The All-Time Favourites #3: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Welcome to the All-Time Favourites Series. This series examines 25 of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, looking at them in depth with analyses of what makes them great, and cutting down to the most basic level, looking at plot, cinematography, writing, direction, acting and other things, to see what makes these great films tick. For more on the series, click here. This week’s film is 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Epic. It’s a word that’s been used to describe a lot of films. I’ve used it many times. What do we define it as? In a film lover’s vocabulary, the movie that’s likely to spring to mind is Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only is it grand in size and scale, it’s also incredibly influential, and easily beats any of David Lean’s epics any day of the week.

One of the earliest films to examine America’s journey into space, this might not be the most informative of the bunch (that title belongs to 1985’s The Right Stuff), but it is certainly the most rigorous, adventurous and astonishingly well-made. Kubrick, who had a 40-year career that resulted in twelve films, was never better than here. This is him at his most concentrated, and amazing. 2001 is not only his best film, but also one of the best of all time, up there with such masterpieces as The Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, 8 1/2 and The Godfather.

It is easily one of the most visually amazing movies ever made. It’s opening shot is one of stunning beauty: the camera rises up behind the moon to see the sun in the background forming a crescent of light on the Earth and plunging the rest of it into darkness, as the tune that defines epicness, Also Sprach Zarathustra, plays blaring on the soundtrack. From here we journey to ‘The Dawn of Man’ and see the early apes, who lived thousands of years ago. Their idyllic civilisation is disrupted by the sudden presence of a black monolith, or obelisk, which is so mysterious and questionable that when we see it on screen we are instinctively chilled. It’s meaning is beyond our understanding, as is where it came from. Cut to the future… the year 2001, and astronauts have discovered a monolith that looks exactly the same on the moon, sending a radio signal to Jupiter. So they send two astronauts to investigate, but the computer HAL onboard the ship in which they’re traveling becomes infected and attempts to stop them from what it sees as a sabotage. “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it,” he says, and Kubrick hints that HAL’s motives for trying to kill the astronauts are beyond our understanding. Could the “aliens,” or whoever created the monoliths, be controlling the computers of the world too? I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening back on Earth; if they were growing in their control of the universe. But I didn’t dwell on the thought, and Kubrick doesn’t either.

His film deals, on the primary level, with the idea of our place in the universe. It’s a question too bold to answer; I believe there is no answer, but Kubrick attempts to discover more about the endlessness of space and how, in all that darkness, the answers to so many questions must lie. The monoliths exist, as many have spoken, to help move those in its presence to the next evolutionary stage. When the apes touch it, it somehow teaches them, gives them knowledge… and makes them more volatile. It’s effects are impossible to comprehend. When astronauts stand next to it on the moon, they are stunned in a state of complete awe. Does it hold the answers, or is it simply infecting us with new questions? Who knows. Kubrick doesn’t, and we certainly don’t, but it doesn’t stop us from wondering.

The screenplay, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and adapted by Kubrick, is superb. The film contains little dialogue, but what is said is perfect. There is also even a sense of humour. Though the film is contemplating bigger questions on an existential level, Kubrick does take some time to delight in imagining what the little things of the future would look like, such as zero gravity toilets and video phone calls. The cinematography and direction by Kubrick are also stellar; perhaps the true star of the film. There are countless stunning shots, from the aforementioned opening scene, to the famous jump-cut to the future from the ape world, to the slow motion space ballad; the haunting red eye of HAL to the shot of a small space pod being dauntingly confronted by the giant ship it came from; the everlasting and incomprehensibly meaningful stargate sequence, to one of the last shots of the film, in which the camera “enters” the monolith. All these images and more are part of the indescribable beauty of the master’s revolutionary sci-fi masterpiece. It is certainly a film reliant on images rather than dialogue; what else can you call a movie whose last lines are spoken forty minutes before its conclusion?

Kubrick’s film is definitely one that will leave you startled and confused. The beautiful but enigmatic ending has left many annoyed and frustrated, but when I first saw it I thought it was perfect. I still think it is perfect. A lot of people don’t understand it, and refuse to think about it. I’ve seen the film many times, and I think I understand everything. The film epitomises the term thought-provoking to an incredible level. I’ve never seen a film that has made me think on such a huge level as this. It raises questions of daunting proportions, and cheekily refuses to answer them. It leaves the answers up to us, as individual audience members: previously idiotic questions like “Why are we here?” become scarily relevant. If we can’t comprehend an answer, at least we are thinking about it. Never has a film and never will a film provoke such large questions; this is a film that, whether we are watching in a cinema or at home, will leave more of an impression on us than any other cinematic advent.

That’s this week’s All-Time Favourites review. What do you think of the film? Leave a comment below, and look out for next week’s post, which will be looking at The 400 Blows.

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Posted on November 29, 2011, in All-Time Favourites, Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Great movie… I hear. I’m embarrassed I haven’t seen this one. But I see some interesting choices on your image montage. Discreet Charm!

  2. I came in wanting to like this one, but i think it was just too arty for me. Perhaps when i’m older i will like it more, but for now its not one of my favs.

    • I don’t think age has anything to do with it – I first saw it when I was twelve, and loved it then. But I know a lot of people who needed to rewatch it before they appreciated it.

  3. Hi, Tyler and company;

    Excellent critique and photos!

    Kubrick hit it out of the park with ‘2001’. Not just in mammoth story telling and musical aspects of the film, but much more for the technical. Who else construct a massive rotating drum-like set so Gary Lockwood could jog in supposed Zero-G?

    Or gather several selections of sand and have it washed and baked and piled on a set as the Moon’s Giant Monolith is explored and photographed?

    Small details, to be sure, but boy, did they work! The latter, being noted by NASA after the Apollo missions to be incredibly similar in structure and density to actual Moon soil.

    Also loved the Space and EVA suits and the silent explosion when Dave reentered the Voyager spacecraft from his pod after losing his argument with HAL.

  4. What a fantastic write up. I think you write even better when you are not RANTING hehehe

    Great film, and for once I have seen one of your faves!!

    🙂

    • HAHAHA I think I rave about films more often than I rant! Anyway, this whole series is gonna be about raving and it should introduce you mostly to films you haven’t seen.

  5. Visually it’s stunning, but I thought it was way too slow for me to enjoy. I must admit I was still in my twenties when I saw it and fast forwarded through quite some parts of it.

    • It takes some time to appreciate. I love the slowness of it. It doesn’t create tension, per se, but it makes us aware how volatile time is, and how anything can happen at any moment. I love the pace; the slower the film is, the more I’m likely to like it, which is strange, I suppose.

  6. 2001 is less a film and more an experience – it’s a film to be savored and appreciated. The pacing can put some people off, I think, but the overarching themes and Kubrick’s visionary direction make for some absorbing viewing. Nice write up Tyler!

    • I completely agree. The pacing didn’t put me off for a second. I remember when Kubrick died. I was 12, and we watched the film as a family. It was my first time seeing it, and I loved it.

  7. Christian Hallbeck

    Well written, Tyler! But I much prefer “Solaris” to “2001”. I have never been a fan of the latter. On the other hand I’ve only seen it once. So maybe it’s time for a re-watch!?

    You do of course know that the monolithe is burning at the end of “Full Metal Jacket” (whether it was deliberate from the director’s side or not). I am moved every time I see it.

    • Understandable. I, too, love SOLARIS, and all the Tarkovsky movies I’ve seen. 2001 definitely, definitely needs a rewatch.

      Yes, I did know that.

  8. You do delve into a lot of what I like about the film. The Humor, the visuals, the deeper questions. I’ve only seen it three times, but I’m not quite sure I fully understand it. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I certainly have some ideas, but I think the ambiguity and the mystery is part of what makes the film so compelling and engaging.

    • Yeah, I agree that much of the brilliance lies in the mystery. But these days people can’t settle for the big questions unless they have the answers, which is sad and ignorant.

  9. This is the film that made me want to study film. So many people said to me it was boring and I didn’t need to see it. How wrong they were. I love this movie with every fiber of my being and multiple times I’ve said it could be my favorite of all time.

    For the people who can feel the greatness from it, watch some of the special features to see the work that went into making this film as realistic as possible. The use of sound in this film is amazing. Thanks Tyler for bringing this one out to the forefront.

    • I agree, it is an amazing, amazing masterpiece that was so unique and special for its time. Kubrick did the entire world of film proud with this landmark achievement.

  10. 2001, like every Kubrick film that I’ve seen apart from Eyes Wide Shut that I instantly loved, grows and grows on you, getting better with single viewing. What I love about great filmmakers’ work is that you discover something new each time you watch their films. 2001 probably embodies this more than any other and deserves its recognition as one of the greatest pieces of cinema art. I still don’t know what the hell it is about but then nobody does and that’s the beauty of it – we each take what we want from the film and it differs for everyone.

    This was an interesting read Tyler, thanks for putting it together.

    • 2001 and EYES WIDE SHUT are my two favorite Kubrick films, and you captured perfectly what I like about them so much: they are the two Kubrick film’s that provoke the most discussion and pondering over their meaning. They really are brilliant. I was thinking about them both (especially 2001) for days after I first saw them.

      • That is so true. I find increasingly in my 20s, as opposed to my teens, that the films that have me contemplating for weeks after viewing them are the ones I now rate higher than the ones that offer the sort of instantaneously thrills I used to crave.

        Eyes Wide Shut had me mesmerised from start to finish. Loved it.

        I wouldn’t say I share that passion with 2001 but I still think it is a great piece of work. I do however, think of A Clockwork Orange in the same light as Eyes Wide Shut. It has a more immersive story than 2001 I think yet is equally as frustrating. Again, I think it is a film that can have various interpretations.

        My favourite Kubrick films are Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.

        • Yeah, I love those three too. While 2001 might be his best film, I think EYES WIDE SHUT is the one I prefer. When I first saw it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days.

  11. Now this is one I have seen! 🙂

    I haven’t seen it for a while so I’m definitely overdue a rewatch. What I do remember is exactly what you said: stunning visuals.

  12. Great post, Tyler! I watched 2001 for the first time at the beginning of the year, and it blew me away. It takes complete devotion to really appreciate it, but it’s worth every second. Probably my favorite Kubrick.

  1. Pingback: The All-Time Favourites #8: Napoleon (1927) « Southern Vision

  2. Pingback: Introducing… The ALL-TIME FAVOURITES SERIES! « Southern Vision

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