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Movie Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

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2001: A Space Odyssey is a lightning bolt of a film that imparts a ghost-like haunting long after the screen goes dark. Upon an initial viewing, its astonishing amalgamation of sight and sound singes itself deep within your consciousness; its effects are forever etched into your brain. The film is as thought-provoking and amazing as any other major motion picture in existence. Even as its pacing may seem sluggish, the avant-garde approach that Kubrick takes makes 2001 a cosmic meditation and one of the most applaudable pictures of all time.

2001 begins with “The Dawn of Man,” in which prehistoric man finds a mysterious black monolith and then learns to use a bone as a weapon. This scene then jettisons thousands of years into the future, where man has left the sandy soils of the earth for the starry Solar System. Spacecraft dance through the Milky Way, while a deeply lulling “Blue Danube Waltz” plays in the backdrop.

Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) travels to the moon to view an object that was deliberately buried beneath the surface four million years ago. To maintain absolute secrecy, the public is distracted by the cover story of an epidemic; however, Floyd knows the truth. Whatever it is, it is sending a signal to Jupiter.

Eighteen months later, aboard the spaceship Discovery, two crewmen, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), three cryogenically frozen scientists, and the brain and central nervous system of the ship, the HAL 9000 computer (the voice of Douglas Rain) venture towards Jupiter to investigate the receiving end of the signal. However, when HAL becomes unstable, the mission is jeopardized.

During the film’s final act of four, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” Bowman discovers yet another (and much larger) black monolith, and when it aligns with the moons of Jupiter, Bowman is catapulted through a collage of colors to another space and time. He ages in a matter of minutes, witnesses a towering monolith watching over him as he dies in bed, and is reborn as the “star child.”

Perhaps, the most stunning aspect of 2001 is that even though its depiction of the future is way off the mark, its special effects and cinematography appear as flawless as any modern-day CGI film. In fact, 2001 is so visually arresting that it unequivocally demands a pair of unflinching eyes, as well as, captivates its audience in the disbelief that it was filmed nearly 40 years ago. Kubrick’s camera tricks are as mind-boggling as a book of optical illusions.

Throughout the entire epoch of science-fiction, no other film has emoted such ecstasy in response to the questions of the Great Beyond and established such a mystical oneness with the universe in which we live. And, while its sequel, 2010, does provide some insights into the whys and hows of 2001, the effects of the original are better off left open to the viewer’s imagination. 2001 is a groundbreaking motion-picture that gets the gears of your brain rolling and animates your inner life-force. It is a visionary masterwork and one of the finest features ever crafted.

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About Brandon Valentine

  • Great post, Brandon. I’ve never forgotten the impact of first seeing this movie and walking out of the theatre like in shock and yet feeling delighted too. They don’t make ’em like this one anymore.

  • The first time I watched this film, at a rather young age, I was disappointed because it left me with so many questions unanswered.

    Later viewings of the film left me with more unanswered questions still, yet my original disappointment has turned into a great appreciation for this masterful piece of art.

  • Nice review. Great movie. Too bad teh sequel blew chunks.

  • Bliffle

    Good review. It was a powerful and individualistic movie.

  • Duane

    Nice synopsis of the movie. It might have been worth pointing out that the movie was based on the A.C. Clarke novel. Reading the novel prior to seeing the movie helped a lot in seeing through all the apparent ambiguity in the movie. One problem with the movie, great though it was, is that there was too much hubbub about HAL (which is suposedly IBM with all the letters shifted down once).

  • Jet in Columbus

    I was fortunate enough to see 2001 when it first came out.
    My initial viewing was disappointing to say the least, and when I expressed that, a friend gave me the book, which I read, and then saw again, then I loved it, and still do.

    The only dissapointment-they didn’t make it to Saturn, as they did in the book.

    I actually got the .wav file and now instead of my computer beeping an error warning, Hal’s voice says, “I’m sorry Dave, I can not do that!”

  • Jet in Columbus

    2001 & 2010 are actually only the first 2 or a 4 volume set. 2061 didn’t have that much to do with the originals, but “3001 the Final Saga” is a must read, and explains what happened to Frank Poole’s body after Hal sent it floating off to space, and I consider it a masterwork up there with 2001.

    Unfortunately it’s set so far into the future it’d never be believable on film, well maybe not for another 900 years.

    …but that’s only my opinion

  • “It might have been worth pointing out that the movie was based on the A.C. Clarke novel.”

    That is not accurate, Duane. Kubrick and Clarke worked on the screenplay and novel simultaneously. The story of “2001” was based on an earlier story by Clarke called “The Sentinel”.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Worth pointing out, but not really relevant. Clark wrote 3001 himself. If they worked on 2001 the movie and then the book, how is it that in the movie the Discovery ended up only at Jupiter, and in the book it went to Saturn? You’d think that if the book was worked on after the movie with all concerned contributing, it’d have matched the movie plot point for plot point-which it didn’t.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Have to agree with El Bicho. I never read 2001, 2010, 2061, 3001 – I’ll get to them someday, I guess. But I did read “The Sentinel.” I was a damned good story.

    I remember seeing Kubrick’s 2001 when it came out. I still had hair then. A number of years ago, I watched it again with my wife and kids on TV. It seemed terribly dated – very much like the Futurama displays at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-5.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Ruvy, having read all four volumes, I can tell you that 2061 is very good, but not a lot of it concerns the story line of 2001 and 2010, though it does contain some of the characters, I found myself skipping over the parts having to do with Mars as they had nothing to do with the story.

    HOWEVER, 3001 is absolutely a joy to read, and I highly recommend it. After 2001, 2010 and 2061, you’ve completely fortotten about Frank Poole in 2001, and how he is reintroduced back into the story line is absolute genious!

    …But that’s only my opinion

  • Hey, the source of that story that “2001,” the book and movie, were both written at the same time? Arthur C. Clarke, in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001. (Actually what he said was that the novel was based on the first draft of the script of the film.)

    I adore the movie. Perhaps the closest film ever came to symphony.

  • Jet in Columbus

    I have the original vinal soundtrack album, it is truly a masterwork, expecially the two-part Blue Danube

  • zingzing

    the soundtrack is worth it for the ligeti stuff. what a genius that guy is. his other stuff is fun too.

    i’m not much for sci-fi books, or movies really, so i don’t think i’ll ever read the book. i started it once… got bored. that was in high school. i sat beside this girl named nesha. it might be a dream, it might not be, but i have this strange idea that she killed herself. nesha mizel. are you alive?

  • “If they worked on 2001 the movie and then the book, how is it that in the movie the Discovery ended up only at Jupiter, and in the book it went to Saturn?”

    Kubrick’s special effects people couldn’t pull off a convincing Saturn — rings proved difficult — so they switched to Jupiter. According to an interview with Clarke, it was a lucky switch because soon after the film came out, NASA came out with new photos of Saturn that showed Saturn’s rings to be different and more complex than previously thought; and which would have dated the film almost immediately.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Okay, that explains the difference, but not the assertions that the book’s re-write was co-written after the movie was scripted and shot.

    It’s widely known that people were encouraged to read the book before seeing the movie, because certain things just couldn’t possibly be put on film without a narrator-especially the end, which I didn’t understand or enjoy at all because I saw the film before reading the book???

    So why put a different ending to the book than the movie, if the book was colaborated on after the movie was made?

  • You have it wrong. They were collaborated on at the same time, but the film came out first. Kubrick had final say over the film, and Clarke the book. The rumor is that Kubrick held up the release of the book so as not to affect the film.

    Considering the film came out first, when was it that people were told to read the book first?

    What you appear to be saying is that you didn’t like the ending because it wasn’t explained to you. Great art puts the onus of understanding on the viewer.

  • Accordsing to Clarke, HAL stands for Heuristic ALgorithmic Computer

  • -E

    This has been selected as an Editors’ Pick this week.

  • tommyd

    Kubrick’s masterpiece of the ages 2001:A Space Odyssey is the greatest film ever made.

    And, it’s 100x better if you’re totally baked when viewing it.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Apparently you’ve never lit up, put on Pink Floyds “Dark side of the Moon” and then watched the Wizard of Oz at the same time?

    …but of course that’s only my opinion

  • Jet in Columbus

    Okay ElBicho, then what did SAL stand for in 2010?

  • “I remember seeing Kubrick’s 2001 when it came out. I still had hair then. A number of years ago, I watched it again with my wife and kids on TV. It seemed terribly dated – very much like the Futurama displays at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-5.”

    Ruvy–Kubrick’s works are like pictures that only fade in the memory. It was incredibly ahead of its time, which made an impact that it could never live up to in the future. Once a film receives as much criticism in both directions as 2001 did, it’s only inevitable that it would be disappointing in retrospect because you either didn’t get it the first time and wanted to later or you remember it as something it never was.

    As for understandability, there’s a great interview with Woody Allen who chronicles all the different times he’s seen it, and how it kept getting better each time for him, until he had done a complete reversal.

    There aren’t a lot of movies I feel comfortable suggesting that people watch over and over, but this would be one of them.

    It’s hard to do this justice. I think a lot of people are afraid to delve into its themes head-on.

  • Pete

    A psychological penny dropped for me once when I watched 2001 : the core moment and message of the film for me became the realisation from chapter 16 when Dave shows HAL the sketches, and HAL asks Dave if he can ask him some questions. HAL already knows that he can outwit Frank, and that Frank is not the one to ‘beat’, because he did that already in the chess game. With Dave, HAL must break him psychologically in another way. So watch Dave’s staring eyes, the defensive pauses and closed answers he gives to HAL as he realises that HAL is fully sentient, and, more than that, is asking questions and entering into a realm of behaviour which no machine has a right to do. Dave realises there is trouble somewhere, and realises that he is way out in space, alone with a consciousness that only he has understood, and that only he can fight. Dave is stronger than HAL at the critical point, evidenced by HAL’s first error, repeating “Just a moment”, twice, as he realises he lost this little game with Dave, who has calmly and absolutely logically defended himself with the question/statement to HAL asking him if HAL is “working up the crew psycholigcal report …?”. This was a masterstoke of calmness in what would be, if one were ever in such a situation as Dave, a crushing moment for any human, as a feeling of betrayal, disloyalty, helplessness and fear overtakes you when there is no-one to trust or rely on but yourself. It was no simple chance or accident that Kubrick directed this scene so finely and with such penetrating and fundamental psychological insight. For me, it is one of the greatest portrayals examining the frailties of human existence, consciousness and psychology, ever put together.