Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is still one of the most vivid cinematic experiences available. The film industry has moved on technologically since its release but 2001 remains an astonishingly life-like pocket universe.
The film’s achievements are totally down to Kubrick’s unique brush strokes. They are all over this work which provides a window into an alternate timeline. That history may or may not echo that of our own.
2001 has that strange but effective Kubrickian rhythm. Its timing is strange and off-beat, just like the chorus of beeps and clicks heard on-board the space station.
There is actually a beat before the MGM logo has even flashed up. It is a totally black screen with foreboding music building out of the darkness. It makes the audience feel that some unstoppable force is coming from the abyss. It prepares you for the exploration of that exact idea later.
The soundtrack is of course iconic. However, you do not fully appreciate those famous pieces of music until you witness them in use alongside the cosmic events of this movie.
Those gigantic orchestral crashes have an uncanny quality. They somehow describe, in the language of musical notes, an actual image or feeling. It is hard to think of them being used in any other context, they were meant to describe the moment that passes as the camera swoops upward, capturing the majesty of the solar system.
The soundtrack almost has an agency at times. There are scenes where it feels like the music is flying towards you; it has a scale to it, a hurricane-like breeze. The sensation is reminiscent of the spirit of evil from ‘The Evil Dead’ series. This contributes to that Lovecraftian fear of an omnipotent force coming from outside the cosmos, ‘beyond the infinite’.
The music would not be nearly as affective without the mind blowing visuals to go with it. David Lynch once said that films can be used to say something abstract, like a dream. That is certainly at play here.
The un-reality of the visuals make it oddly more believeable and immersive. The scenes during the dawn of man look like a set. That is all the more impactful though because it drives home the idea that all the world’s a stage and we are witnessing the grand play of life.
The space stations have an enormous scale to them but their interiors are very minimalistic. This really adds to the illusion. Sci-fi films in 2018 would have glowing orbs and teleportation pods everywhere.
Characters walk through masterfully arranged sets. The camera captures them as they walk through a hallway and drifts up to the window of the room they have just walked into. We are an observer, watching them through the glass.
The environment is full of meaning. The colour red is a recurring motif. A red filter often lights up rooms on-board the ship and can be found on anything that should be used with caution. This signifies danger and that man’s love of tools has gone to the extreme.
In contrast, a blue filter can be seen over the peacefully sleeping cavemen. Before they discover the use of tools, after which point the killing begins.
The story echoes that of the Garden of Eden and Original Sin. Early man’s worship of the pillar that invades their world is presented as a sin. It is a violation of natural law, they learn to worship objects instead of the ground beneath their feet and the sun over their heads.
Interestingly, a shot from the base of the column presents an angle where it is mostly blocking out the sun. Thousands of years later, this desire for man-made things leads to the colonisation of space and the creation of artificial intelligence. This proves to be humanity’s undoing.
The A.I known as Hal, voiced by the fantastic Douglas Rain, becomes murderous. Even worse, the hubris of man results in Dave being lost, adrift in the farthest reaches of space and time. He is exposed to forces beyond his understanding that are best left alone.
The meaning of the surreal final scene is ambiguous but the film’s ending leaves you satisfied nonetheless. When the credits roll you feel that you have witnessed something truely extraordinary and that is what cinema is all about.
I have tried to find at least one criticism in the interest of balance but there is nothing negative to say. They don’t make them like this anymore!