Few directors dare to leave the audience in complete darkness with a most eerie music and to do than not only once, but twice. György Ligeti‘s Atmospheres makes for an exclusive performance for the first full three minutes of one of the most audacious productions of the 20th century.
The movie isn’t a typical sci-fi. The slow pace, meticulously-setup scenes and larger-than-life photography takes the viewer’s breath away. Kubrick, a perfectionist in his own right, makes no compromises. The pace of the movie does perfect justice to the surreal, extravagant and colorful shots coupled with the moving music of Aram Khachaturian, Ligeti and Strauss. One can’t appreciate this work of art without first appreciating that the movie is the journey and not the finale.
Considering the stunning special effects in the movie and the human-like voice of HAL 9000, it’s quite surprising that virtually every single sci-fi before and since do not replicate this rather reasonable feat of inevitable progress. And this was done in 1968 no less. Instead, we’re left with robotic-sounding computers and other “smart” gadgets, even though some of them depict events centuries in the future. To add insult to injury, most of them simply do away with the difficulties and logistics of gravitation-free environments. Perhaps the latter is explained in pragmatic terms, but to their credit Kubrick and Clark don’t compromise on this point, instead they actually make for a great experience. The photography of the workout scene and all those involving walking about, be it to serve food on the moon-bus or to get into a shuttle, are simply worth every second on screen as did the multitudes of hours spent creating them. Of the scenes that truly standout in this regard are those where two people are standing perpendicular to each other going about their business undistributed.
No one better than Stanley Kubrick could take the masterpiece of Arthur C. Clark, yet another perfectionist, and do this good a job. Indeed, Kubrick personally must have had an appreciable influence on the development of the plot and story. Even then his work wouldn’t be complete without sharing credit for the screenplay with Clark.
Throughout the movie I suspected the music of the opening, moon-bus scene, intermission and of course the final scene were most probably that of Krzysztof Penderecki. Kubrick had made perfect use of Penderecki’s music his 1980’s The Shinning in addition to Ligeti’s Lontano, which, unbeknownst to me, was also used in the first radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, along with Melodien and Volumina, which I’ve listen to extensively. Penderecki’s music is no less unique and indeed eerie then that of Ligeti’s, which more than explains why some portions of the his cello concerto was used in The Excorcist, which unlike The Shinning I found lacking and somewhat ludicrous.
After finally watching the movie, I’d like to find time to read the book. The plot and themes touched in the book are simply much more profound than a movie could do justice too. Even at almost 150 minutes, the movie leaves the ending open to wild speculation and personal interpretation. Still, this is certainly one of those classics that not only sci-fi fans, but also those appreciative of grandiose and thoroughly beautiful cinematography would most certainly enjoy. Especially when watched on a large screen with a decent sound system.