2001: A Space Odyssey Review


“2001: A Space Odyssey” is a transcendent experience. Calling it a film is an injustice, for it is so much more than that. It is a thought-provoking piece of art. No film has stuck with me the way this one did the first time I saw it. It’s hypnotic in a way. The film grabs hold of you with its visuals, score, pacing, and Stanley Kubrick’s incredible direction and doesn’t let go, even when it gets into its more existential or philosophical points. I revisit this film again and again, and it still affects me in an incredibly profound way. For me, it doesn’t get any better than “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s my all-time favorite film.

The film is divided into four compelling segments. The first, titled The Dawn of Man, takes place in pre-historic times focuses on a tribe of ape-like creatures. After discovering a giant black monolith (which becomes the connective tissue between the four storylines), these creatures discover they can use animal bones as weapons. The technological advancement comes at a price, however, for the creatures also realize they can use the weapons against one another.

The second segment (which begins with the famous jump cut from an animal bone flying through the air to a space shuttle) moves into space, the moon to be specific. However, space travel here is not glamorous like it is in films like “Star Wars.” It’s slow-moving and more of a necessity than an adventure. In this segment, we meet Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester). Floyd has been called up to help with the excavation of a monolith like the one from the previous segment. The existence of the monolith, which is broadcasting a signal toward Jupiter, is considered a matter of national security.

In the next segment, which is the longest of the four, we follow the space shuttle Discovery on its mission to Jupiter. The crew of the Discovery consists to David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), three scientists who are in a state of hibernation, and HAL 9000 (voice of Douglas Rain), an intelligent machine that converses with the crew and may or may not be capable of human emotions (and may or may not be functioning as he should).

The final and most head-scratching segment is called Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Here, the remaining crew member of the Discovery comes across a giant monolith orbiting the planet. The ship goes through it and the man is transported to a place where he watches himself rapidly age and eventually die. Then, he is reborn as a “star child,” presumably the next step in human evolution.

It’s really hard to discuss this film without giving certain plot points away. The somewhat disjointed nature of the plot, while not at all detrimental, makes it difficult to get into the meat and potatoes of what makes this film so special without talking about the endgame. But Kubrick’s film is so well-made, even someone with extensive knowledge of the plot can still be floored by “2001.”

It’s impossible to point out the best aspect of the film because the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Only a master director the likes of Kubrick would be capable of crafting something this genius and unique. He slows the pace down to the point of sometimes not even realizing the space shuttles are moving. Along with it, he plays Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube Waltz” (among other classical pieces), an unforgettable pairing of music and images. Another piece of music is used so effectively that it’s often referred to as “Theme from 2001.” That piece is “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, but after watching this film, you’ll have a hard time not associating it with “2001.”

The visuals are stunning, and once again, unique considering the time period and genre. Unlike “Star Wars,” this film is unconcerned with typical space movie stuff, like laser fights and light speed. There’s a lot of color in the film’s final segment, but the rest of the film is dark, conveying the vast emptiness of space. Kubrick also does this with the deliberately slow pacing. In space, you aren’t really rushing anywhere, and the film takes its time getting from one place to another. But it never bores you; you are constantly enthralled by the imagery, or else you are still enthralled by a philosophical point to ponder.

This film obviously has a lot to say. Its loudest message is that technology can be harmful. The first and third segments represent this quite obviously. But the fourth offers quite a bit to think about when it comes to this topic. The “star child” represents the newest form of human evolution, but considering what came before it (the weaponry during The Dawn of Man, HAL in the Jupiter Mission), is it possible that this advancement isn’t actually a good thing. The dangerous possibilities of the star child are endless (and scary, but fascinating to think about).

The acting in “2001,” isn’t especially memorable, but it’s not that kind of film. It’s not by any means bad, but there’s only one actor, Keir Dullea, who has a solid amount of screen time. Because the film is structured the way it is, there’s no lead actor, but Dullea is as close as it gets. He doesn’t emote a lot, but he’s singularly determined, and he does a good job conveying the wonder and awe of space, as well as the hopelessness of his situation aboard the Discovery.

While not exactly an actor in the film, Douglas Rain gives us one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history in the form of HAL. His voice is perfect for the job (it’s a clear inspiration for the character of Gerty in 2009’s “Moon”). HAL is one of film’s most memorable villains, but he’s a tragic villain. Without getting into too much detail, he’s seriously misunderstood by everyone, and while he does some terrible things, he really only wants the mission to succeed. The scene in which he expresses his fears and sings “Daisy” to Dave is tragic.

When the film was released in 1968, it wasn’t very highly regarded. At the height of the space race, audiences were expecting something a little more exciting. Critics were mostly mixed. It took a few years before people started to recognize Kubrick’s genius. Since then, it’s regarded as a classic of the highest order by film critics, scholars, and watchers everywhere. I’ve already labeled it my favorite film of all-time, not a title I gave out without a lot of thought. But that’s exactly what this film does for me. More than anything else I’ve ever seen, it makes me think – think about the points the film makes, think about the marvel of space and the possibilities of technology, and think about the skill involved with making such a brilliant film.

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