2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-Space-Odyssey2001 is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of science fiction and an all around amazing film. It’s not really one film, but a collection of short films, each with its own little reality. We open with several minutes of harmonized noise and a blank screen. This sets the tone for most of the film, where there is very little dialogue and lots of silence intermingled with classical music.

Released in 1968, 2001:A Space Odyssey has better special effects than any film made in the last twenty years, not because they fill every frame, but because they are perfect in their execution and use. They also look much more realistic than the CGI cartoons of the new Star Trek and Star Wars films. Watching the space scenes, it’s clear where Lucas got his inspiration for Star Wars and where Spielberg got his inspiration for Close Encounters.

The story, such as it is, is about a mysterious black brick that seems to have changed the course of human history once or twice. The first little movie is about rival groups of proto-humans who learn a few new skills after an encounter with the Monolith. The next is about a group of businessmen who find the Monolith buried on the moon. The next story is about a mission to Jupiter where the A.I. HAL 9000 goes a bit off the deep end. The last bit is about a man who spends either fifty years or a few minutes or all of eternity alone while hoping to make contact with the Monolith.

There are long stretches of music and visuals. 2001 is much more of an experience than just watching a movie. The use of sound and silence is masterful.

There is never any attempt to explain anything, even when we have the obligatory ‘mission briefing’ they cut away as soon as someone who might say something technical steps up. We are never told why the Monolith appears or what it wants. We never know why HAL decides to take over the mission. We never know what happens in the end and what that closing image is supposed to mean. And yet, having these questions unanswered is part of what makes 2001 a great film. We are free to think about what they mean. Kubrick and Clarke didn’t treat us like idiots by spoon feeding us all the answers.

It’s been a while since I last watched 2001 and it holds up perfectly. If anything, it shines brighter now when compared to the glut of sci fi films made with computers and paint by the number screenplays.


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