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2001: A Space Odyssey Movie Review

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1968 – Stanley Kubrick –

On prehistoric Earth four million years ago, a strange black monolith appears among a group of apes and in some way ushers in the dawn of mankind as the apes reach a higher level of intelligence and learn to use tools to kill for food and to kill each other. In 2001, another mysterious monolith is discovered on the moon, sending a radio signal to Jupiter. The space ship Discovery is sent on a mission to Jupiter to unravel the mystery, but ultimately just one crew member survives and reaches Jupiter. He discovers yet another monolith and he finds himself growing old and finally transforming into a space-faring fetus.

Routinely showing up on lists of the greatest films ever made, Stanley Kubrick's widely praised science fiction epic is, more than anything else, a primarily visual work of art that attempts to pose a number of profound questions about the future of humanity. Adapted from Arthur C. Clarke from his story, “The Sentinel,” 2001 contains some fascinating imagery and attempts to portray with painstaking realism the experience of traveling and working in space. In his attention to visual and auditory detail (since there is no sound in space, there is literally no sound at all during exterior shots of the ships), and his setting the work to classical music, Kubrick strives to create an important, awe-inspiring, and aesthetically rich masterpiece that challenges its audience to imagine and to consider the unknown and infinite possibilities of existence. The scope is therefore grand, and its subject matter universal and timeless, but unfortunately the film winds up being more of an enigma than a profound statement about humanity and the future, precisely because so many aspects of the story remain unexplained.

The questions that 2001 raises are never answered: What are the mysterious black monoliths? Why did the HAL 9000 computer apparently malfunction, develop a mean streak, and kill the passengers of the Discovery? What exactly is the star-faring fetus, or what does it represent? The puzzling nature of the story is amplified by the lack of character development. Not even Dave (Keir Dullea), the closest thing to a “main” character, who reaches the monolith and transforms into another being, is fully developed. Characters are incidental to the movie, dialogue is kept to a minimum, movement is kept at a slow and deliberate pace, and most of the screen time is devoted to watching things. In addition, the visual spectacle often seems to stretch on for longer than necessary—the landing of a lunar craft seems to take as long as it would in real-time, for example.

As is typical of the director, Kubrick deliberately distances the audience from the story, perhaps in order to maintain the mystery or perhaps to convey the coldness and flatness of his characters or the overwhelming vastness and remoteness of space. The technique of intentionally distancing characters or the story from the audience may work in some of Kubrick's films, but in this film it almost seems at odds with the tone and subject of the themes being addressed. 2001 is a visual treat that attempts to stimulate the mind with its speculations about the progress and evolution of humanity, but the human element seems conspicuously absent.

Cast: Keir Dullea (David Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Frank Poole), William Sylvester (Heywood Floyd), Daniel Richter (Moonwatcher), Leonard Rossiter (Smyslov), Margaret Tysack (Elena), Robert Beatty (Halvorsen), Sean Sullivan (Michaels), Douglas Rain (voice of HAL 9000), Frank Miller (Mission Controller), Ed Bishop (Lunar shuttle captain), Alan Gifford (Poole's Father), Edwina Carroll (Stewardess), Penny Brahms (Stewardess) Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke Cinematographer: John Alcott, Geoffrey Unsworth Producer: Stanley Kubrick for MGM MPAA Rating: G Running Time: 139 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1968: Visual Effects; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Director (Stanley Kubrick), Story and Screenplay; National Board of Review Awards 1968: Ten Best Films of the Year Budget: $11M Box Office: $21M (initial release).

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