Monday, July 09, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/5/08 w/ Additional Edits.

When science fiction emerged to the cinema, it's often done with a sense of paranoia or sometimes, propaganda. By the 1950s, the genre had gone into camp with cheesy special effects and such. Even as the 1960s arrived with the dawn of space exploration from NASA, science fiction was still not being taken seriously. Even as the decade was starting to close with the idea of man landing on the moon coming into fruition. Then in 1968, one film changed everything. Not just for the genre but cinema itself as it came from the mind of novelist Arthur C. Clarke and one of cinema's finest auteurs in Stanley Kubrick. The film tells the story of life in outer space as astronauts explore a new world while finding themselves fighting the machines they built entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick with a script written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke based on the latter's novel. 2001: A Space Odyssey is about the future where people are exploring space and the world beyond it. During the explorations, things get strange with ideas of alien life while a computer starts to take control of a space ship. A film with complex themes and huge ideas, it was a film that broke a lot of ground in terms of visual effects, production design, and such as Stanley Kubrick took the science fiction genre to new heights. Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, and Leonard Rossiter. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a groundbreaking yet haunting film from Stanley Kubrick.

It's 2001 as a scientist named Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester) is traveling to a spaceship to investigate something mysterious on the moon. Upon his arrival to the space station, he calls his daughter (Vivian Kubrick) about her upcoming birthday while chatting up with a Russian scientist named Dr. Smyslov (Leonard Rossiter). Smyslov reveals to Floyd about the incident that Floyd is investigating as he wishes him luck. Floyd departs for the moon where he takes part on a press conference about this possible epidemic. He arrives along with several astronauts to discover the phenomenon that's on the moon where all of a sudden, something goes wrong.

18 months later around Jupiter, another mission involving the planet is underway led by two astronauts named Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood). They're joined by three scientists who are currently cryogenically sleeping and a super computer known as the HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Things seem to go well as the two astronauts and HAL watch a BBC interview. Then during a conversation with Dave, HAL discusses about the incident about the moon and its strangeness. Then HAL notices an error on a satellite where Dave checks it out. Nothing goes wrong at all as HAL is questioned whether he made a mistake when he's not supposed to. Frank and Dave begin to discuss about HAL's behavior as they decide whether to disconnect him.

When Frank decides to get the satellite working again, something goes wrong when HAL takes control of Frank's pod and something happens. Dave, back in the main ship goes into his pod to retrieve Frank but on his way back, HAL has managed to kill the three scientists who were cryogenically sleeping. Forgetting his space helmet, Dave tries to re-enter the ship to disconnect HAL after a conversation about what HAL overheard and read, through their lips, about the conversation between Dave and Frank. Dave decides to disconnect HAL where during this moment, a report from Dr. Floyd appears about the moon mission 18 months before and the Jupiter mission that's going on now that concerns a black monolith that's orbiting the planet. In a pod, Dave goes there to investigate where he suddenly travels into a place between space and time.

What makes a film like 2001 so compelling is the fact that director and co-screenwriter Stanley Kubrick decided to create a realistic portrait of outer space and such that doesn't pertain to what the genre expected. Instead, he reinvented the genre by creating something that demands more not just from a scientific level but also from a human perspective. With co-writer and novelist Arthur C. Clarke, the two men created a film that wants to ask questions rather than give answers about the idea of intelligent life beyond Earth and the planets surrounding them. What does it all mean? Well, neither Kubrick nor Clarke have any idea and has Clarke stated, if there was meaning to what the film had, he failed on what he set out to do.

The film's screenplay has a unique structure where it begins at the dawn of man, men in the form of gorillas and monkeys, performed by mimes, as they emphasize the evolution of man as they explore survival and at one moment, encounter the black monolith where afterwards, violence ensues. The film then segues into the future where it turns to the story of Dr. Floyd and his investigation of the second monolith in the moon. The film's structure of the script is definitely mesmerizing consider that there's not much dialogue but also, a lack of a plot. Instead, it's a story that unfolds on the events that happens concerning the monolith and the errors that HAL has made. HAL isn't exactly a villain but a machine with human emotions that is trying to grasp on the concept of errors as he becomes much colder as the film develops. The script is really just a blueprint of what Kubrick needed in order to tell the story.

Then there's Kubrick's direction and if the ambitions he had made in his previous film Dr. Strangelove were big. There were nothing to how he envisioned 2001 where he created a film that is truly sprawling and epic in its imagery, compositions, and imagination. From the look of the space stations, ships, moon bases, and such. Kubrick created a look that definitely seems realistic but also futuristic as if the idea of what the future could be. Even the camera movements that Kubrick has created and presented is unique from the way stewardesses and such are walking on gravity shoes to from one floor to another upside down. To even the movement of the spaceship that Dave and Frank are where it's all rounded and such.

The way Kubrick used the camera is unlike anything before in cinema where he uses all of the tricks to not create something gimmicky but rather astonish the audience in every image they seen. A lot of the images Kubrick has created is due to the film's special effects that he created with the help of Douglas Trumbull, who helped create some of the visual images of the moon, the movements of the spaceships, and the famous traveling scene of Dave through space and time with all of these flourishing, colorful images. Then there's last image of the film itself is definitely one of the film's greatest images as it represents the idea of evolution. One of the themes Kubrick seems to be exploring from the first scene of the man-monkeys to the world of space. What Kubrick creates is purely phenomenal as he raised the bar for not just science fiction but also cinema itself.

Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth does a superb job with the film's interior lighting from the bright white lights of the film's early scenes in the space station to the red lights for the film's Jupiter mission scenes. Though the film throughout was shot on a soundstage, the exterior sets creates are wonderful with the lights for the dawn of man scene to the moon scene where the lights convey a sense of suspense. Editor Ray Lovejoy does a superb job with the film's cutting with stylized uses of transitions, jump-cuts, freeze-frames, and such while most of the time, it's all done traditionally yet smoothly as the film's 140-minute running time doesn't feel slow or languid. Instead, Lovejoy's approach to the pacing is unique while the famous space-speed travel works to the use of coloring with help from Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull.

Production designers Ernest Archer, Harry Lange, and Anthony Masters along with set decorator Robert Cartwright and art director John Hoesli all do a superb job in creating the look of the interiors for the space stations and ships that are made to create a futuristic look. Even in the design of some of the film's circular sets that are truly phenomenal in how they're created and how the camera moves without them going upside down and such. The film's costumes, Hardy Aimes created the film's clothes that looks contemporary but also futuristic from the look of the stewardesses clothing to the spacesuits worn. Sound editor Winston Ryder along with mixer H.L. Bird and supervisor A.W. Watkins do an amazing job with the layering of sounds and noises that goes on while some scenes have no sound. The work that Ryder, Bird, and Watkins create is absolutely phenomenal in creating an atmosphere and suspense to the scenes that are on display.

The soundtrack is truly amazing and sprawling with Kubrick's choice of music that is truly unique. From Richard Strauss' classic Also Sprach Zarathustra in some of the film's big, climatic moments to The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss for some of the film's interior space sequences as well as the background music for the final credits. Other musical pieces such as Aram Khachaturyan's Gayane, Ballet Style is wonderful but the film's main score pieces come from Gyorgy Ligeti that are truly haunting and mesmerizing to convey the sense of horror and wonderment that goes on throughout the film. The soundtrack overall is truly one of cinema's most memorable soundtracks that are often used in other tributes to the film.

The cast, assembled by James Liggat, are excellent as they all manage to give straightforward performances while no one really stood out in the film. Small but memorable performances from Sean Sullivan and Robert Beatty as two of Dr. Floyd's fellow associates, Alan Gifford and Ann Gillis as Frank's parents, Margaret Tyzack as a colleague of Dr. Smyslov, and Kubrick's own daughter Vivian as Dr. Floyd's daughter. Douglas Rain does a superb job with the voice of HAL as he brings a cold yet robotic-like tone that is definitely memorable.

Leonard Rossiter is excellent as Dr. Smyslov, a Russian scientist who warns Floyd about the strange phenomenons that goes on in the moon. William Sylvester is also excellent as Dr. Floyd, the scientist who goes to the moon to investigate the monolith in the film's first half while his only appearance in the film's second half is very startling. Gary Lockwood is good as Frank Poole, the astronaut who is trying to figure out the error HAL had made. Yet, Keir Dullea is the actor that really stands out as Dave Bowman, the astronaut who sees all that is happening with HAL's involvement as he goes into new regions into outer space.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a sprawling yet astonishing film from Stanley Kubrick and company. With great suspense, an amazing soundtrack, and spectacular visual effects and set designs, it's easily one of the greatest movies ever made. Those looking for a starting place in both the science fiction genre and Stanley Kubrick will use this film as a great place to start. In the end, for a film that has no idea on what it's about, except for its dazzling visuals, great music, and Stanley Kubrick's amazing direction, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the film to go see.

(C) thevoid99 2012


Anonymous said...

What a film man! I was so freakin' stunned right from the start to finish. Does the story make perfect sense to me? Not totally, but this direction is just amazing and shows that Kubrick should and will always be considered one of the best of all-time. Good review my mans.

Anonymous said...

I saw this when I was a young child, and I remember virtually nothing about the plot or characters. I do remember the feeling that stuck with me afterwards. I don't know how to describe it -- unsettling, maybe. I definitely want to watch it again soon.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-It doesn't need to make any sense other than just show great visuals. It's a true work of art man.

@Stephanie-It's a film where it's about images rather than plot or characters. Only someone like Kubrick can do this.

Chris said...

2001: A Space Odyssey has remained in my top 10 since I saw it as a teenager. Probably the best ending of any film, ever, to me at least, I agree it raises the bar for filmmaking.
Something that is sometimes overlooked is how rewatchable 2001 is, I can revisit it every 5 years or so.
Here's hoping it gets a re-release in cinemas for the 50th anniversary, in , what, 6 years time?
My review actually has more hits than any other I've written, so the interest is still there ( :

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-It was on TV a few days ago and I decided to have it on while I was cleaning the house. Yet, it was hard for me to look away there's so many gorgeous images in that film.

It's a game-changer and I just got the 2-disc DVD set for free at the recent Barnes & Nobles DVD sale.

s. said...

Great review! Really love the movie and I agree it changed the genre - science fiction finally got some respect after that. I really hope it will be re-released in cinemas, I would love to see it on the big screen.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-Thank you. I agree that it needs a theatrical re-release. In fact, why don't they have it be played every once in a while every year? They do it with The Sound of Music for outdoor screenings, why not this film?

Diana said...

Embarrassing confession: I haven't seen it, but I've planning to for months. I know it's a classic and your review made me want to see it now...too bad I don't have a copy at home!

thevoid99 said...

@Diana-If you have a HD TV, see it on HD. It's worth watching though not an easy film to watch at first.

David said...

I'm glad you dedicated so many words to this great film,Steven.This film just becomes greater and greater each time you watch it,I've never seen any film achieve such high level in both form and substance.

thevoid99 said...

It was on TV last week and I knew I had to re-release my old review with some trimming to just focus on the film. I think I'll discuss it more for my Favorite Film series for next year. If I have the urge to do it.

Alex Withrow said...

Fantastic review of, yes, one of the very finest films ever made. I've been completely taken with this movie since I first saw it. It never fails to astound.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-Thank you. How can anyone not be in awe of this film?

Chip Lary said...

I read the novel long before I ever saw the movie. When I did see it I was left with the belief that no one can really understand everything that is happening on screen without having read the book first.

For me, the most groundbreaking thing about the film was Clarke's insistence that the science and scenes in space be presented correctly. That's why we get the memorable score during those scenes - because sound effects in space cannot happen, but Kubrick needed to fill the scenes with some noise in the background. Voila, one of the most memorable sequences in the film came into being.

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-I think a lot of credit should go to Clarke since he did collaborate with Kubrick on how science fiction should be presented. Thank goodness Kubrick had the vision to think of all of that.