2001: A Space Odyssey
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Without a doubt - in my mind at least - 2001: A Space Odyssey is still the best science fiction film made to this date. Very few SF films take the genre as seriously as this one, and thus it is one of the few that captures the awe and majesty that SF literature has always inspired in my imagination. Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film director, but I think it was the influence of Arthur C. Clarke which helped make this film the transcendant masterpiece it is. Clarke is one of the true enigmas of SF; his novels and short stories are examples of some of the best Hard-SF tales ever written, yet at the same time they exhibit a strong spiritual - almost religious - atmosphere. His short story "The Sentinel" has always been credited as the original genesis of the film's screenplay, but I feel there is evidence of elements from Clarke's 1953 novel, Childhood's End, as well. Clarke and Kubrick collaborated on the screenplay, and at the same time Clarke was writing the novel version of the story.
The critical and audience response to this film has always been sharply divided. Many feel it is pretentiously boring and slow. Others, like me, see it as a profound and ambitious attempt to ask the unanswerable questions that have always puzzled mankind; where did we come from, what is our purpose, what is our destiny? Perhaps the most visually symbolic of all sound-era films, it is almost a half-hour into the action before there is any dialogue. Another element I applaud is Kubrick's awareness that there is no sound in the vacuum of space, a fact that seems to have been forgotten by the majority of other filmmakers. Even though fx-technology has improved tremendously in the more than forty-five years since, I don't think there has been a more technically-perfect SF film made, most evident in the model work and Moon backdrops, and especially in the scene where Bowman (Keir Dullea) must re-enter the spacecraft through the emergency airlock.
The mysterious monolith that appears at various stages throughout the film has clearly been misunderstood even by many who admire the film. In its initial appearance it is a teaching device, sparking the mental development of australopithicene, whose development of the use of tools leads inexorably to the progressions of technology which propel us into space. Later, after being uncovered on the moon, it acts as a signal to its alien creators of our first steps away from our home planet. In its final appearances, both in orbit around Jupiter and in Bowman's room of captivity, it is a portal through which Bowman is transported across the immeasurable light-years of space. In all of Kubrick's films there is a purpose for everything, nothing is inconsequential. The slow pace, rather than being a detriment, is actually perfect for conveying the vastness of time and space, as well as the inevitable boredom of long space voyages. Besides, with so many visual treats on which to feast our eyes along the way there s no time for the viewer to be bored, and in my opinion the film does not seem as long as its actual running time. Conversely, it sometimes seems timeless, and it is easy to get the feeling you have been absorbed in the film for a much longer period, perhaps forever.
Kubrick's music selections are another aspect of the film that is very nearly perfect, with both traditional and more contemporary classical compositions that enhance the other-worldliness of the scenes. Much has already been said about the blending of Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz with the synchronized movements of the space shuttle and the rotating space station, truly one of the most captivating and enthralling sequences ever rendered on film. Even though you may not have the same appreciation for the music on its own, I highly recommend the soundtrack recording.
I have seen 2001 more times than any other film, with the possible exception of my all-time favorite, another Kubrick masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. I have never tired of it and cannot conceive of the possiblility of ever thinking I have deciphered all its symbolic meanings. Although I will concede the notion that someday some other filmmaker may surpass it, I am confident this film will always retain its mystical hold on my imagination.I realize this is not a very thorough review of the film, but I think I would get little argument about the fact it is one that is very difficult to verbalize. Perhaps if I was more knowledgeable in the fields of philosophy and psychology I might be better able to interpret the many symbols and allegorical references. I do think I am an intelligent person but have never considered myself to be an intellectual. I will always attempt in my reviews - both of books and the filmed media - to express my opinions in simple terms and not obscure the matter with arcane references to possible influences of the works in question.
"I tried to create a visual experience, one that
bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly
penetrates the subconscious with an emotional
and philosophical content...I intended the film to be
an intensely subjective experience that reaches the
viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music
does...You're free to speculate as you wish about the
philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film."
Warner Bros. Official Kubrick Site
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