GETTING MORE TALE #846: The United Federation of Planets
I used to be an optimist. In my younger, more impressionable 20s, I felt like humankind had the universe by the balls. The things we could achieve when united were remarkable but only the tip of what we could do collectively. Where did I think we’d be by 2020?
Not here, that’s for damn sure! I didn’t think we’d have the flying car, or free energy. I thought we’d be on a better road than this.
At that younger age, I immersed myself seriously in science fiction. Clarke in particular, but Roddenberry was also crucial to my mindset. The optimistic future of Star Trek was the one I chose to believe in. Gene Roddenberry was not wrong about what humanity could do when united. I believed unity was our ultimate destiny, as we left behind our tribal pasts and prejudices. I thought it was inevitable that eventually we would have something like the United Federation of Planets. Prosperity through technology and collective wisdom.
It makes me sad and broken to see that we have not made many strides towards Roddenberry’s future, but have taken many steps backwards. What would Gene think? While I think he would be delighted to see that technology has leaped faster in some regards than he predicted, he would also be crushed by our continued divisions.
It’s in the news every day. People are angry. Some have forgotten the basic manners that their mothers taught them while others are behaving like, frankly, assholes. Covid has us all stressed, and it has brought some of us together more closely while dividing others even more sharply. I try to consume as little news as possible but it’s all but unavoidable to see this bullshit. Even if one only reads music news, it is everywhere. Ratt and Bobby Blotzer’s son feuding with Sebastian Bach and Dee Snider over the wearing of masks during this pandemic. This cultural tension has pervaded every aspect of society. At least you can buy some sweet Kiss-branded masks now. Yet the amount of hate in the air over this issue is actually quite scary.
Incidentally as a side note, as our economy continues to be devastated by this disease, every brand in the world should start making masks. Metallica, Maple Leafs, Kiss, Kellogg’s Froot Loops. People are going to buy them and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot. Only by adapting to this pandemic are we going to save businesses. But back to where we were.
I used to believe good would always triumph over evil. That is what all my favourite stories taught me. Good is stronger. Show humanity some adversity and we will unite and overcome.
Roddenberry did predict we’d need a Third World War before we get there. I hope he was wrong about that too.
Star Trek was popular because people wanted to live in that world. Star Trek fans exist in every part of the political spectrum. Millions dreamed of being the helmsman on a starship, and to live in that world. A world where the Earth knows no war, no poverty and no starvation. Some of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction was equally optimistic. I figured guys as smart as Clarke, who conceived the communication satellite, were smart enough that they were probably right about the future. Yet here we are, stuck in the mire like it’s still the 1950s.
Of course it’s not too late. We can still turn around and say “I don’t care if you are this or that, and believe in A, B or C.” We’re going to have to. Why can’t everybody see this? Humanity has no hope of survival if we can’t rise above our tribal differences.
2001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (originally 1968, 1996 Rhino remaster)
Stanley Kubrick changed the sci-fi playing field with 2001: A Space Odyssey. When he and Arthur C. Clarke sat down to write the “proverbial good science fiction movie”, they strove for a depth and realism that had yet to be attempted. No sounds in space. No thruster sounds, no pinging space radar. Music (or even lack thereof) would be required to tell the audio story. Kubrick initially contacted Spartacus composer Alex North. The plan changed, however. Stanley had been editing the film to a temporary score of classical music. Nothing North could come up with satisfied the fussy director as much as the classical pieces, so that is what was used on the final film.
The film was fiercely different, free of cliches and intensely determined not to dumb things down. The same could be said of the soundtrack, reissued on CD by Rhino with four supplementary bonus tracks. This fine release enables the listener to delve deeper and unlock even more of the secrets of the universe. Ligeti’s dissonant “Atmospheres” delivers an uneasy feeling; after all we humans know nothing of what is really out there. The conflicting (and conspiring) tones of “Atmospheres” is supplanted by the main title, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. The music implies great revelation, standing on the cusp of universal breakthrough.
Unease returns with the bee-like swarms of “Requiem” also by Ligeti. Voices sing, each one in their own world, but joining together to join a coherent piece. In the film, this unsettling music appears when we encounter the enigmatic Monolith. The Monolith is a tool of our growth as a race and a stark warning that there are things beyond that our science is not equipped to explain. Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that describes one aspect of the Monolith in 2001. (The other two laws: 1. “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” 2. “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”)
After the chaos of “Requiem” and “Atmospheres”, Strauss’ “Blue Danube” offers a warm respite. The brilliance of the “Blue Danube” in the film is how Kubrick managed to capture the dance-like coordinated movements of objects in space. A shuttle docks with a spinning space station; spinning of course to create artificial gravity that humans need to survive long-term in space. This complex docking maneuver requires no dialogue, just Strauss. But space is a cold deadly place, hostile to almost all known life. Ligeti returns, as he must, with “Lux Aeterna”. This music was used to back Dr. Floyd’s trip across the lunar surface to meet the Monolith. It is mildly disconcerting, as is what Floyd’s team finds.
Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite” is a somber piece, depicting the boredom and routine of interplanetary space flight. Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole seem disconnected from their humanity; the music has more feelings than they do. The coldness of space is easy to feel from inside their stark white starship, and Khachaturian painting the tone.
Mankind meets its future on “Jupiter and Beyond”, a combination of three Ligeti pieces. Once again, we must face the Monolith and what it means. Dr. David Bowman experienced great terror as he plunged inside it, and this is the music that accompanied his long trip into the beyond. The film at this point became its most experimental: impressionist images and obscure dissonant music put many viewers off balance as they struggled to comprehend just what the hell was going on. It is over only when Zarathustra speaks again, and humanity has taken its next giant leap.
These are challenging pieces of music, but not difficult to enjoy. They have all become intertwined with the film forever. Even The Simpsons used “The Blue Danube” for a space docking scene (Homer and a potato chip) in an homage to 2001. Whatever the original composers intentions were, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the pieces used in this movie are now associated with it forever. You simply cannot hear these Ligeti pieces without seeing Bowman’s journey in your mind. You cannot hear “Thus Spake Zarathustra” without feeling the awe of 2001‘s revelations.
The Rhino edition adds some bonus material. Ligeti’s “Adventures” was altered for the film to add an impression of laughter. Ligeti himself was not amused. The original complete “Adventures” is on this CD. From the archives is a different recording of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. The version used in the film and on the CD was conducted by Von Karajan, but the original LP had a version by Ernest Bour. The latter version has been added to the Rhino CD release. “Lux Aeterna” was longer on the original LP than the film, and the long version is also restored to CD. Perhaps most valuable of all is a track of Douglas Rain’s dialogue as HAL 9000.
The excellent liner notes state that this CD release is the definitive one. It contains all the music from the original soundtrack LP, and all the music from the film. It’s a one-stop shop to get your musical mind blown.
Was there ever a film that needed a sequel less than 2001: A Space Odyssey? If any movie had ever defied sequel-making, it was the original 2001. It is impossible to talk about 2010 without mentioning Stanley Kubrick and the groundbreaking film that started it all. With that in mind, 2010 is still a great science fiction film, intelligent and exciting, while feeling light years away from the original.
Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) has taken the fall for the disasters that occurred aboard the Discovery back in 2001. The infallible supercomputer H.A.L. 9000 (Douglas Rain) did fail, four astronauts were murdered, and Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) has disappeared (presumed dead). Nobody knows why, not even H.A.L.’s creator Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) . The Discovery is in a decaying orbit around Jupiter, and the Americans plan on sending a team there to find out just what happened. One problem: the Russians will get there first. Floyd has been offered a ride on the Russian ship, the Alexei Leonov, to combine missions.
You can do that now?
The premise itself shows us that the cinematic universe has changed. Politics were all but inconsequential in the first film, but here they form major plot points in the whole story. The Soviets are still deep into a cold war with United States, but recent flare-ups threaten to go nuclear at any time. The President’s finger is hovering over the button. Amid this chaos, the Americans don’t want the Soviets to get to Dicovery first.
Heywood Floyd needs Discovery and H.A.L. to find out what went wrong last time, with five lost lives on his hands. Along for the ride are Dr. Chandra to reactivate H.A.L., and Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), the man who built Discovery. The Russian crew, portrayed excellently by mostly Russian actors for authenticity, are distrustful of the Americans. Their commander, played by Helen Mirren, is also an officer of the Russian air force and finds her loyalties tested when Dr. Floyd tells her that the phantom of Dave Bowman has warned that they must leave Jupiter in just two days.
Is it a phantom or has David Bowman really returned? Or at least something that once was Dr. Bowman? Keir Dullea, not looking a day older even though nearly 20 real-world years have passed, is eerie in his portrayal of Bowman. He is clear that Jupiter’s orbit will no longer be safe, but offers no explanation other than, “Something is going to happen. Something wonderful.”
2010: The Year We Make Contact was based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel 2010: Odyssey Two. Left to his own devices and without Stanley Kubrick’s collaboration, Clarke’s story featured much more dialogue. (The book also included entire chapters about a rival Chinese mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and David Bowman’s journey.) Peter Hyams wisely chose not to try to copy Kubrick’s style for 2010, as that would have been pure folly. The end result was a more accessible but less mind-altering film. It is certainly less authentic (for example there is no sound in a vacuum) and less ground breaking.
In one of the more human scenes, look for the late Natasha Shneider of Queens Of The Stone Age and Eleven as the cosmonaut Irina. Roy Scheider and Natasha Shneider have a memorable scene together that adds a lot of realism to the film. Shneider was a sometimes-actress in the 1980’s while trying to get her music career off the ground. When she formed Eleven with Jack Irons (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers and future Pearl Jam drummer) and her partner Alain Johannes, a little bit more recognition came her way. Besides touring as a member of Queens of the Stone Age supporting Lullabies To Paralyze, she also featured heavily (writing and performing) on Chris Cornell’s solo debut album Euphoria Morning. She died of cancer July 2, 2008 at age 52. How sad that she never saw the year 2010 herself.
This film is a suitable sequel for this sci-fi fan. Such science as “aerobraking” is shown on screen, and the possibility of life on Europa is explored. And, finally, we get to see what life on Earth in 2010 actually looks like! (Not quite like the real thing turned out, sadly!)
In an effort to “explain” the mysteries of the original Odyssey, 2010 succeeds by leaving just enough to the imagination. The ancient monoliths and the beings behind them are never fully explained. There are questions left behind, thus far only explored in the pages of Clarke’s novels. (Tom Hanks once expressed interest in making a film version of 3001: Final Odyssey but that idea, thankfully, is dead.) This movie could have been a disaster in many ways, but fortunately was not. While nothing can ever equal or top 2001, or come even close to breaking the ground that it did, this film serves as a satisfying coda and it is good to watch them both together.
DVD contains a decent documentary called “2010: The Odyssey Continues”.
4/5 stars. If this were any other sci-fi film franchise, it would have been 5/5. But when comparing to the original, nothing could be equal to it.
1998 MGM DVD release
Roy Scheider as Dr. Heywood R. Floyd John Lithgow as Dr. Walter Curnow Helen Mirren as Tanya Kirbuk Bob Balaban as Dr. R. Chandra Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000 Natasha Shneider as Irina Yakunina Candice Bergen as the voice of SAL 9000 (credited as “Olga Mallsnerd”)
Happy LeBrain Day! It’s my birthday. Sometimes on my birthday, I like to just spend an afternoon watching a favourite movie. This is one.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, from the 2011 Stanley Kubrick Visionary Filmmaker Blu Ray Collection, Warner Bros.)
Once upon a time, when the year 2001 seemed aeons away, director Stanley Kubruck (Dr. Strangelove) contacted author Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End) to discuss making “the proverbial good science fiction movie”. Both were sick of films that passed for science fiction, but were actually monster movies set in space, or just replaced science with fantasy.
The result was 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film, and a companion book of the same name which is actually a completely different animal. The film — striking, innovative, visually engrossing, ambiguous, and scientifically solid — is as good today as it was in 1968, even if many of the “predictions” of the film have failed to come to pass.
Separated into four chapters (The Dawn Of Man, TMA-1, & Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite) complete with intermission, 2001 has no dialogue for the first quarter of the film. Beginning with a blank screen (and “Atmospheres”, by Ligeti), this is a film paradoxically anchored by both music and silence. The screen changes to the Earth rising over the moon, and the sun rising over the Earth (an important clue and recurring symbol) accompanied by “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. We are then introduced to a tribe of pre-human apes (Australopithecus, perhaps), starving and on the verge of extinction. Other tribes are stronger and out-competing them for territory and resources. There is no dialogue, but the barking of the apes, yet that and the scenery speak volumes. Suddenly one morning, the game has changed: a mysterious black monolith has appeared. The apes are drawn to it, and soon find that they are now able to compete with predators thanks to a new discovery: weapons.
The second chapter, TMA-1, begins with what Clarke has called “the longest jump-cut in history”. We see that humanity has evolved into a space-going race. Orbital weapons platforms orbit Earth as a shuttle is making way to an under-construction space station. “The Blue Danube” plays as the spacecraft dance in calculated perfection. Our first main speaking character, Dr. Heywood Floyd, arrives on the station and we are given some tantalizing clues as to why he’s made this trip: Rumours of a plague outbreak on the moon. Yet this is just a cover story. As Floyd makes his way to the moon in another beautifully choreographed sequence, we learn that a magnetic anomoly was discovered in the crater Tycho (named after astronomer Tycho Brahe) — Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1, or TMA-1. This discovery is potentially so important, that the cover story was created to keep everyone far away from Tycho.
We see that TMA-1 is another black monolith. We see echoes and ripples of past events lead to another jump forward in time. Midway though a mission of discovery to Jupiter, helmed by David Bowman (the perpetually young Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Star Trek’s Gary Lockwood). Their ship, the Discovery contains three sleeping astronauts and the most famous computer of all time, H.A.L. 9000. H.A.L. was flawelessly voiced by Stratford Ontario resident Douglas Rain. His eerie voice and Kubrick’s perfect framing shots help create the creepiest computer character ever seen.
The seemingly dull, sleepy daily routine is soon shattered. H.A.L. has detected a flaw in the ship’s main antenna. It will fail, unless one of the astronauts goes outside and repairs it. The antenna is their only link to distant Earth. H.A.L., who controls the life support and every function of Discovery, then begins to show signs of what humans call stress — he makes an error, and acts strangely. Yet no 9000-series computer has ever failed, or found to be in error. The chapter closes with H.A.L. singing the old song, “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)”, surely one of the most haunting scenes in cinema.
After an intermission, Discovery finally arrives at Jupiter and its true mission is revealed. This section too has no dialogue, bringing us full circle to the way it began. David Bowman once again must venture outside the ship, and find out how the mysterious discovery on the moon relates to Jupiter. Perhaps even how it related to our millenia-dead ancestors.
What follows is one of the most baffling and strange sequences in movie history, one which will require a few patient viewings to appreciate. The beauty of this final sequence is that there is no right or wrong interpretation. While on the surface it may appear to be a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colour followed by a bizarre dialogue-free encounter with a being that seems to have no bearing on reality, it is Kubrick’s inventive way of showing the audience something that is beyond anyone’s imagination. Like the audience, David Bowman and humanity have come full circle.
Lacking in what modern audiences call “action”, lacking typical space sound effects (there is no sound in space!), lacking dialogue for most of the movie, and lacking any sort of warm human characters (except maybe H.A.L. who is not human), this movie was a challenge to watch in 1968 and is still a challenge today. It is, however, a piece of art that transcends its genre and is a landmark in film making. Kubrick, always a visionary and always breaking through boundaries of what could not be done in film, outdid himself and made a science fiction film that still has not been topped over 40 years later. Nobody has made anything this epic, this beautiful, this deep or this scientifically sound since. The special effects — all practical effects and mostly in-camera, as CG did not yet exist — still stand up today. No movie buff will ever forget the rotating Discovery set that allowed one character to be seated while another seemingly walked on the “ceiling”.
Sure,we don’t have a moon base. We haven’t sent anyone to Jupiter. We do have a space station. We have created computers that can beat the best humans at chess and Jeopardy. This is not that far off. If they had named this film 2031: A Space Odyssey, we might be in the right ballpark. In the end, the year does not matter. You never see modern Earth in the movie anyway.
The blu-ray release is loaded with special features and has a beautiful transfer in 2.20:1, as Kubrick shot it and intended it to be. Both Dullea and Lockwood provide an audio commentary. There are documentaries about Kubrick, about the predictions of the film, and about the effects. The only thing missing is the vintage 1966 Arthur C. Clarke lecture from the first issue of the DVD. I still have that DVD copy because I like that old 1966 footage of Clarke. He’s my favourite author.
2001: A Space Odyssey is, without any doubt or any argument in my mind, the greatest science fiction film of all time. With Kubrick and Clarke now both gone, I doubt we will ever see anything like it again. 5/5 stars is meaningless, since this movie was (for its scale and stature) first, and the best, against everything in its genre.
I’ll rate it 200 billion stars, one for each star in our galaxy.