2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

on April 06, 1968 by Jim Watters
Classic Reviews The least that can be said for Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" is that this production is an overwhelming visual experience, supplemented by an imaginative use of all the divergent elements which go into filmmaking. The most that can be said for this MGM roadshow presentation in Cinerama, filmed in Super Panavision and Metrocolor, is that once again, as so rarely happens in film history, an individual talent -- Kubrick -- has widened and exalted the art of the film by his vision, dedication and uncompromising creative approach to the medium so often called the "synthesis of all art forms."
"2001" is indeed beyond description by conventional plot terms and descriptive tradepaper summaries. As the past 10 or 12 years have shown, the old narratives which dominated the film world have given way to themes, techniques and concepts, once the private property of the avant-garde, the experimental films, etc. Whether "Last Year at Marienbad" or "Trans-Europe-Express" from France, or Roger Corman's "The Trip" or Kubrick's "2001," from the U.S., the straightforward story has had it. And the audiences of today, primarily the under-30 group down to the early teens, have shown a great, almost revitalized, interest in movies as they are now being made.
With Arthur C. Clarke's assistance, plus the cooperation of NASA and leading American and British experts in the field of space, science, research and the Academy, Kubrick was able to create a real science-fiction film, one in which every element will quite possibly be known to man in less than 30 years.
To audiences' surprise, the film starts with the "dawn of man." Apes fight apes in a gloriously realistic sequence lasting almost 20 minutes, when one ape discovers a weapon to conquer his fellow apes. Done with actors, the sequence is frightening and powerful. Not until into the body of the film will the audiences come to understand the motive behind the monolithic slab, which one of the apes touches.
With a beautifully edited slow-motion sequence, a bone tossed into the air by an ape evolves into a spaceship and audiences are at once caught in the world of "2001," as William Sylvester talks to his daughter on earth on a television-type phone from his way station under the moon. Strangely, none of the action ever takes place on the earth itself. Sylvester is seeking the unknown and asserting himself into the beyond, just as the apes did and that monolithic slab appears again. Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea are the astronauts on the nine-month trip, living in a centrifuge which continually rotates. They pit themselves against a talking computer -- Hal 9000 -- who "really likes people." They lose contact with Earth and Lockwood is killed by the neurotic Hal 9000. The sequence in which Dullea goes inside the computer to destroy it is one of the great scenes in the film stunningly photographed.
Dulle a hits the Milky Way and the last 20 minutes are as breathtaking as any 20 minutes ever filmed. The conclusion is an odd, mystifying, cryptic summary, which restates that tie with the opening scenes using the monolithic slab. Needless to say, audiences should be as baffled by the last part of the film as they are stimulated by the whole of this space epic. Kubrick and Clarke obviously left the concept open to wide interpretation so that audiences will be able to draw their own conclusions, in the light of their own beliefs.
Throughout the film, the use of the scientific data and equipment is reason enough to go to see it. Add Kubrick's amazing and consummate skill as a director and editor -- he designed the special photographic effects himself. His use of performers is also fantastic, particularly Dullea's convincing and moving transformation at the end. There may be some controversy over the final moments which show an embryo in the skies assuming the position of a star.
Not the least creative is Kubrick's use of music. Taking theme's as popular as Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube" waltz, and of other composers like Richard Strauss, Aram Khatchaturian and Gyorgi Ligeti, he has defied convention at its most obvious point, and with effective results.
For once, the advertising of a film -- "the most technically complex movie ever made" and "you've never seen anything like it" are factual. Kubrick has delivered a masterpiece, but that is not to say the job is done, that Kubrick's film is so unusual, so different, so fascinating that it is automatically pre-sold, an easy sell which all audiences will pay to see. Anything but. "2001" is special, one of the most special and perhaps difficult roadshows of all time.
While costing between ten and $12 million, the film should be a big money-maker. Kubrick's work is finished and the finished product is very salable. Audiences, through the promotion and advertising, and surely word-of-mouth, will have to be alerted to this exceptional work of art. The current class exploitation and advertising will probably give way to the hard sell -- using all the outlets available, most particularly television and national publications, where some inkling of the strong visual content can be exhibited.
"2001" is a challenge. Kubrick met his challenge with unquestioned success. The rest of the challenge is up to the distributor and exhibitors and the audience, too, to prove that great filmmaking does pay off -- handsomely.
MGM 160 mins. plus intermission.
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