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Special Effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Most films today rely on dialogue to further the narrative, allowing characters to explain what is happening at all times. In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, dialogue is purposely minimal. In fact, the opening and closing sections of the film have absolutely NO dialogue whatsoever, amounting to nearly one hour of no spoken word. This kind of "deafening quiet" had not been known in movies since the silent film era, however this does not mean the story remains stagnant. Like in the silent film days, Kubrick relied on alternate measures to further the narrative, including stark visuals, classical music composition, and sometimes even the silence itself.

Before we completely forget the dialogue though, it should be noted that the words that are spoken are quite notable. Not because of their importance, but for their unimportance. The conversations in the film are awkward and almost machine like. Examples of this include the maladroit conversation between Floyd and the Russian scientists, or Floyd's comments about the sandwiches while they're en route to the monolith site. Even the astronauts on the ship, Poole and Bowman, have brief, uninteresting verbal exchanges. The only time that dialogue is really a plot motivator is ironically when the astronauts can't be heard, discussing HAL's apparent malfunction.

More important to the narrative is the use of other types of aural cues. The most vastly used one would be the overabundance of classical music throughout the film. It's interesting to note that the pieces used were all previously written and recorded...a strange fact when the industry standard at the time was to commission original orchestrations and compositions. Perhaps his reasoning behind this was that the previously written pieces are already tied to some kind of emotion in people who are familiar with the piece, so the music can very accurately convey a specific feeling or meaning, something an original composition could have a hard time doing. At different points in the film, different emotions are roused by the classical music playing in the background. Most memorable is the opening sequence that includes very few visuals of planets and empty space, but the soundtrack has the inspirational Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss blasting, so that it was not the visual aspect that catches the viewer's attention, but the musical one. While the visual images in the opening were not too spectacular, one scene does combine both gripping imagery and beautiful orchestration. When the space ship is docking at the space station, Johann Strauss' On The Beautiful Blue Danube almost perfectly fits the motions of the spacecraft. It was as if the piece was written for the film, as is so often the case in modern day cinema. In this case though, the music was written much earlier than the screenplay, and Kubrick made sure to line up the breathtaking visuals with the preexisting compositions. The result works to give the viewer a somewhat familiar sound, even though the image on the screen is probably quite foreign.

Sound effects (or the lack thereof)



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