Maybe the greatest match cut in the history of movies is the abrupt transition in 2001 from the tossed bone to the shuttle approaching the space station. It’s a cut that casually glosses over a couple million years of human advancement. Of course, the whole movie is about such cosmic leaps in consciousness. What astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) discovers after his epic journey to Jupiter and his battle to the death with shipboard computer HAL 9000 is that human evolution sometimes needs a jump start.
The alien intelligence that guides Dave, just as it guided that bone-wielding caveman, is neither good nor evil, it simply is. It’s a mindset so far beyond ours that director Stanley Kubrick (aided by pioneering special-effects artist Douglas Trumbull) can express it only as a trippy progression of sounds, colors, and familiar-yet-otherworldly images. It’s an intelligence much like Kubrick’s own, regarding humankind with a chilly, bemused detachment. It knows that with space travel, as with all great journeys and quests, what we truly seek is ourselves.