2001: A Space Odyssey Soundtrack

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:44 pm

Last week my lovely wife and I watched the classic 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d seen it once before, and she had seen it several times (including watching it with her family on the night of December 31st, 2000; when she told me that story I got jealous and wished I’d done that too). It’s a great film and enjoyable to watch, if you can appreciate it for its cinematography and artistry while enduring the fact that it moves very slowly.

This time around I really enjoyed the pacing of the film. It’s a long one–just under two and a half hours–but it sets up that length perfectly from an artistic point of view. The movie begins with several minutes of a black screen with creepy music playing, and when images start appearing, they are long, lingering shots of open landscape with no action (as well as no dialogue for the first 25 minutes). This slow opening sets the pace for a long movie beautifully; if the opening had been fast-moving and action-packed, but then the film continued into a slow-moving artistic piece, it would have been artistically incongruous. The ending of the movie is also several minutes of black screen with music playing, which creates an arch-like form and is a nice way to complete the film the way it began.

I’ve never liked the way Kubrick chose Richard Strauss’ waltz music for the space scenes, particularly in the beginning of the movie (partly because I’m not a fan of the music itself). But my wife, who is often more astute at picking up on these things than I am, helped to elucidate it for me a bit more. The simple explanation, of course, is that the gently lilting waltz music mirrors the graceful floating and spinning of the ships as they move through space. But she also noted that the whimsical, happy music of the beginning sets the viewer up for a somewhat jarring contrast later as the “horrors” (as she called them) begin to unfold. So in addition to matching the action on screen at the time, it also puts us into a particular mood so that the events happening later in the movie will have a greater impact.

The final thing about the soundtrack that was interesting was a fascinating tidbit we found while rewatching one of the scenes in French. My wife is a fluent French speaker and I am an aspiring one, so when we watch movies we’ll occasionally go back and watch a scene or two in French if the language is available. In this particular case we went back to watch the scene where the astronaut Bowman disables the memory of the supercomputer HAL who is running the ship. In the English film, as HAL’s mind begins to disintegrate, he starts singing the song “Daisy” (also known as “A Bicycle Built For Two”), which is a classic American folk song. However, in the French dubbed version, he didn’t sing “Daisy” but rather “Au Clair de la Lune” (“By the Light of the Moon”), which is a classic French folk song that is the approximate cultural equivalent of “Daisy” in American English. Isn’t that cool?



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    Idhrendur on 04.19.2010

    I had read the novel well before seeing the movie, which made for a somewhat different experience, I’m told.

    What was really interesting was watching it with Sean, as he was able to explain the interesting ways the music ties in all throughout the movie. They obviously took care in selecting the music.

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