2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Release Date: April 3rd, 1968 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Stanley Kubrick Actors: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Margaret Tyzack, Douglas Rain
pe-like creatures gather on a hillside, tolerating tapirs, avoiding leopards, and defending their watering hole from rivals. One morning, a towering ebony monolith appears, protruding from a rocky crevasse. Entitled “The Dawn of Man,” this initial sequence boasts no spoken dialogue and several cuts to black, suggesting, as most of the film refuses to definitively declare, that some sort of alien force influenced the evolution of humankind, primarily through the motivation of utilizing tools (for violence). It’s absolute science-fiction, deviating even from extreme scientific reasoning to a purely extraterrestrial basis and involvement.
The film symbolically transitions to the Pan Americas international space station where Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) chats with colleagues about their missions on the outpost colony Clavius, settled on the moon. Rumors surround peculiar situations occurring at the base, including landing request denials and lengthy communications failures. Floyd can’t speak about his assignment, although it’s apparent that he’s knowledgeable about the troubles. When he lands on Clavius, he helms a briefing, which reveals that a fake epidemic was staged as a cover story for the discovery of a mysterious monument – a move deemed essential to prevent public interference, outcry, or shock. After a dropship crew investigates the site of another unidentified black monolith, a high-pitched screech emanating from the formation causes the team to collapse.
18 months later, the Jupiter Mission is launched. The Discovery One starship carries several astronauts in cryogenic hibernation, along with scientists Dr. Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Poole (Gary Lockwood); all are monitored by the supercomputer HAL 9000, equipped with a disturbingly calm voice (Douglas Rain, doing his best not to be entirely monotonic, yet something less than human) and the ability to run all internal systems. The assemblage is convinced it’s like having another crewmember. The pulsing red light that serves as HAL’s face is also used to portray his fisheye point of view, creepily focusing on the workers inside the ship. This establishes one of the greatest of all movie villains – an omnipotent, deceitful, pleading, spectacularly advanced artificial intelligence gone uncontrollably rogue.
Even before the iconic frames of primates smashing skulls with bones, the music of “2001: A Space Odyssey” foreshadows a work of substantial bearing. As the momentous, orchestral “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” booms, the sun peers defiantly over the earth and moon to introduce the titles. Other famous classical music replaces immediate narration (such as “The Blue Danube” waltz during a starship docking sequence), evoking emotions and commanding thematic tones. When dialogue is spoken, quite sparingly (as this is a predominantly visual project), no score can be heard at all. Moments of suspense are perhaps even more frightening because of the symbolic silence of the characteristic insularity of outer space.
The futuristic set designs are fascinating, especially inside the various spaceships. Spotless white uniforms complement glowing ivory walls and amber padding, while astronauts and pilots deal with changing accelerations and pulls; simulated gravitational forces produced by clever camera tricks. Wondrous, highly detailed structures predating the breathtaking creations of “Star Wars” and “Alien” appear frequently, never losing their realism and moving with a purposeful slowness to allow total ocular consumption. Nearly every shot is awe-inspiring. The sound effects are equally stunning, with eerie vocals, unnerving violins, heavy breathing, and computerized chimes or screams sounding off intermittently.
As each scene progresses, it becomes terrifyingly unclear whether or not “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a sci-fi adventure or a psychological horror film. As it famously turns out, it’s more like an abstract painting, with elements of marvel as well as madness, demonstrating that filmmaking doesn’t have to be dedicated to telling a linear story – or even a cohesive one. As an experiment in pushing the boundaries of filmic expectations, it’s an outstanding success. Fusing the medium of film with transcendent artistic concepts proves to be an advantageous task for director Stanley Kubrick, a man seemingly always ahead of his time. But the project sacrifices entertainment for groundbreaking ideas and proving a baffling point (for which every viewer might have to interpret their own explanation), resulting in an alarmingly unforgettable, special-effects-heavy, hallucinatory finale that is too ambiguous and aloof for its own good.
– Mike Massie