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Movie-A-Day #7: 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968).

January 7, 2011

Galileo was a pretty relentlessly curious person. And his sighting of the four largest moons of Jupiter in January 1610 was a monumental turning point in the history of science, which also showed just how too much curiosity could lead to major political trouble. Using a telescope – a new piece of technology – that he built and perfected himself, he spotted the first three moons (Io, Europa and Callisto) on the night of Jan. 7 then found the fourth, Ganymede, on Jan. 13. Besides publicly showing the usefulness of telescopes as scientific instruments and ushering in a new era of astronomy, Galileo was the first European to conclusively prove that not all celestial objects orbit around the earth. It punched a hole in the Catholic Church’s geocentric view of the universe and eventually got him tried at the Inquisition and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

As the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter continues to fascinate, as do its four vastly different Galilean moons. Europa, in fact, may feature liquid oceans and is one of the extraterrestrial sites astronomers speculate may harbor microbial life. So the gas giant makes an ideal destination for the explorers in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and the novel, written by Arthur C. Clarke, were developed together and make ideal companion pieces. Clarke and Kubrick are two great storytellers, and together they have created a groundbreaking and deeply philosophical tale of the origins and meaning of life, along with humankind’s difficult relationship with technology, all wrapped up in a tense adventure story. It’s one of my absolute favorite films, and one that rewards plenty of thoughtful revisits. (And geez, just look at how absurdly long the movie’s Wikipedia page is.)

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