The Kubrick Experience – Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey

21 Mar

In 1964, amongst the Red Scare of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stanley Kubrick released a bold movie satirizing the follies of the leaders of America and the former Soviet Union. The comedy that takes place along with the ironically bleak story makes Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb one of the funniest films to grace this Earth.

A crazy general, Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), believes that the U.S. is secretly under attack and gives the order to a squadron of B-52 planes to drop a nuclear bomb on Soviet Russia, much to the despair and confusion of Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers). A meeting is quickly called at the Pentagon’s War Room of American officers including General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), a Soviet ambassador, and President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers again). It is soon brought to the president’s attention by the ambassador that the Soviets have a doomsday device that will be activated in case of an attack. Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers yet again!) delivers the hopeless consequences if this is to happen and what would need to be done in order to preserve the human race. Now it’s up to the these buffoons in charge of our nation to stop the nuclear attack before it is too late.

Peter Sellers is the scene stealer here. His ability to create three totally different characters in the same movie is astounding and can definitely put Eddie Murphy, who attempts this, to shame. President Muffley is hopelessly incompetent, Dr. Strangelove is lost in his own world and completely unable to communicate with anyone, and Captain Mandrake is the only normal and logical person in this entire movie. It’s a vast spectrum of characters that Sellers navigates with ease.

The bulk of this movie takes place in the War Room which is an astounding display of minimalist set design and excellent contrast between light and shadow. I think the shots of the giant circular table surrounded by its hanging lights are some of the best in cinema history.

This is one of the funniest films to ever be made. The humor is subtly weaved into the dialogue and the absurdity of the whole situation and how the characters are acting. Peter Sellers is incredible in his multiple roles and George C. Scott brings so much character to General Buck, with his physical humor and how he is constantly nibbling on something.  He never fails to make me crack up in the famous scene where Scott accidentally falls down while getting very angry, and Kubrick decided to leave it in the final film. This is a must see comedy that we don’t really see the likes of anymore.

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick made, which many critics believe to be the greatest science fiction film of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey based off of Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, The Sentinel, which was modified into a novel.

The first part of the movie deals with early decedents of humans that wake up one morning to find a giant monolith amongst their “camp.” After coming in contact with it they learn that bones can be used as both a tool and a weapon. In the most startling jump cut in cinema, we cut to space where Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is brought to the Clavius Moon-Base to investigate a mysterious anomaly found buried for 4 million years. This anomaly turns out to be another monolith that we saw from the beginning. Another cut happens and we find ourselves traveling to Jupiter with Drs. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) andFrank Poole (Gary Lockwood). After they discuss shutting their onboard computer, the HAL-9000, down because of an “error” it has found, HAL begins attacking the two scientists to fix the problem, which is human error.

2001 is a science fiction ballet that is packed with music, visuals, and philosophy. The storytelling bends both the rules of time and the rules of the mind. First the viewer jumps ahead millions of years and then again a year and half into the future. We are never in one place for too long. The movie is also paradoxically claustrophobic and infinitely spacial, especially in the scenes where the scientists leave the space craft and all we can hear is the sound of their breathing.

HAL is an incredible villain who is only made more terrifying by its robotic monotone voice. It is incredibly calm, even though it is trying to kill two human beings. Life is nothing to it because it is a robot and all it cares about is the mission. The whole film is filled with warnings against technology and how far it can go without getting dangerous.

For a movie made in 1968, the special effects are phenomenal. Even with today’s special effects and CGI, I still find the effects in this movie to be great. Kubrick shows many scenes of these ships flying through space or docking with other ships to classical music, which adds to the beauty and elegance of space. The film takes a huge turn later on and bombards the viewer with psychedelic colors and sound which are made to disorient and cause wonder.

The sounds, visuals, and characters are a thing that must be seen to be believed in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a science fiction film that asks interesting questions about the philosophies of technology, evolution, and the mysteries of the heavens. It is remarkable but definitely not for everyone. It is pretty long and moves at a very slow pace, but this pacing just makes the viewer appreciate what they are seeing for a longer time.

My next Kubrick Experience blog will cover A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.

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