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2001: a Space Odyssey

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: 2001: a Space Odyssey

Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: G
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: April 1968
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Cult

*Also starring: William Sylvester, Daniel Richter

Review by Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

I don't think any one director's film stands out as clearly as his or her masterpiece as '2001: A Space Odyssey' does for Stanley Kubrick. Amazingly, in my opinion, the film doesn't look dated at all. On DVD, the clarity, colour, resolution and overall presentation have held up remarkably well. It's the kind of film that contains hypnotic elements directly intended to stir any imagination and conjure up debate contained in its religious overtones. It's also the kind of film that means different things to different people. The entertainment value of it's beginning, middle and ending depend entirely on your views of evolution vs. creationism.

In 1989's 'Field of Dreams', Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) observes while speaking to Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) that he once read a passage he wrote that speaks of all the cosmic tumblers of the universe falling into place and for a brief moment the universe opens up to show you what's possible. This was never more true than for the film '2001: A Space Odyssey', as it is a film far ahead of its time and when it was released in 1968, it kept in line with director Stanley Kubrick's central theme of technology running amok.

Failing to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, '2001: A Space Odyssey' did get nominations for Kubrick as Best Director, Best Screenplay, based on the work of author Arthur C. Clarke's 'The Sentinel'. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick. The film received additional Oscar nominations for its sets and Kubrick won an Oscar for creating, supervising and executing the film's tremendously revolutionary visual effects.

Beginning in prehistoric times with what the film's opening caption puts forward as 'The Dawn of Man', apes move around on a huge open wasteland and display the barbaric attributes that would remain intact as evolution would eventually make them humans. A group of the beasts awaken one morning to find a a large rectangular black slab among the natural landscape of desert rock. The primates are astonished by its remarkably smooth texture and divine construction, perhaps it served as a stepping stone (no pun intended) for mankind's progress in the things he later invented. Perhaps the wheel, the printing press and other forms of ancient technology could be derived from this. The large rectangular black slab is known as the monolith. The monolith appears later in the film and its purpose remains a mystery.

>From a slow motion shot of a primate throwing a bone in the air, the film cuts to a time we now know as being near to the 21st century as a space craft in the similar shape of the bone travels through outer space and we are treated to some wonderful classical music by Strauss as we gaze in splendor at Kubrick's fantastic visual style.

The monolith appears again in 1999 on the moon near the Sea of Tranquility as an expedition team of American astronauts finds it and the monolith omits an eerie ringing to deafen all who come into contact with it.

Next is the Jupiter mission in the year 2001. Astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) lead an expedition team aboard the spacecraft Discovery. They are seen as the rest of the crew is in hibernation for the long trip. The computer overseeing the mission is HAL 9000. I noticed that the three letters after H, A and L are I, B and M. Coincidence? Who knows? Seems clever to me. HAL 9000 is voiced by actor Douglas Rain who has an eerie emptiness in his voice, making HAL a most chilling character and the best developed one in the movie, even more so than his human counter parts.

As the mission proceeds there is an apparent malfunction by the HAL 9000 computer and this leads to the beginning of the film's stunning climax where silence is used as powerfully as any loud, expensive action film where the noise is deafening. This is the film's greatest asset. The terror of being alone in space where the silence is extremely loud to the human condition is felt as clearly as actually being in the film.

The term 'Space Odyssey' pertains mostly to the film's last half hour as astronaut Bowman is transported to a part of the universe not only unexplored by man but unimagined as well. The mansion style surroundings contained in the film's lavish conclusion where a bedroom, bathroom and dining room are seen by Bowman observing his own origins and future lend suspicions that mankind's origins have an outer space connection which is a theory put forward by many scientists.

I must confess that I am not a student of literature. I don't read books. When I observe a film, I judge it only on its own merits and any comparisons I may draw to its literary origins are based on what I've heard and researched. One thing I didn't like about the sequel to '2001: A Space Odyssey' entitled '2010: The Year We Make Contact' is the explanation of why the HAL 9000 computer failed. The computer was apparently told of the true nature of the mission and instructed not to reveal anything to Bowman or Poole so when HAL was questioned by the astronauts in the original film, he became trapped and not having the human capacity to lie, he malfunctioned. This seems like a cop out to the original film's theme of technology running amok as I mentioned in the second paragraph as '2010' explains that human meddling caused HAL to malfunction rather than HAL malfunctioning on his own.

'2001: A Space Odyssey' is a marvel of film making not for what it does but for what it doesn't do. It doesn't try to be a film with a formula, primary character development or scathing amounts of dialogue. There is in fact, very little dialogue in its running time of nearly two and a half hours and Stanley Kubrick's intention is to leave his audience with something to take home in their minds and reflect upon it as not only a work of art but as an experience designed to push the full limits of the human imagination.

Copyright 1998 Walter Frith

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