Kubrick’s most influential film still remains way ahead of its time and is arguably the greatest sci-fi film ever made.
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1968 | UK/USA | Sci-Fi/Mystery | 149 mins | 2.20:1 | English
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Plot: Mankind finds a mysterious artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar – Best Special Visual Effects. Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction.
Source: Warner Bros (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Philosophical
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on IMAX – first published 21 Sep 2018)
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is to me the greatest science-fiction picture ever made. Even if something similar is attempted today, it will inevitably still be streets behind the influential masterpiece because of two main reasons.
First, the original movie was released in 1968, without the aid and distraction of computer visual effects; and second, it remains to be one of the medium’s most ambitious and indelible portrayals of the unknown. A meditative journey into the nature of our existence like no other, 2001 explores many themes, most notably that of existentialism, man versus machine, and the cycle of life.
At the beginning, Kubrick brings us back to “The Dawn of Man”, when apes were the precursor to Man. The quest for survival slowly turns violent, from obtaining food and avoiding predators to forming clans for territorial rights. This is greatly juxtaposed with colonised space, which forms the bulk of the picture’s remaining two hours.
In one of the most astonishing match-cum-jump cuts ever, we see an ape-human throw a bone up into the sky and as gravity pulls it down in one swift motion, the bone suddenly becomes an image of a satellite (shaped like that bone) floating in dark, infinite (and gravity-less) space. In that mind-blowing split moment, we are hurtled thousands of years into the future. And with that comes themes of technology going amok and Man’s (im)mortality.
The defining motif that brings these themes together is the monolith, a rectangular grey block made of an unknown inert material that appears in four key moments in the film. It is simultaneously a symbol of mystery and the ultimate black box, one that might contain the answers to that we desperately seek.
“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
Kubrick’s unique melding of imagery to the sound of classical music (both the entrancingly melodious and the eerily dissonant) is poetry in motion. Man-made space objects rotate and float across the length of the screen, as slow as the director would allow them to move so as to imitate the physics of motion in space.
Working together with the famous Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay), Kubrick brought astounding realism to his craft, building models of space objects to their finest details, and was rewarded with the only competitive Oscar in his career for, of all things, Best Special Visual Effects.
Released at a time when space exploration was real and promising, 2001 still remains way ahead of its time 50 years on, functioning as both a cautionary tale and an inspirational tone poem—one that has influenced countless science-fiction films in the decades since.
To see this (again) in IMAX is to experience rebirth, both metaphorically and philosophically, perhaps even psychoanalytically and spiritually—where the cinema is the Mother’s womb and Kubrick the Father, who art in heaven.