Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2001: A Space Odyssey

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Rock Hudson famously stormed out of a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, muttering "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

When I first saw the film in college I had a similar, but slightly different experience. I famously dozed off in the third act, snoring away in the college library. But if someone had invented a translator that took snores and fashioned them into words, it would have said, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

I only sort of got it. Maybe if I'd managed to stay awake I would have understood better. When it came time to write my paper on the subject, I had to search the internet for other people's opinions about the film. I knew it had something to do with evolution, but it was such a stretch for me to figure out.

So I approached the reading of Arthur C. Clarke's book with a lot of wariness. I needn't have worried. This is an interesting book, and for those of you who despised the film like I did, it will transform your experience into something much more palatable.

The book, a commemorative edition published in time for the actual year of 2001, started with a prologue by Arthur C. Clarke. He recalls the writing of the book, which, I didn't realize, was written in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick as the film was being made. It wasn't done in the usual fashion of screen adaptations where an already produced text is adapted for the screen. Because of this, there are several variations between the book and the film, but all in all it's pretty much the same story.

The difference between the two is that the book actually explains things with exposition and dialogue and all that fun stuff, where the film just shows a picture of someone's face and plays classical music, and leaves you in the dark as to what was actually going on.

Now I admit, I'm not particularly intelligent. I'm not a boorish moron, but I'm not the smartest guy either. I've already related some of what I thought about the book to a friend at work, and he voiced the opinion that I was in fact stupid, and the film was completely clear and understandable to him. So maybe the rest of you reading this (as if anyone was) agree with him, and can't stand my simpleton stumblings. I'll be the first to admit that I'm surely an idiot.

But, if you are an idiot like me, and didn't get the film at all, check out the book. It's a pretty good read. Most of the story is vastly more interesting when there is a little more given to you to work with.

For example, I wanted to pull my hair out during the sequence that involved the man-apes and their prehistoric struggle to evolve. It was awful to sit through. In the book, however, it was my favorite part. I could probably have read an entire book about the man-apes and been satisfied with that.

The other parts are much more interesting as well. From the trip to Jupiter (which is actually to Saturn in the book, they bailed on Saturn in the film because the special effects crew couldn't make decent looking rings), to HAL9000's descent into madness, to (most of all) the end sequence where Dave Bowman takes his step forward in evolution, there is so much more to be understood and enjoyed.

Now, it's not a perfect book for sure. As is the way with many of the Sci-fi grand masters, there's a lot of slow moving sections where the story stops to discuss, analyze, and postulate on the science, or worse, to explain in exhaustive detail how some invention of theirs is supposed to work. But for the most part, it's a lot of fun, and it really served me well by taking a classic masterpiece in film, and making it accessible to me at last.

Up next: Well, I take a step in a different direction. I'm going to read Eoin Colfer's YA novel Artemis Fowl. Sometimes it's nice to eat dessert along with all those meat and potatoes.

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