Stanley Kubrick´s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a finely crafted masterpiece of cinema. Released in 1968 it is a landmark in the science fiction genre packed full of mystery, spectacular imagery and special effects. The action moves at a deliberately slow pace, echoing the vast emptiness of space, and combined with the dramatic classical music, elevates the gravity of each scene to inspire awe overall.
The film is based on the 1948 short story The Sentinel, by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Its screenplay was co-authored by director Stanley Kubrick and Clarke. It explores the idea of sentient life, both outside of man and man-made in the form of HAL the infamous onboard computer, while hinting at greater revelations.
The film is split into sections, opening on a prehistoric world we see early man and their struggle for survival. Later, gathered around a huge black monolith, one of them takes up a bone to use as a club and man is born. As our ancient ancestor throws the bone up into the air it turns and becomes a space ship, the extension and result of our mastery of tools. This is one of the most memorable and parodied of scenes from the world of cinema.
The appearance of the space ship triggers the second phase of the film, the moon landing. A group of humans discover the black monolith we saw earlier and watch as it fires something in the direction of Jupiter. The Discovery is sent on a mission to Jupiter to investigate, manned by Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman and Gary Lockwood as Frank Poole, a pair of astronauts. Their ship is run by an advanced artificially intelligent computer called Hal 9000 (brought to life by the voice of Douglas Rain).
This film is shot on an epic scale, the special effects still look good, there is a feeling of reality about the cumbersome tasks involved in space travel and the insignificance of man next to the vastness of space is clear. The action is slow and the tension builds beautifully as the two men aboard the Discovery begin to doubt the sanity of HAL.
The settings are minimalist and striking, the dialogue is quite rare but thoroughly absorbing and the overall scope of the film is so massive that it can be confusing. The shots are also quite minimalist, no heavy-handed cues, just beautifully constructed images. The dreamlike nature of many of the sequences is well realised and you'll naturally find yourself striving for some kind of coherence, which isn´t there.
Kubrick understands the way to avoid cheesiness in film and he appreciates the ability of the human imagination so this work can be interpreted in different ways and doesn´t offer any absolute answers or explanations. He doesn´t try to explain everything, instead hitting you with a barrage of striking imagery and a wealth of interesting philosophical questions - you must come to your own conclusions.
The most coherent and narrative part of the movie concerns Dave´s struggle to deal with the sentient, but possibly insane HAL. Their discussions are really well scripted and the glaring eye of HAL combined with the voice of Rain makes for chilling viewing at times. This exploration of AI back in 1968 is far superior to Spielberg's recent effort and we can only wonder at the film AI might have been if Kubrick had done it.
The slow pace and lack of an absolute explanation will put some people off this film but it is essential viewing. For complete enjoyment it requires some thought and imagination on the part of the viewer, it entertains and it challenges and that elevates it above most of the movies released. A ground-breaking film in the world of science fiction and a fantastic production by any standards.