The world into which “2001: A Space Odyssey” premiered 50 years ago was a completely different one than the one we live in now and yet had some similarities. The moon landing was over a year away. However, the planet was wracked with war, civil strife, and political acrimony so in a way the more things change, the more they stay the change.

A window into the future?

For audiences who had been following the race to the moon, then just completing its seventh year, “2001: A Space Odyssey” seemed to represent a window into the future, then 33 years hence.

People flew to a massive, wheeled space station and then therefore to a moon base as easily as they traveled to Europe of Asia.

The cutting edge of space exploration consisted not of sending a tiny lander to the lunar surface, but a vast nuclear-propelled spaceship to the Jupiter system. Cryonic sleep and intelligent, self-aware computers were common technology. The wonders in space depicted by the movie were so breathtaking that one could only imagine what living on Earth must have been like.

The next step in human evolution

The “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the joint effort of one of the greatest filmmakers of the time, Stanley Kubrick, and most celebrated science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke. Naturally, the finished product that those two geniuses created delved into contact between humans and aliens, both in the prehistoric past and in what was then the future.

The aliens were never seen, represented as they were by various versions of the black monolith.

Nor were they the stereotypical aliens, visiting Earth bent on its destruction and conquest. The beings that Dave Bowman found on the far side of infinity took human beings on the next stage of evolution, serving strangely as a secular version of gods.

The visuals for the movie were astonishing and even hold up today in the era of CGI.

The real 2001 was completely different

The real year 2001 was completely different than the one depicted in the movie. To be sure, a relatively small space station was then under construction, and a space shuttle existed and flew. However, people had not trod the lunar surface since 1972, 29 years before.

Nuclear-propelled spaceships were then as now a subject of science fiction.

Sadly, the signature event of the real 2001 was not a glorious voyage of discovery to the king of the solar system. Instead, the year depicted in the movie will always be remembered for the destruction of the World Trade Center by fanatical terrorists and then beginning of the Long War. In that way, the world has failed to live up to the vision of Kubrick and Clarke, more the pity.