WolfmanOz at the Movies #34

Beyond the Infinite

I vividly recall the day I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, way back in 1976. It was on a fine Saturday afternoon and the soccer team I was playing for had a bye so along with a few of my teammates we decided to go and see the film which was on a re-release and being presented in 70mm on a huge theatre screen.

Of course, back then, before the days of the internet, our knowledge of the film and of Stanley Kubrick was quite limited but two and a half hours later one teenager came out of the theatre absolutely enthralled, amazed, bewildered and with a totally new perspective of movies and the art of cinema.

Back in 1964, after Kubrick had finished his nightmare black comedy Dr. Strangelove, he announced his next project would be about extraterrestrial life and resolved to make “the proverbial good science fiction movie”; his film would become as Spielberg remarked his film generation’s “big bang”, while George Lucas says it was “hugely inspirational”, calling Kubrick “the filmmaker’s filmmaker”.

The basic premise of the film is the discovery of an alien artefact (a black monolith) on the Moon which leads to a manned space expedition to Jupiter manned by five astronauts (albeit three are in hibernation) and a supercomputer called HAL.

The film is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight, pioneering special effects (no CGI) and ambiguous imagery. Kubrick avoided conventional cinematic and narrative techniques; dialogue is used sparingly, and there are long sequences accompanied only by music. The soundtrack incorporates numerous works of classical and avant-garde music.

This merging of image and music was never better exemplified when we leap forward from apemen a million years ago to spaceships in the future with the most audacious jump-cut in cinema history.


This will be the only clip I’ll post of the film in this post as there are so many scenes and moments that make this film so memorable and remarkable. But for those that are interested I have created the following playlist from this movie masterpiece which features 18 clips in total.

2001: A Space Odyssey Playlist

Kubrick made the film mostly nonverbal, to communicate on a visual and visceral level rather than through conventional narrative. Long periods without dialogue permeate throughout the film: the film has no dialogue for roughly the first and last twenty minutes.

Regarding the film as a whole, Kubrick encouraged people to make their own interpretations – “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point”.

However, I would be the first to admit that this is not a film for everyone. It tells its story in a very non-linear manner; its pacing is slow and deliberate; it has only approximately 40 minutes of dialogue in a film with a running time of close to two and a half hours and has no real development of the human characters.

When 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in 1968, film critic Renata Adler called it ‘‘somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring” and respected critic Pauline Kael declared it ‘‘a monumentally unimaginative movie”. Nearly 250 people walked out of the New York premiere.

But from the initial indifference of the established critics the film has emerged to be regarded as one of the finest ever made and is now often cited in critics and filmmakers lists of the greatest films ever made, with many critics and filmmakers considering it Kubrick’s masterpiece.

This from a filmmaker who only made 13 feature films of which most are the benchmark or the pinnacle of their particular genre ie. horror – The Shining; black comedy – Dr. Strangelove; period drama – Barry Lyndon; historical epic – Spartacus; dystopian – A Clockwork Orange; war – Paths Of Glory and Full Metal Jacket; and, of course science-fiction – 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kubrick’s output was limited in quantity but in terms of quality, IMO, there has been no filmmaker in cinema history who has matched the incredible quality of his output. For me, a part of cinema died when Kubrick passed away in 1999; it is ironic that he never saw the year 2001 !

Therefore to summarise for me, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a brilliantly controlled venture into science fiction which exists on an almost subliminal level. A hypnotic, intensely visual film with a peculiar artistic power which comes from the obsession of its creator and director, Stanley Kubrick. A cinematic masterpiece that defines film in terms of abstract communication.

And in the 46 years since I first saw it, I reckon I’ve watched and bathed in the glow of this movie masterpiece with well over a hundred viewings. For me, it’s not only my all-time favourite film of but one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century by one of the great artists of the century.


WW Movie Clips

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August 18, 2022 8:51 am

Sorry Wolfman, it’s way too slow and boring, I’ve tried to watch it several times and give up each time. I’d rather sit in the sunshine and read a book. Even doing my tax would be more rewarding.

Cliff Boof
Cliff Boof
August 18, 2022 8:54 am

“Open the pod bay doors HAL”.
A prescient warning of the dangers of AI.

August 18, 2022 10:03 am

One of my favorite movies.

August 18, 2022 10:13 am

Magnificent movie. To think he made that in the 1960s boggles the mind.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
August 18, 2022 10:46 am

I saw it when it premiered and was gobsmacked. It was a time when cheesy Westerns were the thing, and suddenly this guy came out with a sweeping epic that was so far beyond anything the film business had hitherto produced. Perhaps Metropolic by Fritz Lang would approach it in terms of being in advance of everything. Interestingly that film was made in 1927 and is set in 2026, which is rapidly approaching.

It’s nice to pair up movies and books sometimes. I like a pair of 2001 with Star Wars, which are so opposite in tone, yet both were breathtaking when they first came out. I do the same with the novels Forever War and Starship Troopers, which are similar opposites.

Rufus T Firefly
Rufus T Firefly
August 18, 2022 10:53 am

A landmark movie, no doubt.
The emotion swings, regarding Hal, are extremely well done.
The continual air of foreboding is an interesting aside.

Dr Strangelove however, was his best film.
I don’t know whether it was an accident, but it was released almost at the same time as “Fail Safe”.
Whereas Dr Strangelove inputs some humour into the same scenario, Fail Safe is anything but a comedy.
Directed by Sidney Lumet, with a pretty good cast, led by Henry Fonda, it is filmed deliberately in B&W with no score at all.

If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch it. It is no comedy though.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
August 18, 2022 10:55 am

Oops, Metropolis not Metropolic, sorry I was distracted and forgot to edit.

Perhaps Metropolis is a particularly good analogy since it was a silent film. Kubrick’s lack of dialogue gives his movie a similar style, much like Dr Strangelove deliberately chimes with the old war movies in B&W.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare
August 18, 2022 12:15 pm

Well, you had to be stoned or on acid for it to really go wham, Wolfman.

It was the ultimate acid trip. That ape jump cut at the end.
Open the door, Hal. The watching cyber eye.
The spaceship endlessly floating through the spheres.
Celluloid infinity.
The Russians were so friendly and nice. No Cold War in space.
That was over. Before.
Now the Monolith.
God and our shiny new technology.

On the moon, natch. We’d all seen the cavorting of real spacemen there.
I’ve watched it since, and it still has its moments … and its memories for me.

August 18, 2022 3:12 pm

I used to read Mad magazine back in the day.They did a send up called 201 Minutes of Space Idiocy ending with the astronaut crashing through 500 floors of the Jupiter museum of Modern Art.
In some ways mad e more sense than the movie.

August 18, 2022 3:37 pm

“On the Beach” put Victoria on the doomed state list; prescient?

2001 is NOT a “western”, private eye “noir” , or melodrama.

It is more a “psychodrama; if you are vaguely sentient and have an attention span greater than a gnat, it will tickle the synapses. It is more “What the Hell just happened?” than “who done it?”.

Episodic and formulaic TV shows punctuated with raucous, distracting “commercials” and watched on a small-ish screen whilst surrounded by domestic hubbub, have contributed to people’s bewilderment about actual film-making and its possibilities.

In 2001, the dialogue is “mundane”; and if you have ever worked with serious science types, what they do is usually more important and interesting than what they say. Furthermore, in an environment filled with science-y types, grand oratory is not usually required, as all the players “get it”, from a few well-chosen words. If the dialogue is loaded with characters doing running commentary / description of the associated action, you may as well read a book or listen to the radio-play / pod-cast.

Fair Shake
Fair Shake
August 18, 2022 3:49 pm

I wish I had been at the NY premiere so I could have walked out too.

Thankfully in 1977 the Millennium Falcon did the Kessle run and Princesses with bagel hair dos and attitude blasted onto the screen.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
August 18, 2022 5:38 pm

Thankfully in 1977 the Millennium Falcon did the Kessle run and Princesses with bagel hair dos and attitude blasted onto the screen.

Reminds me to make another comment.

One interesting aspect is that 2001 is quintessentially British science fiction, just as Star Wars is American science fiction. I think Kubrick was working off that, and of course collaborated with Arthur C Clarke on the script.

British sci fi of that era had a very distinct tone, different from the US authors. Fred Hoyle, John Wyndham for example, and Clark himself. Tends to a sparseness, a coolness, that US at the same time contrasted with warmth and go gettim flavours: like Heinlein’s young persons’ SF series. And the essences may be due to those countries’ respective WW2 experiences, where the British civilian experience was grim, grey and arduous, whereas the US experience was much more striding and positive.

Ok I’m overanalysing, but hey it’s fun to do that sometimes. 😀

August 18, 2022 6:45 pm

As I recall when they were drinking their ( protein shakes) out of straws,
the liquid fell back into the container
Which wouldn’t happen in space!
That did it for me

August 18, 2022 7:02 pm

This movie blew my mind when I first watched it, about 12 years ago.


Do La Bamba next. A near perfect 80s movie.

Mother Lode
Mother Lode
August 18, 2022 7:03 pm

The only downer for me was the psychedelia they used for the journey through the Jupiter Monolith like a gateway. I had read the book and was hoping for something more along what was there. Perhaps it was amazing and surreal if you were on LSD, but to a straitlaced teenage lad it was…tacky.

Something that came across in the movie that was not in the book, and due to the way the Astronauts on the Discovery were shown to have very routine dull lives, completely detached, spoke rarely, only in monotone, and never about anything but their job.

HAL, on the other hand, is being torn apart by the conflict between his programming regarding the true nature of the mission and his programming demanding he do everything to support his human charges.

The humans are like machines, and the machine has the struggle of a human.

If they remake it – and if there is one thing Hollywood loves to do now is to ‘reimagine’ earlier classics, you can expect HAL to be a female. And black.

And the monoliths gay.

Bar Beach Swimmer
August 18, 2022 7:45 pm

Fair Shake says:
August 18, 2022 at 3:49 pm
I wish I had been at the NY premiere so I could have walked out too.

Thankfully in 1977 the Millennium Falcon did the Kessle run and Princesses with bagel hair dos and attitude blasted onto the screen.

Worth repeating.

August 18, 2022 7:56 pm

Good comment, Bruce. Brit SciFi was indeed very different, both in writing and on fillum. And, Metropolis is a favourite of mine as well – seen it several times.

I must confess to seeing 2001 for the first time while under the influence of mind altering substances – and it was fantastic! Subsequent viewings were nowhere near as epic.

It certainly influenced popular culture, especially the scene where the computer effectively says ‘no’, a concept recycled many times since.

Bar Beach Swimmer
August 18, 2022 7:57 pm

One thing I felt when I did watch 2001, was how separate and isolated humans were to each other. Yes, space is vast and in the future when finally humans do begin to travel to other worlds unless the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon is a standard feature of space travel, it will not be a quick trip. But that whole depiction of distance made me feel alone.

August 18, 2022 9:34 pm

I loved it Wolfman. Like you, saw it as a re-release on the big screen.

The story of mankind and potential all set to a marvellous soundtrack. The PanAm shuttle waltzing into the space station. The closing scenes of death and birth and our place in the vastness of the universe…all narrowed down to the tiny foetus.

And HAL…the menace and detachment of technology.

I read Clarke’s book later, then re-watched the movie. They complimented each other.

The only drugs I’ve ever had are the fruit of the vine. Never had a desire for anything more exotic. My imagination has always sufficed. 😀

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
August 18, 2022 10:03 pm

2001 – A British film – a uniquely British/ European view of the world. All the lessons learned by European societies over the previous 2000 yrs led to man travelling to space. The concept that travel through vast distances takes time, what do you do. The use of classical music through big speakers rather than the 3 minute pop song re loading in the back ground.
The communication between the astronauts is deliberate. Just like their actions.their thinking is deliberate and they take their time making a decision. Their thoughts are logical and on their survival of the mission – the mission the focus , nothing else gets in the way.
The behaviour the time taken , is a society which has learned from its past and is taking this to the future. I found this behaviour comforting. The film portrays human limitation juxtaposed to what it can do,.
But the mashed food in the tray – oh the horror, the horror

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
August 18, 2022 10:40 pm

On SBZ – blade runner – contrast the ambient music of travel and the surrounds.
Everyone blonde frosted their hair like Reuter Heuter – do you know what that looked like to a norfener

August 18, 2022 10:57 pm

HAL, elementary cryptography = move one word further in the alphabet: IBM.

August 18, 2022 10:58 pm

Not word, letter..

Bruce in WA
August 18, 2022 11:48 pm

HAL, elementary cryptography = move one word further in the alphabet: IBM.
Not word, letter.

Arthur C Clarke disputed that. He claimed (doubtfully) that it was sheer coincidence; HAL in fact stood for “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer”.

A friend of mine had one of the first iPhones and Apple watches I had ever seen.

He would consistently ask Siri, “Open the pod bays doors, Siri”, to which she would make some disparaging retort. Until, one day, “her” response was, in a deadpan, “I’m sorry, XXX, I can’t do that.” Followed by, “There … are you happy now?”

Anchor What
Anchor What
August 19, 2022 7:14 am

Let’s not forget all the wondrous busty substances in Eyes Wide Shut.
The narrative was rubbish and disjointed however.

August 19, 2022 7:31 am

Today’s question:

Is ‘The fifth Element’ science fiction or forecasting?

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
August 19, 2022 7:35 am

If people watched this on acid or stoned- the imagery and music are clean and lush. What about Eraserhead- I could only watch this once .

August 19, 2022 9:01 am

Is ‘The fifth Element’ science fiction or forecasting?

Idiocracy – satire or documentary?

Eraserhead- I could only watch this once

I absolutely hated it – the only one of Lynch’s films or TV work I never liked.

Old School Conservative
Old School Conservative
August 19, 2022 8:09 pm

A relative is named Dave.
The hairs on the back of his neck rise when his family mimic HAL’s “Dave….”
Of all the attributes of that great movie, we remember it best for one line!!!
So much interpretation tied up in one expression.

August 22, 2022 8:43 pm

Unsurprising that Americans of the era didnt like it , they do like everything spoon feed, explained and wrapped up in a bow.

I first saw it quite stoned in the 70s, still have a copy of my own as well as FMJ and Dr Strangelove

vlad redux
vlad redux
August 25, 2022 1:09 am

So many of his films are good that I think it’s impossible to single one out as his masterpiece – but, hey, this is a contender.

His best three imho are 2001, Paths of Glory and Strangelove.

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