Classic review: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Considering it had a massive influence on the science-fiction genre, you would expect 2001: A Space Odyssey to open on a conventional trope for the genre. However, this is a Stanley Kubrick film and so it starts with nothing. Just a pitch black screen with ominous music. My fear on my first viewing was that the DVD player was broken, but after a while the Sun appears over the Earth and you start to realise that this isn’t your typical sci-fi alien movie. This is followed by a visual non-sequitur: “The Dawn of Man,” starring a bunch of apes in the desert!

The film is so mysterious and confusing that it’s easy to get lost with what is going on, however the journey will be all you can think about afterwards, even if you hate the film entirely. It’s a journey that manages to launch the viewer millions of years into the future and allows us to reflect on how man has changed so much – a journey that will make you deeply unsettled along the way – but an exhilarating journey regardless. The most notable example of this is one of the film’s final sequences, in which the astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) makes his way through what is known as the “Star-Gate”. Kubrick captures the feeling of the characters perfectly through many audio and visual cues, but this scene displays it so well. The hypnotic visions, bright colours and haunting music induces anxiety about what Dave eventually going to face, with intercut shots of Dullea’s screaming face causing us to be startled and discomforted. The Star-Gate eventually takes Bowman to a land similar to ours with landscapes of various colours and terrains. Although these images aren’t as bright as the Star-Gate, the music still haunts us in the background, reminding us that this is unknown territory – anything could happen.

Throughout his career, one thing was for sure, which was that Kubrick loved his enigmas. “The Dawn of Man” and “Star-Gate” sequences are almost 10 minutes long, which in the mind of a modern director, may seem like quite a long time for abstract scenes. However, these scenes help achieve the sense of unknown that Kubrick is portraying throughout the film. If the opening of 2001 was any shorter then the whole mystery of the Monolith to the Monkeys, would not be enticing enough for the viewers to want to try to unravel the enigmatic plot. The appearances of the monolith throughout the film are always menacing. First an artificial intruder in natural territory (both in the African plains and on the Moon), then a beacon of some sort to entice Bowman to enter the Star-Gate and finally, a dark hope in a bright white cage.

It is hard to believe that this film will be 50 years old next year, as the visuals have aged so well. Every shot is still as impressive as ever and the Moon scenes seem as close as you can get to the real thing. It is this realism which has caused many a person to speculate on whether Kubrick actually helped to fake the moon landing (but that is another conversation for another time). Conspiracy theories aside, Kubrick’s prescience shows in 2001 as the first successful landing on the moon was not achieved until the very next year. Looking at Kubrick’s film, you might have thought that space exploration was common practice at the time.

Of course, some of the technologies predicted in the film did not come true in the real 2001 (and still haven’t happened today). For example, whilst Bowman and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) watch their interview on devices, which look similar to an average tablet computer of today, in the real world we do not have the luxury of having BBC 12. As much as we wish it would happen sooner, commercial space travel is still not available and probably won’t be anywhere as luxurious as it is portrayed here. Since this odyssey however, we have since seen numerous moon landings, many new planets and trips beyond our solar system reaching far into the unknown. Perhaps one day, we too will achieve interstellar travel, and make a new home on another planet, just like the seven habitable planets found by NASA just this week. It is hard to believe that these fantasies have all come true and it is harder to believe that Kubrick knew what humanity could achieve.

2001: A Space Odyssey is regarded as Kubrick’s finest work by many critics and is also regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Kubrick’s only Academy Award was awarded to him for this film’s “Best Visual Effects”, which evidently shows just how advanced his vision was. This film will shock you, scare you, make you wonder, make you have an existential crisis, make you laugh, and maybe even make you cry, so if you haven’t watched it you need to – as soon as possible!

Written by Christopher Dray

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