2001: A Space Odyssey

Food for Thought

This is an in-flight meal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. For a holiday card design project, I had to reference the film, so I did an in-depth analysis of it. It is remarkable that it doesn’t look dated even after fifty years. It’s still visually stunning without looking cheap or hokey. In contrast, The Matrix already looks dated twenty years later.

I also admire the graphic design in this film; only by freezing the frames, you’d notice the care that went into the design.

I read that Kubrick consulted some of the top scientists of the time in order to predict the future as convincingly as possible. In the scene of a passenger spacecraft, you see a flat-screen TV of a cinematic aspect ratio mounted on the back of every seat. It looks just like how passenger airplanes look today. In the vast majority of old science fiction movies, whenever a screen appears, it’s always in the standard TV aspect ratio of 4×3 because that is the only kind of video monitor they had then, and they are usually not flat. I wonder how Kubrick achieved the flat-screen effect; I’m sure they had to go through a lot of trouble to get that.

One odd thing I noticed is that the female passenger who is being served the space meal is watching a judo match on the screen. Did Kubrick think judo would be a big professional sport in 2001?

Surprisingly one change Kubrick did not foresee is the greater role women would play half a century later. I guess it wasn’t an easy social transformation to predict in the 60s. For that, he would have had to consult a sociologist or cultural theorist.

In the film, the roles are rigidly divided by gender. All the supporting roles like receptionists and flight attendants are performed by women, and all the executive roles are performed by men. The division is so glaring that it’s jarring even by the 2001 standard.

When the receptionist selects a language for the guest visitor to the space station, you see there are six languages to choose from: English, Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese. Kubrick correctly guessed that, in 2001, Japan would be the most powerful Asian nation, but now, two decades later, the Chinese would supplant that slot.