2001: A Space Odyssey
(United States/United Kingdom, 1968)
Since its 1968 debut, movie fans have been divided in their opinions of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001. There are those who think this is an incoherent, intentionally obtuse bore that may rank as one of the most overrated motion pictures of all time. Then there are those who view this as one of the most visually arresting, thought provoking science fiction films ever to reach the silver screen. Obviously, I am in the second camp. In addition to asking some really deep questions about life and the place of humanity in the universe, 2001 makes us believe that reaching for the stars is an achievable goal, not a myth. (Keep in mind that the film came out before a man walked on the Moon.) The film is made for science fiction viewers with patience. It's far closer to Solaris than Star Wars. This is yet another film that I grew to appreciate. I first saw 2001 when I was in junior high school. The video tape apparatus (circa 1981) was primitive, and the viewing screen was a 28" TV on top of a rolling cabinet at the front of a small auditorium. Not surprisingly, my enthusiasm was muted. In the advent of The Empire Strikes Back, I found this to be intriguing but slow, and the visual and audio poetry of the production was completely lost. Eight years later, when I saw the movie in a theater, I was amazed by the richness of the experience. This was not the 2001 I remembered from my childhood. One of the things I appreciated then and continue to appreciate about this movie is that every time I watch it, it provides new material for thought. Even amongst the best of films, that's a rarity. Finally, a note on 2010. It's an okay movie, but, because it is intended as a continuation of 2001, its straightforward approach and lack of artistry comes across as a letdown. The movie answers some questions, but I can't help but wonder if it wasn't better when the solutions remained mysteries. For those who see and enjoy 2001, 2010 is little more than a curiosity, and is not mandatory viewing.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
2001 opens memorably in prehistoric times or during "The Dawn of Man", as the on-screen caption states. The sequence, which runs about 15 minutes, shows how ape-like creatures, after encountering an imposing black monolith (obviously the product of an alien technology), discover how to use the bones of an animal as a tool or a weapon. Like the Fruit of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, this leads to a spurt of change and a fall from grace. Armed, primitive man becomes a danger not only to potential sources of food, but to himself. There is a jump cut as a bone thrown high into the air becomes a orbiting nuclear device, pushing the movie's time frame ahead thousands of years. Now, the human race has evolved. No longer Earthbound, they have ventured into the nearby Solar System. We encounter Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester), who is on his way to the moon to explore a strange, black monolith that has been discovered beneath the lunar surface. The object is broadcasting a signal in the direction of Jupiter, but no one understands why. The monolith's existence has become a matter of national security, and the reason for Dr. Floyd's arrival is a closely guarded secret. Accompanied by a group of respected scientists, he travels to the excavation site to examine the alien object. 2001's third and lengthiest segment takes us aboard the space ship Discovery, which is bound for Jupiter to determine the reason why the monolith is sending signals out there. On board are two human crewmen, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), three cryogenically suspended scientists, and the "brain" of the craft, the HAL 9000 computer (voice of Douglas Rain), one of moviedom's famously insane electronic entities. Once the crew recognizes that HAL may be unstable, they plan to deactivate the machine. However, HAL fights back, and the duel of minds between Bowman and the computer makes for the film's most dramatically tense situation. The fourth and final portion of 2001, "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite," generates the most questions. The Discovery finds another monolith - only this one is much larger than its lunar counterpart and is floating in space. When Bowman takes a pod through it, he is catapulted into a space/time tunnel to a mysterious locale where he spends the rest of his life, reaching a ripe old age before expiring. At the time of his death, however, he is reborn as the "star child" - either the next stage in man's evolution or an entirely new life form.
Watching Stanley Kubrick's 2001 demands two qualities that are sadly lacking in all but the most mature and sophisticated audiences: patience and a willingness to ponder the meaning of what's transpiring on screen. 2001 is awe inspiring, but it is most definitely not a "thrill ride." It is art, it is a statement, and it is indisputably a cinematic classic. This movie needs to be experienced to be appreciated. 2001 does not build bonds between the viewers and the characters or set up a straightforward, linear storyline. Instead, it challenges the audience and inspires wonder. Proponents argue that this is Kubrick's best film; regardless of whether or not that is true, there's no doubting that this movie represents the product of a great director at the height of his powers. Decades after its release, 2001 has lost none of the qualities that make it an acknowledged masterwork.
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