#90: 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]

The word “iconic” carries significant weight. When a film is described thus, you feel almost as though it owes you something. To me the term suggests influence and sophistication, and Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey ticks both these boxes. It's certainly referenced frequently in film and television. You’ll recognise the monolith, the apes/early humans, the musical score, and the hauntingly soft-spoken HAL computer. As I watched the movie, I could identify four separate Simpsons parodies: that’s got to count for something.
But, to business: the year is 2001, man has colonised the moon, and a bizarre monolith has inexplicably appeared. It has shot a signal towards Jupiter causing Earth’s astronauts to pursue the answers to this mystery. There are only about 6 scenes in the whole film, the rest being padded out with protracted images of  spacecraft pirouetting to intensely dramatic classical music. There’s not really much plot to narrate. And yet, it’s all so marvellously impressive, visually speaking. Kubrick insisted on having limited dialogue, in order to focus the audience on the visual and musical stimuli, and Clarke seems to have been preoccupied with getting the sci-fi realism aspects just right. However, this style amounts to a particularly difficult film to watch, as my two sleeping challenge-assistants proved.
2001 deals with many issues familiar with sci-fi literature fans, as can be expected with Clarke on the scriptwriting team. In fact, that’s precisely why Kubrick tracked him down. The Kubrick/Clarke duo wanted to grapple with questions of man’s evolution, time, the nature of humanity and other simple ideas like that, as they simultaneously wrote a novel and film script. This is achieved, and successfully so, through “iconic” moments such as the monkeys surrounding the monolith in the year however-many-million BC, repeated in the 2001 spacemen’s gathering around the monolith found on the moon. The former incident is followed by the creation of bone weaponry, wielded by the apes, which is later flung into the air and symbolically transforms into a spacecraft in orbit. The moon-monolith scene quickly cuts to the Jupiter Mission sequence, where we are introduced to the infallible HAL computer system, who exhibits the same primal instincts that the apes and men have already shown – he kills when threatened. Evolution, time and humanity all neatly commented upon.
Of course, I’m giving a very brief overview of an incredibly complicated film in which there are many intricate ideas at work. 2001 asks more questions than it seems capable of answering, and bigger ones than anyone can answer really. The beauty is in the ambiguity. I’m told these questions are dealt with more clearly in the novel, so all you sci-fi nerds feel free to inform us further in the comments section. Don’t ask me though; I just liked the colours.

Tom’s Summary: “Worth it for the monkeys”. He found the film immensely boring and fell asleep after about half an hour. My mum and I exchanged grins as he snored over An Der Schönen Blauen Donau

Comments

  1. There's many things great about this film. To start with the mgm logo at the beginning is wonderful. This film has quite possibly the most famous jump cut in cinema. Millions of years of history going by in one second. Hal is just incredible. The most human character in the film and maybe the scariest villian in film. I love the idea that technology destroys us and at this time I think its a very real idea. The 10 minute drug segment is fantastic. Now we know what acid would be like without even taking it. Lastly even though we know what will happen at the end the starchild offers a hope and brighter future.
    P.s its amazing to see the special effects in this film. It was made one year before the moon landings. A recent article put the special effects as. The most deserving Oscar of all time. however it did not win best picture. Oliver did. A travesty in my opinion
    P.p.s this film reignited a more serious tone to science fiction. The genre was mainly famous. For big bug monster movies. Stanley kubrick is a genius. Every one of his films was of a different genre and this is probably his artistic masterpiece though it is not my favourite of his.
    Chris

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  2. *Cliché time* I'm surprised 2001 is only at number 90, aesthetically one of the most stunning pieces of cinema ever produced and in 1968 no less, Avatar eat your heart out. Perhaps it speaks ill of my childhood but I have far fonder memories of 2001 growing up than I do of star wars. I don't feel fit to comment on the breadth of its influence but I will say this; would blade runner have happened without 2001 opening the door to successful intelligent sci fi?

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  3. For me, the music is the film. In conjunction with the calm of the humans & the immensity of space, the mood is captured perfectly. My own favourite is Gayane's Adagio by Aram Khachaturian, echoing through the abyss during the Jupiter Mission. Sad, haunting & otherworldly.

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  4. This film means a lot to people huh? Thanks for your comments :)
    Could you sign your name though please? I recognise Chris's voice in the first, but who are you #2?

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  5. Christopher Andrews would like to retain his anonimity.

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