Synopsis: Stanley Kubrick’s dazzling, Academy Award-winning achievement, a compelling drama of man vs. machine, a stunning meld of music and motion. Kubrick (who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur C. Clarke) first visits our prehistoric ape-ancestry past, then leaps millennia (via one of the most mind-blowing jump cuts ever) into colonized space, and ultimately whisks astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) into uncharted realms of space, perhaps even into immortality. “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” Let an awesome journey unlike any other begin.
2001: A Space Odyssey 9.5
eyelights: the cinematography. the score. the abstract story.
eyesores: the confusing finale.
There’s no way that I can write up ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and do it justice. There’s absolutely no way. So I won’t even try.
To me, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is perfection itself. And it’s pure sci-fi. Most people will reference ‘Star Wars’ as sci-fi, when it’s really smorgasbord of many different flavours, most notably action-adventure, in a sci-fi setting.
But ‘2001’ breathes sci-fi, imbues the spirit of sci-fi wholly, IS science fiction.
To me, science fiction is a medium in which we can discuss current concerns with the help of a certain remove, it’s a space where we can envision possible futures (and, thus, make choices that will lead us down better paths), it’s a place where we can not only imagine the unbelievable, but also the possible.
It is the perfect realm for intellectual pursuits because it mixes imagination with real issues, and is also the ideal playground for one’s imagination not only because the future has not been written but because technology is only limited by one’s dreams and nightmares. Science meets fiction.
And when in the hands of a visionary with matching skill, it can become art.
In the hands of Stanley Kubrick, a master with unbelievable focus, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is nothing less than art. Every frame, every shot is brilliant. Every moment is perfectly captured. Every detail is considered. Everything has purpose.
Honestly, I had a terrible time picking a feature picture for this blurb because every single moment is expertly framed by Kubrick. I couldn’t stop finding contenders, so I had to force myself to stop. I decided to pick a shot that awed me, even if it doesn’t represent the film properly.
Full disclosure – it wasn’t always this way. For many years I simply did not “get” ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. This is the only reason that I can wrap my mind around the fact that some people find it boring. If not for my own experience, I would think that these people are completely crazy.
But it took me many tries. My mother first tried to get me to watch it on the big screen as a child. I simply didn’t have the patience for it. There’s too little action for a kid; we had to leave half-way through. I tried it many times again as I grew older and, as with ‘Blade Runner‘, I couldn’t connect with it.
Finally, though, in adulthood, I decided to go see it at the big screen again. It was there, sitting in the third row, immersed in its awe-inspiring visual splendour and with the soundtrack blaring through decent speakers that my mind opened. I still remember the experience of watching that lightshow at the end. I was blown away.
(And yes, I was sober. I’ve heard how this film first became popular with pot smokers, way back in the day. It actually kind of makes sense, even though I would never do that nor to I condone it.)
I was a convert. From that moment onward I couldn’t help but watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with total reverence. It’s as close to a religious experience as I can get with these senses of mine. I bought the VHS tape, then the DVD and now the blu-ray. I also bought the CD soundtrack and played it extensively. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is and will always remain in my top 13 films of all time.
Of course, I’ve talked about it from a purely technical perspective. Kubrick’s films, if anything, are blueprints for filmmakers. His films are essential to any filmmaking buff’s knowledge of cinema, not just because of how brilliantly directed they are, but because they have influenced countless other filmmakers and artists.
The problem is that they are frequently cold, from an emotional standpoint. Kubrick watches his subjects like a scientist with a microscope, with utter precision but a certain distance. This is true for most if not all of his films, and certainly is the case for ‘2001’. As HAL watches his human partners coolly with his one eye, Kubrick watches all of humanity with one eye on the camera.
The thing that I find fascinating with Kubrick’s film is that, not only are they clinical in some way, they also tend to highlight and observe human madness in various ways. In ‘2001’ Kubrick watches the evolution of mankind, but he also injects risk -as he always does- in the folly of a key character. In this case, it is HAL, the ultimate super-computer, the perfect brain.
Perhaps it’s because I’m fascinated with human (and human-like) behaviour that I find this film so utterly engrossing. From the earliest scenes, in which we see humanity’s forefathers interact, learning the roles of conquerors and conquered, learning how to survive in the process, I can’t help but get lost in the sequences that Kubrick has put to screen.
Even when we get to the future and we have endless sequences of space travel, the behaviour of tomorrow’s humans as they explore the universe is also amazing to watch. Some of it is naïve and dated (such as the anti-gravity boots or the boxed lunches), but it nonetheless represents a very real possibility, and the choreography of each movement, of every moment is astounding.
Kubrick’s future is all antiseptic, however, as cold and clean as his emotional palette. There is a lot of white, a lot of monochromatic elements, a lot of space between things, everything is orderly. It’s a vision of how he would like the future to be, not of what it will be – Kubrick is renowned for being quite the orderly person, having built his own MASSIVE filing system to work out his ideas. ‘2001’ was simply an extension of how he thought.
There are four parts to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It’s a long-ish movie that actually features an intermission at about the ninety-minute mark. There was a time when they would do that, especially with the roadshow event films that lasted 3-4 hours long. I can’t say that ‘2001’ requires it, but some people would no doubt appreciate the break – the chance for a cool drink, some fresh air and repose.
And it’s the correct time for it. Because, soon thereafter, one gets into the more challenging part of the film, the part that everything had built towards until then. This is when it turns into a thriller, after hours of near-eventless adventure, and then moves on to becoming a total abstraction – one that can only be elucidated by reading the book, as Kubrick doesn’t explain the ending in any way.
That’s probably the only problem with ‘2001’. Or, rather, it’s the film’s double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great that it lets the viewer assign whatever meaning he/she wants to it, but, on the other hand, it could prove frustrating for some. Personally, I adored how unclear it was. It triggered my imagination and left me wondering, wanting to watch the movie again and again to try to figure it out, to wrap my mind around it..
Do yourselves a favour. If you get the chance, go see it on the big screen. Like ‘Baraka‘, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’is one of those movies that needs to be seen LARGE to truly feel it. It’s not the only way, but it’s by far the best way to truly immerse one’s self in all its glory. It’s momentous film, an epic experience that needs to be savoured in the right context, like a rare wine or a culinary masterpiece.
Similarly, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is a cinematic masterpiece. Like it or not, it’s a memorable experience. There is nothing like it, and there never will be.
Date of viewing: December 30, 2012