2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick; Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke; MGM; dist. by Warner Bros.; based on "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke.

I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey during film school at home on a 7 inch, 1987 color Apple Computer monitor (they were compatible with VCR and DVD hook-ups back in the day) while suffering from a stomach cramp induced by sugar-free vanilla wafers. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I should, though I did realize the importance of film, the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick, and the artistic motives behind the movie.

This realization of the film’s integrity motivated me recently to buy the film on Blu-Ray and watch it on my brother’s 40 inch screen. I felt like I missed out on an opportunity to enjoy this film as much as I probably would have under kinder circumstances, and the added resolution displayed in the Blu-ray release would defiantly make every shot more interesting to watch than watching the DVD and a 7 inch screen.  My brother wasn’t all that thrilled about watching the movie again (he saw it with me he first time, while suffering from the same stomach cramps), but he let me watch it anyway.

The film starts at the beginning; which is always a good place to start a movie. In this case, it starts at the dawn of man where a mysterious shrieking monolith ignites an evolution from primitive, animalistic primates to a slightly more intelligent, and therefore more formidable species. The photography throughout this scene is very visually powerful, and one can see Stanley’s beginnings as a very accomplished newspaper and magazine photographer in these shots.

After the species that has been advanced by the mysterious monolith defeats their foes, the film jump cuts millions of years into the future, from flying bones to a spaceship flying through outer space. A mysterious shrieking monolith was found on the moon, which mysteriously is heard despite the fact that there is no sound in space, and a team of men are secretly sent to the moon’s surface to investigate.

This movie literally has three different plots. 18 months after the secret moon expedition, another monolith was discovered near Jupiter. Another team, accompanied by the computer HAL 9000, is sent to Jupiter to investigate.

The opening of the film is only the most memorable opening in film history. The use of the classical score Also sprach Zarathustra along side of the imagery of massive planets results in the most powerful film opening absent of actors ever filmed. The whole shot just drips with a sort of excellence and self-aware awesomeness that one can’t help but feel chills going down one’s spine. And being a filmmaker myself, I am extremely jealous of a title sequence where the filmmaker’s own name is presented with such gusto and fan-fare. And I must seethe in this jealousy for the rest of my life, or until I find a way to “pay homage” to the shot without being called out for plagiarism.

But I must also learn not to get on such vigorous personal rants before getting past the first shot of the movie. There’s much more to be explored here.

The film is structured almost like a slow dance or a large classical music montage. The continued use of classical music such as the Blue Danube, strengthens the idea mankind reaching a point of true civilized civilization, though the friction between the American and the French seems to harken back to the primitive battle in the film’s opening plot. And when the film is seen as a giant music montage, one can come to accept the film’s strength and beauty.

Director Stanley Kubrick's precise photography is shown during the investigation of the monolith on the moon.

The photography is strong throughout the movie, and the special effects are to this day the pinnacle of practical special effects (no computer animation) in film history. The visuals are stunning all throughout the film. And Kubrick’s odd touch of the film by keeping the performances of the actors to a bland minimum really brings to the forefront the idea of computers, such as the HAL 9000, bringing humanity down to their own level as the machines themselves rise up to ours. It’s the continuing evolution shown on-screen that harkens back to the opening plot concerning the primitive apes ancestors. There seems to be a mingling between the natural adaptation of life, and the evolution forced upon life by the mysterious monolith; which returns in the end of the film for the visually dramatic and thematically striking conclusion.

Ironically, the film’s drawbacks come from it’s very strengths. By structuring the film as a giant classical music montage, every shot feels about 5 minutes longer than it needs to be. Very few shots even come to 5 minutes in length in the film, but that to say that the pacing in the film is extremely slow most of the time. As a result, most of the tension between the characters is built up by using long pauses, which is good, but no real adrenaline is ever felt in the film’s climax. If one isn’t impressed with the photography and it’s interaction with the music throughout the film, the viewers are left wondering how long it will take before the movie will just get on to the next thing.

In the end, the film is a stunning and important piece of work to the film buffs, like the ones that pelage this particular blog. Though as a film reviewer I feel like I must take off some points for the extremely slow pacing felt throughout the entire film. So the film that, in my mind, had the potential to the perfect film of all time is stripped of a star and given a 4 out of 5. Those who are a not a fan of film would enjoy the movie even less, and have therefore been forewarned of the gratuitously slow nature of the film. I, however, liked it despite its glaring pacing issues, hence the rating given above. If you’re a fan of film, sci-fi, or intellectual works in any way, watch this movie. You will appreciate it and much of the genre’s history will be revealed to you.

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About Stefan D. Byerley
Stefan D. Byerley is an independent filmmaker and freelance visual artist currently residing in North Carolina. He likes detailed storytelling, intriguing imagery, massive bloody violence, crying at the movies, and long walks in the park during the Autumn season.

2 Responses to 2001: A Space Odyssey

  1. Matt says:

    Interesting things about Space Odyssey. And cool review blog. I’ve got one, too, if you ever want to visit (http://videovampire.wordpress.com/). Be well.

    • Stefan D. Byerley says:

      Thanks for reading! And thanks for the link to your film blog. Black Swan trailers have caught my eye, and I enjoyed your review over it. I plan to see that quite soon myself, actually. The blog here is more of a group effort, which theoretically means it gets updated frequently without any one of us having to put in a lot of effort. Though I wonder about Jonathan Henderson, who has quite a bit of his reviews posted here.

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