2001: A Space Odyssey

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke

Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Sean Sullivan

The discovery of a mysterious monolith under the surface of the moon raises questions about life in the galaxy. A small group of scientists begins the long journey to Jupiter, assisted by the HAL 9000 supercomputer.

This might be near the top of the list of the most debated and divisive films ever made. The idea originated from Stanley Kubrick’s (Barry Lyndon) fascination with the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. A mutual acquaintance connected Kubrick with science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (2010). Their plan was to develop the script and the novel simultaneously. (The resulting novel is a more revealing and descriptive version of the story told in the film.) Despite a somewhat mixed reception, this film earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director. The movie features Keir Dullea (David and Lisa), Gary Lockwood (Model Shop), and Sean Sullivan (The Dead Zone).

It’s hard, if not impossible, to compare this script to anything else. The two writers crafted a story that refuses to bend to convention and rarely provides answers for the audience. What exists is something that can be interpreted and appreciated, but maybe never understood. One of the interesting aspects of this movie is the dialogue. While the film attempts to make grand statements with the visuals, the dialogue is far more direct. There are no extended speeches or enlightening statements. Instead, the actors communicate feeling and emotion through their expressions and physical performances. This creates an unnerving tone for the film at times. This isn’t an easy script to evaluate since it can be interpreted in so many ways. The lack of a clear and straightforward plot might be a hurdle for some people. This is also a story that refuses to cave to the expectation for answers. As stated previously, this is a film that will likely be debated and analyzed for years to come.  It starts with the screenplay. Kubrick and Clarke would earn a shared Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

The actors were given quite the task when they signed on to make this film. The script asks for a lot of non-verbal communication and deep expressions of emotion. The small and talented cast did a solid job rising to the occasion. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood take on two of the more central roles in this one. Their performances help to give a sense of authenticity to the story. Their performances allow the subject matter to feel somewhat routine despite being clear science-fiction. Both men also did a good job knowing how and when the emotion of the moment should come out.

Even then, their sense of restraint really pays off. The unseen star of this film was Sean Sullivan, the voice behind HAL 9000. His gave a voice to one of the most iconic characters in the history of science-fiction. He gives the computer the cold sensibility of a machine, while adding in just a slight touch of humanity. This creates an unnerving effect that can’t be ignored. Overall, the cast manages to bring this one to life without getting in the way of the more existential questions.

The story and performances are both important aspects of the film. The visuals, however, are the major piece to this film. The film was announced in 1965 with the Cinerama label and was photographed in Super Panavision 70. Most recently (as of the publishing of this review) the film has enjoyed a new limited theatrical release in the form of a 70mm roadshow print. This film is a masterpiece of visual effects and cinematography. Kubrick worked with Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (Cabaret) to capture his large-scale vision. Their work included some of the first uses of front projection with retroreflective matting. Massive sets were built to create the centrifugal scenes and to display the zero-gravity effects.

Without throwing out a bunch of technical terms, it’s important to see this film as a work of art. While the story might come under debate, it’s hard to debate the beauty of the visuals. The camera work and editing crafted a unique experience that is almost overwhelming at times. This one took home its only Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and earned a nomination for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration.

This one also features incredible music, filling in much of the largely non-verbal film. Stanley Kubrick initially hired composer Alex North (Good Morning, Vietnam) to write an original score. Upon seeing the film with the temporary music made up of popular classical pieces, Kubrick decided against using North’s compositions. The music provides an incredible accent to the impressive visuals, and creates an immersive movie experience.

After its initial release this film found friends and enemies among the critics. Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed that this was “the picture that science fiction fans of every age and in every corner of the world have prayed (sometimes forlornly) that the industry might some day give them.” He would also state that “[it] is an ultimate statement of the science fiction film, an awesome realization of the spatial future … it is a milestone, a landmark for a spacemark, in the art of film.” This praise was contradicted by Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic.  He called it “a film that is so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull.”

This film might never gain the blanket acceptance that other legendary movies have been given. There is so much going on, and so much left to interpretation. If you haven’t taken the time to see this one, it’s worth the effort. This is a film that requires patience and deep thought. It’s also an experience unlike anything else out there. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: G

Running Time: 149 Minutes

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