'2001: A Space Odyssey' Review

Updated on March 18, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie survival movies, but I love classics and various cult pieces too.

Since its premiere almost 50 years ago, hundreds of different beautiful adjectives have identified Stanley Kubrick 's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has been called a masterpiece, a legendary classic and even the grandfather film of modern cinema.

All these fantastic labels are deserved. The legacy of this film is immeasurable. Sci-fi, as a whole cinematic genre, owes much to Kubrick's breakthrough. Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, The Matrix, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Avatar, to name just a few classics, exist because 2001 opened endless possibilities.

Before 2001, sci-fi was mainly perceived as a borderline-pulp inferior genre worthy of B-Movies, condemned to cheap and superficial entertainment. 2001: A Space Odyssey existed thanks to a sole Stanley Kubrick's motivation: Making an artistic science fiction movie. Kubrick realized that human curiosity inherent in the exploration of the unknown still hadn't crossed that frontier in the seventh art.

2001: A Space Odyssey profoundly marked its personality, abandoning the traditional narrative. No voiceovers, little dialogue and nothing remotely close to a protagonist and an antagonist leading conflicts during three acts. Instead, Kubrick envisioned this as a space opera with four movements where images and music were more important than informative dialogues, all linked by a mysterious monolith and by the free interpretation of the viewer.

Kubrick, understanding/assuming that his work was going to transcend time, ruled out his original idea of ​​using Alex North's original score to give way to classical orchestral compositions--therefore timeless--like The Blue Danube, Also Sprach Zarathustra and Gayane's Adagio. It was a move that only someone with the ego--and the talent to support it--of Kubrick could do.

Talking about 2001's visual effects, although deserved, is perhaps to invest energy in maybe one of the most "mundane" departments of this masterpiece. But just to understand the quality of 2001's Oscar-winning FX, they still keep up very well even by today's standards.

And if that is not enough for some crazy reason, understand that thanks to the impact of this film, an urban legend was born: The moon landing didn't happen and Kubrick was responsible for emulating it, deceiving the whole planet in the process. That's how influential was this movie.

According to Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film about "man's relationship to the universe." That's why even with the scientific accuracy behind the script, this is a story about the unknown. According to Clarke, Kubrick was:

"determined to create a work of art which would arouse the emotions of wonder, awe...even, if appropriate, terror.

The surprise, the fear of a completely overwhelming new paradigm. Kubrick makes a parallel with Homer's Odyssey that goes way beyond the title. Updating the boundaries, Kubrick understood that for the Greeks, the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery that outer space had for his generation.

More specifically, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film about the relationship of dependency between humankind and its tools. When we first see the monolith, that symbol and catalyst of knowledge and technological evolution, is influencing our primates ancestors into using animal bones as a tool. The problem, of course, is that the tool is immediately used to destroy and intimidate, which instantly put an expiration date in that new paradigm.

Thousands of years later (marked by the emblematic bone-satellite cut), humanity is at the peak of its evolution, colonizing and further exploring the solar system.

Kubrick (along with Arthur C. Clarke) then imagine what the next step would be. A new--we assume--monolith buried on the moon emits a radio emission aimed at Jupiter's orbit. Humanity, with all its intellect developed up to that point, manages to develop the Discovery One mission, with the goal (hidden to the crew) of understanding the secrets and intentions of the monolith.

The Discovery One is fully controlled by the HAL 9000 operating system. In other words, this spacecraft is the final evolution of a tool created by humankind.

At this point of the story, humans are portrayed as infants long before that last classic shot. Humanity is somehow babified by the vast unknown universe that is immune to the ego. In space, humans walk awkwardly because of the lack of gravity. Their diet looks like baby food, consisting of liquids, juice boxes, and straws. They even have "potty training," as one specific shot of a zero-gravity toilet instructions show us.

HAL 9000, the ultimate tool, ends up failing and even attacking humanity itself. The reason? There are many theories. One of them is that HAL 9000 began to fail and have a conflict with its artificial intelligence at the exact moment in which the superiors programmed it to keep the mission's main reason a secret. Another theory points out that hostility begins as a defense mechanism of a machine that, inheriting the ego from its creators, is unable to accept its error.

The result is that David Bowman (Keir Dullea), the last man alive in this vast spot of the universe, decides to eliminate his dependency from the failed tool. Without a way to return to earth, with a spacecraft practically useless, David must face the unknown without any tool.

But understanding that the man-tool paradigm was coming to an end, the entities who placed the monolith manages that humanity, in the form of David Bowman, reach the new step. Bowman experiences a surreal scene, in which he ages and dies in a luxurious environment with obvious human inspiration. It's a confrontation with his own mortality.

And then, the new man arrives. The birth of the "star child," scored with the introduction/Dawn of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. An ambiguous new step (It fits: we are not yet ready to completely understand the next phase of our own evolution) that involves more energy and less flesh and bone. More light and less mortality and ego.

What's Your Rating For 2001: A Space Odyssey?

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2001: A Space Odyssey took more narrative risks than perhaps any other work of its time. And Kubrick, being the obsessive genius he was, and almost as if he had wanted to prevent being accused of incoherent rambler or a cheap forced director, conceived the history next to Arthur C. Clarke. They simultaneously wrote the novel and the script. Kubrick more dedicated to the script and Clarke more responsible for the novel.

With this, Kubrick accomplished a brilliant strategy: If anyone doubted that behind the imagery, the symbols and the purely visual experience was a more conscious intention and control, that person could refer himself to Clarke's novel and have more explanations and details. Thus, for example, the never-seen extraterrestrial are better described as entities that evolved from biological beings to immortal machine and then to "beings of pure energy and spirit” who used the monoliths to help develop other less evolved species.

It’s clear that Kubrick’s decisions responded to an artistic need and not to an improvised cheating route or a Dadaist "rebel-without-a-cause" device. With 2001, Kubrick made of science fiction an artistic work full of visual narrative and symbolism, which undoubtedly was transmitted to the audience in a visceral and organic way.

In other words, Kubrick fulfilled his mission. In both fiction and reality, the master stood before the unknown and invented a new paradigm.

Movie Details

Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Release Year: 1968

Director(s): Stanley Kubrick

Writer(s): Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick

Actors: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, a.o.

5 stars for 2001: A Space Odyssey

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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