Saturday, October 6, 2018

Howard Johnson's on the Space Station - 2001

Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, of course - and one of the films that stands shoulder to shoulder with Citizen Kane, Vertigo, On the Waterfront and Casablanca - 2001, A Space Odyssey was released on April 3, 1968, 50 years ago. Like the anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and the golden era of rock music, the release of 2001 changed filmmaking forever. Despite the fanfare and the number of best lists the film receives, the movie isn't for everyone. Keep in mind, there isn't a single line in the film until a stewardess speaks aboard Dr. Heywood Floyd's shuttlecraft at the 25:38 mark (unless you count the grunts and growls of the australopithecines), and there is no dialogue for the final 23 minutes of the Star Gate sequence. It is reported that 241 people walked out of the initial viewing including actor Rock Hudson who said, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?" Interest in the film began to grow when inspired teens and hippies alike realized that LSD and the Star Gate went hand-in-hand. MGM even had designs on killing the screenings and cutting their losses. Since then, of course, the film has become the most iconic of space operas and the one film that explains everything in the universe (Terrence Malick's Tree of Life tries as well, but not as successfully).

Only the most observant of Kubrick apostles will remember the Howard Johnson's reference in the landmark film, but it's right there at the 30-minute mark. Dr. Heywood Floyd, played with purposeful blandness by William Sylvester, finds himself in a veritable barrage of product placement following the legendary Johann Strauss "Blue Danube" slam cut from the apes' bone-toss to the graceful, silent spacecraft (one of the most dynamic pieces of filmmaking ever conceived - and certainly the greatest time shift). Dr. Floyd is flying on a Pan Am shuttle, and on the space station, walks through a Hilton hotel lobby, places a call to his wife and daughter using a Bell Picturephone (and pays for the call with his American Express), and yes, walks by the "Howard Johnson's Earthlight Room."
As the beneficiary of a truly special promotional opportunity, Howard Johnson's did their part, releasing a combined comic book/children's menu depicting a visit to the premiere of the movie by two youngsters: "Debbie and Robin Go to a Movie Premiere with Their Parents." Neat-O! The comic focuses on the Tomorrowland feel conveyed in the middle parts of the movie, glosses over the ending and ignores one of the film's most important aspects outright (the apes of the opening sequence). But note that the comic's synopsis does not gloss over Hal's murders. 60s kids were good with murder.

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