Monday, July 20, 2009
How science fiction movies can mess with your head
Today is the 40th anniversary of the day human beings first set foot on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission touched down in the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, and images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon were broadcast all over the world. I’m greatly saddened that the iconic newsman of that moment, Walter Cronkite, passed away days before this anniversary. He was one of the reasons I decided to pursue a journalism degree in college. Mr. Cronkite was a class act, all the way.
I’m also a little sad that, though I am among the people who were around to witness the lunar landing, I still kind of regard the whole thing with a shrug.
I know exactly why I have that attitude. For one thing, I was only four years old at the time -– and, of course, four-year-olds have the annoying habit of not feeling the same things their parents feel when witnessing important events. Yes, Dad sat me down in front of the TV, and he was obviously thrilled about the fact that mankind had made it to the moon. However, all I remember from witnessing that historic event is a strong sense of confusion. My poor dad had unwittingly sown the seeds of that confusion by taking me to the movies a year before, to see director Stanley Kubrick’s now-legendary film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
My dad, who was a very young dad, had a naïve and rather brave habit of taking Sea-the-toddler anywhere he wanted to go, and where he wanted to go usually involved movies and sporting events my mom didn’t want to attend. I remember being taken to Pacers basketball games, where I quite happily munched on cotton candy while Dad screamed at the guys on the court to quit fouling. I also remember feeling astonished by three movies I saw that still have an impact on me: Disney’s Fantasia, The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. To me, the scene of the half-built space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the music of Strauss’ “Blue Danube” swelling through the soundtrack, is one of the most beautiful movie moments I’ve ever witnessed. I love the movie, unconditionally.
Because the Apollo 11 lunar landing occurred after I’d seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, my four-year-old self was completely unimpressed by it. I thought we’d already been to the moon! Besides, there were big, circular space stations up there among the stars, weren’t there? So, what was the big deal about some guy jumping around the moon’s surface in a big, bulky suit? Not only that, the image on the TV set wasn’t as clear and nice-looking as the images in 2001: A Space Odyssey. How could Dad possibly expect me to find the lunar landing impressive?
Even later, when I learned that 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t REAL, I couldn’t muster up any excitement for the lunar landing -– and I still can’t. It certainly doesn’t help that mankind has had the ability to do so much more since that day -- and, quite frankly, hasn't done it. Yes, the lunar landing was a remarkable achievement, but to this day, I don’t feel excited about it. I feel more excited when I rewatch 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Curse you, Stanley Kubrick!