The film begins with about a half hour of footage featuring a troupe of apes living by a water hole. The place: "Earth." The time: "The Dawn of Man."
The troupe of apes is attacked by a second troupe and driven away from its water hole. In exile, the first troupe is awakened early one morning to the eerie sounds being generated by a mysterious object -- a black metallic slab. It is about 15 feet tall, and shaped like a huge domino. Its smooth metallic surfaces and perfect right angles are totally out of place and incongruent with the pristine beauty of a world untouched by man-made objects. It is immediately obvious to the viewer that the black geometric form originates from an intelligence which dwarfs that of the apes. With great fear and trepidation, the apes eventually work up the courage to approach the slab. They lay their hands on its "wondrous" features -- its smooth polished surfaces. This is their first encounter with "high" technology. The scene is accompanied by loud music and eerie human-like voices in the background. Suddenly, the scene switches.
It is the next day. The leader of the exiled troupe is sitting on his haunches, playing idly with the dried up bones of the skeleton of an ox. Seemingly, yesterday's encounter with the slab has given the leader a jolt forward, increasing his intelligence, for while playing with one of the bones, he discovers that a large bone can be used to break smaller bones. Longing for the water hole that was once his home, the troupe leader gathers up several large bones from the ox's skeleton, and gives them to the other male members of his troupe. Armed with this new, sophisticated weaponry, the apes easily retake the water hole, in a quick and bloody battle. Afterwards, the leader of the troupe triumphantly tosses his ox bone high into the air, and in what has been called "the greatest fast-forward in movie history" the swirling bone comes down as a spaceship, implying that the apes have evolved into man.
Since that first technological advance, at the battle for the water hole, mankind has evolved considerably, and civilization on Earth has made great technological progress. The United States has built a colony on the moon, and scientists digging there find what looks to be the same slab that the apes found! At this point, there is no reason for the scientists to assume that the slab is anything more than an inert building block. What they do know is that it has been on the moon for four million years, precluding the possibility that any human being put it there. The inevitable conclusion, as stated in the film, is as follows:"THIS IS THE FIRST EVIDENCE OF INTELLIGENT LIFE OFF THE EARTH."
In other words, it is the first objective evidence that the universe contains intelligent life other than man.
The momentous discovery of the geometric slab is kept secret, for the Americans fear that if Earth's inhabitants learned about it "without adequate preparation and conditioning," widespread "culture shock" and "social disorientation" would inevitably ensue.
The moon moves in its orbit. Sunlight hits the slab, perhaps for the first time in aeons, causing it to emit a beam into outer space. A spaceship is built and a crew is assembled to follow the beam. There is hope that the Americans will discover the intelligence that is responsible for the slab and its beam.
The spaceship takes off, on an odyssey that will span the universe. One of the main characters in this part of the film is a computer which controls and monitors most of the ship's functions. This computer, named HAL, has a human personality. He even has a human voice. For some reason, HAL rebels and begins to kill all the astronauts who are accompanying him on the mission. He tries to murder his creators. Dave, the last surviving astronaut, escapes HAL's cooly-plotted machinations and manages to dismantle him. Dave then continues the odyssey alone. In the end, Dave is captured in an inter-galactic net, apparently by the makers of the slab. We find him facing himself as an old man, sitting in a room on the other side of the universe. No explanations are given. The huge embryo comes on the screen, and the film ends. NEXT