2001: A Space Odyssey

2001_70mm_1shtThe 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece gave me the opportunity to see the film at the cinema again, this time with an old fashioned intermission. Something that feels quaint given it has the same running time as Infinity War, but was fitting in terms of it feeling like an old fashioned cinema presentation.

The story consists of four main segments. The dawn of man shows us how our ape forebears discover a monolith that bestows knowledge on them that leads them to create tools. We then jump forward a few billion years to see man discovering a second monolith on the moon. We then jump forward eighteen months to a mission to Jupiter. And finally we witness a journey on the discovery of a third monolith. This is the most simplistic break down of a story that even after multiple viewings I would struggle to explain fully.

The sheer confidence and brilliance on display throughout the film is awe inspiring. The feature starts with a minute of darkness whilst music builds to a crescendo and then displays the title card as the bombastic ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ plays. The dawn of man sequence that follows features no dialogue and the first time anyone speaks is 25 minutes into the film. In fact, the final 23 minutes of the film features no dialogue and in total more than half the film (88 minutes) features no one speaking. The dawn of man sequence also culminates with one of the most famous cuts in cinema, as an ape throws a bone into the air, the camera follows it as it spins upward and then cuts to a space ship in flight.

All of this in the opening 25 minutes. No one could make a film like this now and expect to get wide theatrical release. The closest we’ve had in recent times is Christopher Nolan’s fantastic Interstellar. A film that owes much to Kubrick.

Another thing worth constantly remembering when watching the film is that it was made in 1968. Before man landed on the moon and before digital effects became common in films. It has less effects shots in it than any Star Wars film and utilised rotating sets to get the mind boggling images of people walking around space stations. The effects on show still hold up 50 years on and no credence should be given to moon landing conspiracy theorists, because if Kubrick had filmed them they would have looked a darn sight better than they did!

Given the lack of dialogue, it is the sound and sound effects that really resonate throughout. There are scenes that are completely silent (no space scene features sound due to the vacuum of space), scenes where we can only hear the astronauts breathing building our claustrophobia and scenes with classical music showing the majesty of space. And of course we have HAL’s (each letter the preceding letter in the alphabet to IBM) hypnotic voice. Douglas Rain giving the super computer an unmistakable lilt as he talks to Dave (Keir Dullea) and sings Daisy.

Whilst all of the technical aspects of the film are spectacular, the story and themes are also incredibly thought provoking. The idea that some other intelligence is leading our evolution and providing us with a map to them (Prometheus), that tools/weapons are the basis of our moving forward, but that those tools may try to conquer us (Terminator, Ex Machina) and that space travel might take us to our beginning and evolutionary advancement. So many film makers have taken themes or imagery or both from this film and utilised them in their own, it’s important to see their inception.

Anyone with even a passing interest in film or sci-fi has to watch this masterpiece. Especially when there is an opportunity to watch it at the cinema.

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