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.