Sunday, March 30, 2008

Film in Spotlight - 2001: A Space Odyssey

This is how a REAL space film starts, kids!

Every now and then I enjoy branching back off to live action film to avoid getting stuck in that cartoon film rut. Animated film is, after all, just another way of visual storytelling; why should it be much different from ideas used in live action film every time? Now, there's plenty of animation out there directed to adult or more mature audiences, but rarely are they hosted in a spotlight. It's understandable though - far too many people assume animation is of a more innocent nature (and accidentally take their children to movies like South Park-which I hope they've learned their lesson!).

So back to my topic of film, when's the last time any of you really watched 2001: A Space Odyssey? Getting the "holy shit I think my brain just imploded" feeling out of the way, how do you truly appreciate film making like this amongst the cookie-cutter bonanza of movies in the industry today? You hear all the praise people give Kubrick films, but do you really understand why they are so great? I could go on all day about the good film making lessons one can learn from 2001 alone, but there were two very remarkable things that stood out: simplistic, symmetrical composition, and the most easy pacing you've ever felt.

Far too many movies today rely on the "reassurance" that the fast-paced, get-as-much-material-you-can-pack-in, more bang-for-your-buck entertainment is the reliable way to become an excitement and a success. But while there is a market for that kind of entertainment (and I'm certainly not against it, we've got to admit that we all enjoy that kind of stuff every now and then), there's no denying that this kind of approach can and do ruin some films. There's a reason why certain films become timeless and legendary.

The pacing in 2001 would send the entertainment industry in a frenzy. You can't go this slow! You can't take that long on that shot! There's just no way all of this can work…people will hate it! But it DOES work, and it's funny hearing people talk about classic films like 2001 with admiration, when they probably don't even know what to appreciate about it. The idea behind 2001 isn't to entertain people into a fever, excitedly fist-pumping for more action. It's the idea of the alien feeling of time and space. Kubrick understood what the story was about, and filmed it accordingly - filmed it in a direction that the story fit into, which many films miss that mark entirely and get swept into cliches.

Man it sure does take a long time to land on the moon…

Why in the world would you want to hurry through this film? I tend to think people don't really want to watch movies anymore; they act pressed for time and want to be fed as much information as possible in as short amount for time. Standing in line to use the convenient ATM takes too long! My fast food at the drive through is taking too long! Writing this text message is taking too long! This two hour movie is taking too long! There was a time when patience was enjoyable and relaxing; that a two hour experience in another world or person's life actually drew people in and never wanted it to end. Even some animation suffers from the lack of good pacing as well today.

But probably the most outstanding feature of 2001 is the actual visual storytelling, which all these screen shots I've included illustrate. It was the repeated use of symmetrical composition that was the most outstanding of all.

Hi, I'm HAL. Right here. IN YOUR FACE. You cannot ignore me. I pull you into my world.

The use of such linear, striking, yet simple visuals is what really draws you into the story. It's as if they suck you into that vacuum of space the characters are in themselves. You become more engaged in their reality, which is the basis of escapism. It's eerie and frightening and yet you can't look away.


Of course, these compositions also help play with the story themes of the monolith, the computer mind, and travel. Imagine that! The visuals react to the actual story!

Definitely on a spaceship.

The fact that so many shots are so simplistic help the story to remain incredibly complex and abstract. It's not a visual migraine that leaves you grumbling and frustrated by too much action on screen (*cough*StarWars123*cough*).

Say, that computer watching us through the window is kinda creepy…I wonder why.

Less is more sometimes. If I gave you one of those small, artisan dishes with the tiny fillet in the middle sprinkled with a little bit of something, you might look at me like I'm insane, and hop over to Denny's for that mountain of steamy, greasy food (it's cheaper, too!). But some of us gag at the sight of that hospital trip on a platter, and know that that little fillet is absolutely amazing, and is just enough, and will be such a rich experience that even if you don't get to eat there again, you'll still remember how great it was.

Another great sci-fi classic like this that gets praised, and yet no one seems to actually follow it's example, is Alien. Again, it's pacing and it's "less is more" idea makes the frightening aspects more real. We don't have to see the monster to know it's there…God, we KNOW it's there! Give us our night lights already!