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.
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.