10,000 Year-Old Scorpion

a good rocket for space a bad rocket for world destruction

There is a market value, pressure or a share for having all our media – film, video games and even books – start to look the same, like they all came out of a shared internet or digital machine. A valid point on the digitalization (and I would argue game-itization) of almost every aspect of our culture – ATMs, phone games – can be made. Almost every social network, from Facebook, to LinkedIn or Steam, edges you along with “achievements,” goals taken straight out of the world of gaming.

Web pages in Web 3.0 are starting to look alike, with the same slick interface straight out of the latest blog templates – just check out Tumblr, Blogger, Gmail (anything made by Google – search, etc.), Twitter, Pinterest, Storify, Instagram, Bing and the latest victim – LinkedIn.

There is talk of a technological singularity – which is very well possible. Instead of having a separate phone, tablet, music player, computer, game console and TV to sync every day, to the cloud (or worse, with cables) why not just have one portable, convenient gadget that does everything? There’s a market for that.

Consumers will pay for the convenience, the same way today people pay for the convenience of ready-made food (fast food) and ready-made computers and operating systems, that come with all the programs you want built-in, already installed.

It’s all about convenience – why do it yourself when you can just pay someone with the specialized knowledge or you can pay for a ready-made device or software that does it for you? I’m not making a right or wrong judgment here, just an observation on the way things seem to be going or the way they are.

Before that technological singularity, a media singularity will come first. Movies are adapted from books. Comic books and video games are made for and from movies. A video game can spawn comics, books and movies, in a media circularity that never ends. Through this process, all media forms will begin to look alike and borrow from each other, such that you no longer really have a piece of entertainment anymore – an individual film, book, video game, etc. – you have a franchise, a brand. This brand system already exists and has existed for centuries now (remember those advertising Mad Men in the 1950s?). It is simply exponentially faster with the new distribution pipes of the digital age.

You can deploy a brand into almost any kind of entertainment or medium and get the maximum amount of market share and the maximum amount of profit – so long as there is a desire for those products. It’s convenient. There’s a market share for that. Why have fans of a certain franchise or brand – say Star Trek, Taylor Swift (individual celebrities are brands too – hence why many artists go by one name, like Madonna) or Twilight – fantasize and write fan fictions about a movie when the movie/book/film/video game/soundtrack can be made for them and be available on their iPad/Smart TV/Xbox/Steam Big Screen/etc.?

The technological and media singularities reinforce each other and make for maximum convenience and therefore maximum profit. It just comes down to what people want. If people want convenience, products, goods and services are going to be made for that desire for convenience and they will be profitable because people want that convenience. If people don’t want those products, they won’t exist.

It’s a bit circular and chicken-and-egg, but this is how the “industries” – the film industry, the video game industry, the toy industry, the computer industry (Apple), the high-end “gamer” video card industry – all work: give the people what they want and make a profit off it. This is like the profit structure of World of Warcraft (although I disagree on whether video games can be used to ‘train’ people)

The moral, ethical and political questions then arise of “well should it work this way,” “could it work another way,” “would it work better another way” etc. or statements like “perhaps it works fine this way” and “it is morally and ethically right for it to work this way (people have the freedom to choose)”, etc. The better ethical, moral and political and economic questions should be concerning what people want and why they want it, and can people freely choose what they want.

That’s what’s at the heart of it, that’s what’s at stake. That’s how these products, services and trends are made. We can’t turn around and think that they appeared out of thin air. They weren’t made and foisted on us – at least not theoretically. No, what we’re getting – from the 1950s, the 1800s and perhaps longer than that – is what we want.


Surface Effects

avatar 9

Of all the characters in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the most memorable is the pensive, hyper-focused, if only a bit mournful, Bowman (given the music that plays when the crew is introduced, the Gayne Balley Suite, while he is running and drawing pictures of his comatose crew-mates in hibernation). He is like a cross between Faust and Beethoven, which is very Western, according to Oswald Spengler. Both Bowman and the Gayne Ballet Adagio capture the feeling of the Jupiter Mission: a kind of sorrow and ennui for what has gone before and a deep desire and a yearning for what comes next.

As in other Kubrick films, the music sets the tone – the sense of gravity. Equally important are the audible obscura, the periods where there is no music at all. As noted above, the Gayne Ballet Suite provides a sense of sadness and longing to Bowman and his crew.

  • ‘The Blue Danube’ gives a sense of whimsy and airy lightness, a sense of a familiar commercial place, on the flight and on the space station
  • ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ gives a sense of victory, strength and power, as felt when the ape finally learns how to use the bone as a weapon
  • ‘Requiem for a Soprano’ provides the sense of dread and visceral wonder when the monolith appears
  • The silence in which only the hiss of oxygen and the rhythm of breathing can be heard when Bowman goes out in the pod gives a sense of sterility and underscores the indifference of the universe to the deaths of Poole and the other astronauts at the hands of HAL.

The silence also makes the sequence tense and gives it a subtle unspoken feeling of foreboding and a heightened sense of helplessness when HAL attacks. There’s nothing Bowman can do but watch as Poole futilely thrashes around in space, struggling to put his breathing tube back in his tank. Silence reigns as the hiss of life-giving oxygen is suddenly cut, in a combination of the two first major sins in the Bible: the sin of pride, and envy – in the Garden of Eden and Cain murdering Abel. Silence again, as Poole’s body, a tiny yellow-suited speck, floats away in space.

Later, we only hear the rush of air in the space ship and the life system monitors beeping plaintively as the three people in hibernation are silently murdered, and then simply the rush of air, as life functions cease, and finally, only the hiss of oxygen and Bowman’s breathing is heard again, as HAL is shut down. One truly gets the sense of being totally alone in space: the first human voice, other than Bowman’s, heard after Bowman’s ordeal, is a recording. Ground control was so dependent on HAL that there was no counter-contingency for communications being shut down.

A nice visual element, that will become more important when Bowman enters the Star Gate, is the glare: how light reflects off faces (especially when a Bowman, deep in concentration, is going to collect Poole’s body) and off the outside of helmets. Most space films (like ‘Gravity,’ ‘Prometheus,’ etc.) edit out the glare or don’t use it in any capacity to convey information or any aesthetic qualities, in of themselves.

This visual detail is valuable and has an added effect: a light-show plays across Bowman’s unchanging face to reflect the graveness of the matter as he tries to retrieve Poole and faces down against HAL. Yet another totally different light-show plays across Bowman’s helmet and expressions of fear as he goes through the Star Gate. When Bowman is squaring off against HAL, the light on his face isn’t on accident, but serves to highlight the hardness of his features and give him a more threatening look, as tension mounts and he becomes angrier at the magnitude of what HAL has done.

So much acting is done with just the face, without saying a word. It is a film of subtleties – much better than the heavy-handed approach usually found in most sci-fi films. This is important, since the viewer spends most of the main part of the film staring back into Bowman’s eyes. The play of light is needed to make sure there is variation in the shot and to highlight Bowman’s face during scenes of heightened tension or to draw attention to changes in his expression and his emotion.

While letting go of Poole and confronting HAL he goes through a range of emotions: shock, determination, sadness, resignation, being at peace and so on. Kubrick pays attention to each detail of the light, how it’s angled and how it falls, to create strange new juxtapositions and images that are lasting and stay with the viewer, because they are unique and will never be seen anywhere else, despite said lighting coming from ordinary sources, like computer screens.