A staggering masterpiece in science fiction art or a long, laborious and thoroughly pretentious borefest. Opinions on 2001: A Space Odyssey have been divided ever since it was released in 1968. Based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke, which was written simultaneously with the screenplay, 2001: A Space Odyssey was directed by Stanley Kubrick and is broken down into four defined acts: ‘The Dawn of Man,’ ‘TMA-1,’ ‘Jupiter Mission’ and ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.’
To give a synopsis of 2001: A Space Odyssey seems pointless but in simple terms, Kubrick begins with warring tribes of monkeys who begin to evolve due to the sudden appearance of a mysterious black monolith. This charts the first use of tools and leads to humanity’s future reliance on technology. We are then transported into the year 2001 as a lunar expedition has uncovered another black monolith on the moon. It emits a powerful piercing sound that effects all of the astronauts and scientists in attendance. We then jump again 18 months later where the Jupiter mission has launched. Powered by the most advanced computer ever designed HAL 9000, the crew are en route to Jupiter to investigate another possible monolith.
Opening with beautiful cinematography of planet Earth before humanity has properly arrived 2001: A Space Odyssey sets out its stall early. These shots of a beautiful untouched utopia, populated with very convincing men dressed as monkeys are beautiful. Then suddenly a monolith appears, all black and sleek, thoroughly juxtaposed to its natural surroundings. It is a terrifying and awe-inspiring moment as the audience follow the birth of technology in its most primitive form and of course used for violence before anything else.
Kubrick makes sure that his score consists of classical works like Strauss’ ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and ‘The Blue Danube Waltz,’ which are now so ingrained with 2001: A Space Odyssey that it’s impossible to hear them and not think of the film. Kubrick’s keen eye for detail also meant that the scenes with his spaceships waltzing in time with the music form some of the films most striking and memorable images. In fact the effects of people walking around the spaceships and plucking pens out of the air in zero gravity are so flawlessly executed it’s difficult to imagine this being achievable without computer graphics and yet they were. 2001: A Space Odyssey is mesmerising enough visually without the audience trying, and failing to pick holes in the execution of the special effects. Even decades on its more convincing than any CGI.
The central narrative thrust of 2001: A Space Odyssey can be found in the third act as we follow Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole on board the Discovery One heading for Jupiter. As with the rest of the film, the characters rarely speak or get anything like character development as we know it, instead the majority of the character is left to ship’s computer HAL 9000. The infamous robot that begins to act strangely and just might potentially be plotting the downfall of the rest of the crew. His eerie monotone voice gives 2001: A Space Odyssey it’s most memorable lines of dialogue.
The only coherent narrative point that can be ascertained from 2001: A Space Odyssey is that humanity’s reliance on technology is both the reason for survival at the dawn of man and the potential reason for extinction. Only when Dave has forsaken the technology that he thinks is keeping him alive can he truly evolve and become free. Obviously this is only my interpretation, it might be that it’s actually about the cyclical nature of humanity or the truth that life as we know it was created by a higher being.
Then there’s 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s final act, which is almost beyond comprehension. Special effects maestro Doug Trumbull certainly earnt his money with the beautifully pretentious and thoroughly barmy final 30 minutes. Quite what it is trying to say is as open to interpretation as any film before or since, but your thoughts on this section of the film will probably give an insight into your thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey as a whole. Reports during time of release suggest that audiences were instructed at which moment in the film to drop tabs of acid so that they could appreciate the final act with the full effect of the drug in place. Once you’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s final act you might question whether you actually need acid at all.
Since it’s release there has not been a single film that comes close to the beauty and frustration caused by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a shame too, because film-making this grand, and this annoying has its place, if only there were film-makers with the imagination, power and sheer insanity to match Kubrick. But then if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be special. The beauty and frustration of 2001: A Space Odyssey lies with Kubrick who was very careful not to give any answers and instead posed big questions. This is the heart of long-lasting science fiction, the ability to look at the cosmos with broad strokes and have the bravery not to explain everything, but instead leave the audience to discuss and debate.