Top 250 - 2001: A Space Oddessy (1968)


You may be wondering why a film made in the '60s has suddenly appeared amongst the Silent Epics from the early twentieth century in a systematically chronological review blog. The main reason is that I have just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke's 'Space Oddessy' quadrilogy and wanted to refresh my memory of a film I can only partly remember from childhood. I am a huge fan of novel-to-film adaptations ranging from Minority Report & Jurassic Park to Salem's Lot & The Lord Of The Rings and I love to see how selections are made in what is required on screen and what cannot be portrayed, often with characters changed and entire narratives being rewritten. This particular case is unique in that Clarke and Kubrick co-wrote their own version of the same story simultaneously, often passing ideas between each other; Clarke would watch the daily rushes and notice a completely new take on a character or vise-versa. Of course the books hold infinitely more detail and explain every aspect of the ambiguities that make Kubrick's film so special: What exactly are the monoliths? Why does HAL go homicidal? What the hell is going on for the last 20 minutes? Perhaps someday I will look into both stories and discuss the pros and cons of being presented with too little or too much information but for now I will review Kubrick's film as it's own entity

IMDB Top 250 Review - 2001: A Space Oddessy (1968)

Creating questions that he does not answer, Kubrick's vision of the future combines elegance, camera trickery and a whole lot of nothing.

The only thing I could remember from this film from my only previous viewing (as a preteen I may add) was that there was a computer with a red light, the spaceship spun around and some monkeys bashed some bones to the tune of what I only knew as "that music from '2001'". That and the numerous parodies from such places as 'The Simpsons', 'Family Guy' and Ben Stiller's 'Zoolander'. I was also a little daunted when I saw the 141 minute running time but felt great anticipation in watching a film that I enjoyed so much as a novel. I am also as inept on Kubrick as any Silent director so this is a new awakening for me. OK, so I've seen it before and read the book, but as far as I know, this is my first time watching a Kubrick movie with the passion for film that I now have.

Like this review, '2001: A Space Oddessy' has a prologue - 4 million years ago, we were just apes. We ate, we slept and we were occasionally killed by the leopard. That is, until a curious black monolith appeared and somehow taught our ancient ancestors how to use tools to kill and hunt, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain and initiating our interest in building things. Fast forward to 2001 and a top scientist is being hurried to the moon (which has it's own permanent base and airline-style shuttles) to research a spectacular discovery - a curious black monolith hidden under the surface of the moon - proving that we are not alone in the universe. We learn that upon its discovery, it has sent a signal to Jupiter and mankind commissions a ship to explore the possible recipient of this mysterious message and uncover the truth about our place in the universe.

Seems simple enough. Fortunately, the astronauts are accompanied on this mission by the highly sophisticated AI computer HAL 9000, whose ominous red eye keeps watch over the entire ship. Unfortunately, he goes psychotic and attempts (and nearly succeeds) to kill everyone on board. After disposing of HAL by removing his memory units, the lone survivor, Dave Bowman, finally reaches Jupiter and reaches yet another curious black monolith, only this one is hundreds of times larger. He is sucked into it and through some kind of wormhole where he remarkably emerges in a hotel room where we witness his rapid accent into old age and death, only to be reborn as a 'starchild' baby overlooking the planet Earth.

The first thing that hits me is that this film is long. I can watch each extended 'Lord Of The Rings' with ease and they run over an hour beyond the closing credits of '2001,' but the pacing of the film makes it seem to last several hours. I get that Kubrick wants to represent the monotony of space travel - the boredom of that year-long flight, but I was really trying hard not to fall asleep. Artistic licence is greatly appreciated in some forms, but after the first half hour I was already re cutting scenes in my head.

The second thing is that there is very little explanation to several aspects of the story: What relevance do the monoliths have and what are they? Why does a billion dollar super-computer decide to kill everyone? Was Kubrick on a acid trip when he dreamt up the last 20 minutes? Perhaps this is just my own inquisitive tendencies asking for clarification of some plot points, points that I knew very well thanks to the books, that were straining to find any form of resolution here. When there is simply too much that is not explained it annoys me. In an interview, Kubrick noted that "the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it." This idea has always been an adversary of mine as I think it is a lazy way of not thinking up a true meaning and reminds me of something Ashley Simpson once said to cover up the lack of lyrics in one of her choruses. However, I will admit that a little mystery does create suspense, interest and gets the public talking and creating their own ideas, which I suppose is a good thing.

Besides those two gripes, the film is a good watch. You really feel the life-or-death tension when HAL starts to malfunction. His voice is always so came and controlled yet his actions shout volumes - truely scray. A stand-out scene contains the slow progress of understanding when the ape-man discovers he can use bones as a weapon - it is wonderfully acted. The music is phenomenal - no one has heard of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" but play the notes C, G, C in the right timing and everyone will make a resounding "da da" as they continue the tune. It perfectly emulates the ecstacy of the understanding of the ape-men. "The Blue Danube" makes the spacecraft docking sequences feel like a choreographed ballet and the screeching, electronic, dischords suitably agitate the awaiting audience during the blackouts. This is a very well crafted soundscape.

Overall, this was a good film but created too many qualms to be considerd great. Perhaps if I had not read the book and come at this with no understanding of the story it would have appeared more exotic or captivating. Fantastic production design, amazing attention to detail and memorable music but falls short on pacing and explanations.

Movie - 5
Film - 8

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