2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Pretty much the be-all end-all when it comes to sci-fi movies.
2001: A Space Odyssey is about…well, it’s about a lot of things. It’s about man’s evolution from ape-like scavenger to neanderthal hunter, it’s about man’s intergalactic search for knowledge and new life thousands of years later, it’s about the dangers of technology and how our ever-increasing reliance on it will ultimately come to bite us in the ass, and how all this stuff was more or less planned out and triggered by a greater intelligence far beyond our understanding.
Yeah, this baby’s about as epic as they come and if you’re not prepped for it beforehand, you may very well not know what in the fuck is going on. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what makes this movie so mind-blowing and captivating goes right back to how ambiguous and trippy it is, but if you want the full picture instead of glimpses at genius, do the right thing and read the book first.
Before you start rolling those eyes, please bear with me ’cause I swear this isn’t gonna be another “book vs. movie” review. This is coming from someone who goes into movies as blind as possible and has had his fair share of moviegoing experiences tarnished by reading the book beforehand, but here is the rare case where it’s almost required.
The unique thing about the novel and this script is that they were both written at the same time by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke rather than adapted after the fact. They’re both on the same page, it’s the same story being told, the only difference is that Kubrick is far more cryptic behind the camera than Clarke is behind the keyboard. This isn’t usually the way folks go through the writing process, but it works like gangbusters and I absolutely love how the book works as a companion piece to the movie, like a blueprint that only adds to the experience and doesn’t take away from either finished product. Man, read the book even if you’re not gonna see the movie, it’s amazing stuff.
But as integral as Clarke is to the script, the this baby’s all about Kubrick. For a movie made over four decades ago, the only remotely dated things I could pick up on were the interior decoration of a moon lander that could double as the Brady’s living room and the assortments of spacesuits that look about as futuristic as The Michelin Man. But everything else is flat-out stunning and has held up outrageously well over the years. The stunning color scheme, the multitude of gravity-defying sequences that I’ve stopped trying to wrap my head around because I’m surprisingly comfortable with the idea that Kubrick just went and filmed this in space, all the iconic imagery that can’t be boiled down to three little screen grabs in a movie review – it’s a jaw-dropping feast for the eyes and it’s stuff you’ll never forget because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
God, it’s just insane. I mean, how do you film, let alone create, the mysteries of the universe? Where would you even start and how would you go about conveying it to an audience? It’s mind-blowing stuff that seems as alien as that shadowless monolith and . I know it took Kubrick a long-ass time to make this, but I really have no idea how he pulled it off, I can’t believe this was made in ’68 when it could have been made in 2012, and it’s as timeless as the story it’s telling.
And what a freakin’ story it is.
Clarke and Kubrick drop a lot of knowledge here, it’s a lot to take in and process all at once, but that’s also the whole idea. Whether it be triviabots that are built for the sole purpose of winning at Jeopardy!, machines that can perform hospital surgeries instead of doctors with, or all those creepy dancing, singing, glorified blow-up dolls that the Japanese keep on making for some reason, the warning that HAL represents is becoming that much more of a reality for mankind with each new technological development that comes along and brings our creations that much closer to a level of sentiency where they would in fact fear “death”. One of the many reasons (let’s not forget that numbingly monotone voice of his) that that effing red-eyed computer is one of the all-time great movie villains. But the thing that I love most about this story is the cornerstone that despite how humanity has considered itself an advanced and dominant over the course of four million years, we’re essentially the pet project of something far beyond us and we will never be able to comprehend that. It’s terrifying, it’s astounding, and I can hardly believe a human came up with it.
For Chrissakes, the martian/higher being/lordknowswhat of the movie is a fucking monolith. A MONOLITH! You can keep your Cloverfield monsters, your Borgs and your little green men, that silent, black slab of mystery is the most original-looking alien I’ve ever seen. So simple and so brilliant.
Like anyone was thinking about that stuff back in the ’60s. Just crazy.
Also love the way Kubrick takes his time with the pacing. It doesn’t drag since it’s more of a meditation than a slow boil, and as a result it produces this epic, expansive mood that perfectly complements a setting that couldn’t be larger. It makes you focus on every frame he’s showing, you could pretty much photograph every shot here to frame on your wall, and then he throws in that monumental score on top of it and the whole thing becomes one breathtaking cosmic ballet. Absolutely beautiful, folks.
Although I wish I had some praise to throw to the actors because Keir Dullea’s good as our main spaceman, David Bowman, but this movie really isn’t so much about the characters as it is about everything else. Still, surprised the name ain’t ringing any bells. Figured this would be one hell of a launching pad.
Aside from it just being a cool tagline, 2001 really is “the ultimate trip”. There’s so much to think about and write about, then again, it’s one of those things you’re probably better off discussing than preaching about. You don’t have the read the book to appreciate what an effing milestone this is for the genre and for filmmaking in general, but if you don’t want to risk the chance of wondering who dropped acid in your corn flakes during the last half-hour of the movie, read up, brotha’. There’s still a handful of Kubrick movies I need to get through before I can pin where this lies respect to his life’s work, but I know a masterpiece when I see one and 2001 fits the bill from start to finish. Might even be in the Top Ten.
FUN FACT: Add one letter each of HAL’s initials and you get IBM. That’s some Skynet shit right there.
DOUBLE FUN FACT: Kubrick initially asked Pink Floyd to do the score, but Roger Waters (regrettably) declined the offer. Not that the score isn’t perfect as is, but that would have been so, so awesome.