2001: A Space Odyssey

1968, Movie, G, 160 mins

Review

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
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A beautiful, confounding picture that had half the audience cheering and the other half snoring. Kubrick clearly means to say something about the dehumanizing effects of technology, but exactly what is hard to say. One of those works presumed to be profound by virtue of its incomprehensibility, 2001 is nevertheless an astounding visual experience--one to be enjoyed, if possible, only on the big screen.

The film opens with (as a title modestly announces) The Dawn of Man. Man dawns when a tribe of apelike hominids is visited by a huge black monolith, which instructs them in the use of tools and weapons. Cut to the year 2001, when a scientist (Sylvester) is investigating a baffling archaeological discovery on the moon--it is, of course, a huge black monolith, which later sends a signal in the direction of the planet Jupiter. Dissolve to a year later, as a spaceship makes its way to Jupiter. Dullea and Lockwood run the ship with the help of HAL 9000, the most sophisticated computer ever devised. HAL turns on its human masters, killing Lockwood, and Dullea ventures further into space, eventually confronting a huge black monolith. Later, after witnessing a truly spectacular light show, he enounters a relatively small black monolith.

The screenplay--which is often quite witty, especially in the largely satirical Sylvester sequences--probably was meant sincerely, but has the feel of something that was never thought through. Kubrick seems to have understood that, with the emergence of drug culture and middle-class spiritual yearnings during the late 60s, anything really huge and really vague stood a good chance of being received as something really deep. If so, Kubrick's strategy worked: made at a cost of $10.5 million, the film began to build slowly but eventually took in almost $15 million in North America, then about half that upon rerelease in the slightly shorter version (141 minutes) in 1972. Many hailed it as a religious experience, and underground newspapers counseled readers to time their ingestion of hash brownies so as to be optimally stoned during the psychedelic final scenes. Clarke's short story was first made into a novel, then into the screenplay that MGM financed for $6 million. The budget kept rising, and the studio execs feared a disaster. The casting of Lockwood, Dullea, and Sylvester, three undynamic actors (in these roles), must have been deliberate, as Kubrick didn't want anything in the way of his vision (whatever that was). 2001 continues to annoy and delight audiences; for sheer spectacle, it may be unsurpassed. Its relatively low-tech special effects, masterfully engineered by Douglas Trumbull, remain more astonishing and persuasive than much of today's computer-generated gimmickry. leave a comment

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