#104 2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968, Stanley Kubrick)
“What are you doing, Dave?”
Stanley Kubrick is a well-loved, well-respected director whose movies always crop up on lists such as the one I’m working from. I’ve already reviewed two of his movies, the surreal yet compelling A Clockwork Orange and the tense horror of The Shining, both of which I enjoyed immensely. So now it’s time to look at Kubrick’s huge, influential sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Did I like it nearly as much as the others?
Describing the plot of 2001 isn’t an easy task. Essentially split into four “acts”, the movie is a vision of future space travel and exploration. The first act is “The Dawn Of Man”, where primitive monkeys gain intelligence through a mysterious black monolith. The second act is a journey to the moon, where a similar monolith has been dug up. The third act is the most famous – a doomed mission to Jupiter involving the cold, creepy, murderous HAL 9000 ship computer. And the fourth act is about…something or other. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Kubrick really went all out with this movie. The effects are absolutely stunning, especially considering its age. I genuinely have no idea how Kubrick pulled it all off. Particularly in representing zero gravity environments with large rotating sets. Some of the shots, such as when an astronaut is jogging around a gigantic circular area while the camera pans across the whole loop, are just mind-blowing. The spaceships are also genuinely impressive.
It’s such a shame that so much time is spent showing off all of these brilliant effects and set designs, making the film drag. The sight of a spaceship “ballet”, to the tune of the Blue Danube, is initially impressive, but it feels like it goes on far too long. The same can be said of the introduction to the HAL 9000 section of the movie, where a long panning shot of the spaceship goes on for about five minutes. Sure, it’s impressive, but it did frequently leave me thinking “just get on with it, movie”
Also, plot-wise, the movie sits between very entertaining and very confusing. The middle two sequences, with the moon mission and HAL, are in the former category, while the opening sequence and the ending sadly fit into the latter, and are less effective. The Dawn Of Man sequence admittedly does set up the real mystery of the black monolith, so it does have its place, but once the ending rolls around things get a bit lost.
The sequence with HAL is certainly the best part of the movie. There’s a constant sense of eeriness about it, and a real driving plot that is hard to fault. It’s a combination of Douglas Rain’s perfectly monotone and the use of minimal sound to represent the coldness of space that makes it all work so well. The entire sequence was tense, and I loved every moment of it.
Shame that the ending then came along and left me feeling confused and slightly cheated out of a “proper” ending. Spoiler alert: it’s an ambigious “arty” experiment that offers little clue of what’s happening and spends far too much time throwing psychedelic colours around before messing around with filters over shots of mountains and oceans, eventually leading to some strange sequence where Dave from the HAL mission watches himself age rapidly before becoming a space baby. I’m sure it’s all meant to have some hidden meaning, but it just comes across as incomprehensible nonsense.
I really want to like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its influence is impossible to deny (I constantly spotted connections with practically every sci-fi movie made since) and it is a technical marvel. But it tries so hard to be meaningful and artistic that it can get bogged down in tedium and confusion. If the film had been condensed into the HAL section alone and built on that more, I’d have probably loved it. But with that ending and the endless “space ballet” it tends to lose my interest very quickly.
As Kubrick movies go, I prefer The Shining.
Starring Keir Dullea & Gary Lockwood, and the voice of Douglas Rain
Written by Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth
Edited by Ray Lovejoy
Favourite Scene: Dave realises that he needs to shut down HAL’s higher brain function before anything else can go wrong. The emotionless pleading from HAL for the entire sequence is creepy as all hell.
Scene That Bugged Me: Very nice, Kubrick, you have access to a helicopter and some colour filters. Do you really need to spend ten minutes of the ending showing this off?
Watch it if: You want to see where basically every sci-fi movie gets its inspiration from
Avoid it if: You like your movies fast and action-packed