize with his plight because we are human. HAL is cast as the heel because he is cold, methodical, and vicious. We don’t sympathize with him because he is a machine. Bowman is the clean-cut babyface, a la Ricky Steamboat, and HAL is the gruff, egotistical, evil heel, a la Randy Savage. HAL has proven he will stop at nothing to get what he wants, he looks unstoppable, he has the power to kill, and he’s smart too. Bowman looks over-matched, he’s got to use every ounce of his intelligence to stop HAL, otherwise it’s over. It’s a great build if I have ever seen one.
Using Steamboat v. Savage as the template, we will find that Savage injured Steamboat by crushing his larynx. Steamboat is out for months and it’s doubtful he will ever speak again, let alone wrestle. Savage in the meantime gloats and continues to dominate. Steamboat has something that Savage doesn’t expect, Steamboat has heart, and through months of rehab he builds himself back up to 100%. The grudge match is set for Wrestlemania III, where 93,173 screaming fans come to see Steamboat v. Savage in a match for the ages. Steamboat goes toe to toe for 15 minutes with Savage and he wins. Great match, Savage is defeated but it takes Steamboat everything he has to win. Good triumphs over evil, but it’s not easy. That’s how you do wrestling, that’s how you do drama.
Compare that with “Space Odyssey”, Bowman realizes he is in danger and starts to plan how he will defeat HAL. So what happens? Bowman enters HAL’s “Logic Memory Center” pulls out a couple tapes, and HAL is down for the count. It takes all of 30 seconds. It’s the film equivalent of Steamboat pinning Savage with a snap mare 5 seconds into the match.
To quote Peggy Lee “is that all there is?”. Does anyone even know who Peggy Lee is? The whole thing is so underwhelming considering how good the build is. And then Bowman goes on a 20 minute acid flashback. What the hell?
So we have chimpanzees, a great wrestling build, a weak payoff, and then an acid flashback. That doesn’t sound like a great movie to me.
On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 6/10, initially I gave it a 4, but in retrospect the film had a good section in it, it’s just the ending that killed me. To paraphrase Raven, a bad ending kills a good match.