A Review on 2001: A Space Odyssey

Looking back on Kubrick’s career, it shows that he is the type that doesn’t want to do something that he has already done before. Even if he has already made three films about war, they never seem to be similar in execution and idea. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the one that definitely stands out in comparison to all of his other films. It is the most ambitious and the most thought provoking film he has ever made. Though this film is not my favourite from his work, it is the one that I found the most influential. You can see its influence in many of the science fiction films that came after it; notable ones include Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Star Wars, and the recently released Gravity.

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2001: A Space Odyssey was based on a novel entitled “The Sentinel”, and it was adapted to the screen by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. 2001 is an ambitious concept for its time because when it was written, NASA was at a developmental phase in an attempt of creating a spaceship that can send us to the moon or anywhere significant in space. So in a way, Kubrick and Clarke, for the most part, have predicted the future. The film essentially is showing us the progression of mankind, a combination of both reality and fiction, starting out at the time when we were just apes to the point where we have spacecraft sending us away from our own planet. Kubrick and Clarke suggest that mankind has progressed to the complex human beings we are now due to a higher form/being communicating to us through a black monolith. Are the writers trying to suggest that we are puppets under the strings controlled by these “aliens”, or are they saying that these “aliens” are just present to help us progress to a much higher and intellectual form. I cannot give a definite answer but it does allow for the audience to debate in its purpose. Though progression is seen as a good thing, the Dawn of Man sequences showed that it has led to death and violence to our own kind. Instead of being the hunted, they become the hunter. I thought this fight for survival was a great idea and it is true in today’s thinking, but it doesn’t lead anywhere closer to peace, the sense of community and harmony seems to move further and further away. As we become more technically advanced, we started to rely more on technology to do the work for us, which is another prediction that the writers succeeded in. The film shows that we have gone to the point where technology is starting to become more and more like us, developing its own emotions and thoughts. This is where the writers touch on again about the fighting for survival, climaxing with an intense battle between Hal 9000 and the astronauts. This concept definitely was unique for its time and the idea that we created the villain makes it all the more frightening. As the human race progresses, the writers shows this idea of us becoming less and less humanistic; just on the small moments like when Frank was watching a message from his parents singing to him Happy Birthday, there was no emotion being projected, instead just a blank face. Each sequences not only shows the progression of man, but also the distance of how far we have travelled from our planet, and with this, the writers seems to think that the further we move away from our home, the less and less we stay human. At the start of the film, when we were just apes, yelling and moving all around, truly expressing ourselves in the most primitive way, but as we move on in the film, we are seen less empathetic and quiet. We keep and bottle up feelings and thoughts to ourselves, not allowing us to put our guard down. The film’s final sequence leans more towards fiction, leading to the next stage of human evolution, the Starchild. The idea was ambitious but doesn’t seem likely. The writers suggest that this Starchild will be the bridge between the “alien” race and the human race. Overall, all of these ideas are great, and they are the main reason that people comes back to the film over and over again. It shows how far we have come and the potential of going even further. The film lacks the traditional narrative. There isn’t a central plot that we are following, and the only moment in the film where it goes near that idea is the third sequence with Hal 9000. At first I found it to be quite annoying because there was no clear story for me to cling on to, but then I realised, after many viewings, that the story is actually our development in life.

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The film was directed by one of my favourite directors, Stanley Kubrick. As I have said, this is his most ambitious film and also his most influential. He wanted this film to focus on its themes and ideas. Kubrick didn’t want this to be just any science fiction film; he wanted it to be “the” science fiction film. So far no other science fiction film has had the realism and relevance that this film created. Other films try to be more about its fiction, similar to what Lucas did for Star Wars. This could also be because; a film like this is risky. It took a while for this film to make any profits, maybe because this film is more realistic than dramatized. This isn’t the type of escapism that people want, as it feels too close to home. 2001’s visual effects, for its time, were quite extraordinary and its impact has definitely shown on almost all of the science fiction film that came after it. Just take a look at the ships in Star Wars and Alien, don’t they look a little similar to the Discovery? Kubrick didn’t want this film to be narrative focused. He wanted this film to be an experience, something that the audience would never forget. Even if you hated this film, it’s hard to forget it, as it sticks with you forever. He does this by creating beautiful imagery and combining it with orchestral music. When I first watched it, I had shivers as it was like a beautiful moving painting tingling all of my nerves. As its focus was on its imagery, Kubrick stripped the film off its dialogue, only giving us minimal instances of it. This was done to have the audience put more focus on its idea and meaning rather than looking for a plot to follow. I was not a fan of this approach the first time, because I am a person who loves dialogue and found it essential in moving the film along, but I got used to it more and more as I kept coming back to this. I felt that the film’s pacing is quite slow. This was intentionally done in order to create this experience and not letting it feel rushed in order to get to the “good” parts. In all honesty, I think Kubrick could have cut down at least 5-7 minutes of this film in order to improve a bit on its pacing, as a lot of scenes just felt a smidge too long.

The film’s director of photography was Geoffrey Unsworth, who is also known in being the DP of the first two original Superman films. What he has done for this film was amazing. There are so many shots in this film that kept me wondering on how he did it, particularly the circular set where one of the astronauts was running around it. Unsworth perfectly understood that his photography is supposed to highlight the effects in the film, and he did that brilliantly, with many moments of slowly shooting the ships move along the frame and seeing the astronauts interacting with it, conveying a sense of depth in an environment that is often seen as flat. Many of shots were slow dollies and pans in trying to control the film’s pace, so it is very important for the audience to gain a sense of patience when watching this film. Kubrick also wanted shots to take as long as they can, with actors milking the most out of their performances. If there was a color that truly stood out in his photography, it would be the color white. It creates this feeling of sterility and perfection, suggesting that we are heading towards that direction. At the same time it creates this realistic look that is commonly found in current spacecraft. The walls of the “hotel room” at the end represents the advancement of these higher beings, they are currently standing in the prime of technology, something that us humans are still trying to reach. There is one moment, a favourite of mine actually, where Dave finally takes his revenge on Hal and he goes “inside” the machine. Inside, we see this focus on the color red, a metaphor of the bloodshed that he is committing, almost like killing another person. It was so powerful and it made its death more impactful than what it already is. The film may put more effort and focus in Kubrick’s vision, but one cannot deny the excellence that Unsworth has brought for this film.

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The film’s music only comes in specific moments, mostly during the events of spaceflight. The rest of the film is focused on its intricate sound design. I think the film’s orchestral moments are already classic pieces of music, so the film doesn’t take the traditional orchestral score that was mostly used during that time. The way the music works with imagery is mesmerizing. I think Kubrick wanted to do what Walt Disney did for Fantasia, combining the elements of picture and sound together and making a wonderful experience out of it. Whenever I hear these musical pieces, I cannot help but think of 2001 and its ideas. The film also contains a specific and simplistic sound design. The way the film uses silence is great, it was able to capture the realistic feeling of being in space but at the same time creating an aura of tension, particularly during the journey to Jupiter. Kubrick understands that the film also needs a bit of sound in order to create that realistic feeling of being in a spaceship and also to not rely too heavily in silence, because that may have a tendency to put the viewers in a state of boredom.

I think Kubrick didn’t want any distractions from the film’s idea and themes, so he decided to hire actors that were not really popular. The film’s main actors were Gary Lockwood, Keir Dullea, William Sylvester, and Douglas Rain. They were all great in their roles, particularly Dullea and Rain. Kubrick wanted the actors to be less human and be more machine-like, this idea was the opposite for Douglas Rain, and the actors portrayed it perfectly. I can really see the dullness in their acting, lacking in any form of heightened emotion. He also wanted the actors to have very little chemistry in order to create this selfish intention that is supposedly found in people during this time.

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2001: A Space Odyssey is a ground-breaking film, tackling ideas that were never touched within the genre. Its special effects changed the way space travel was viewed in film and its ideas on humanity’s direction are thought provoking while also interesting. It isn’t a film for everyone but it is a film that shouldn’t be missed by anyone.

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