Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 3: 2001: A Space Odyssey

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Science Fiction, 141 minutes
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood

Stanley Kubrick certainly didn't restrict himself to one particular genre. In one of his most ambitious films, he took us into space. Up until that point, science fiction was often thought of as amusing and many early movies were laughably bad. Kubrick changed that perception at a stroke with the release of 2001.

The film isn't easy to watch. The opening sequence attempts to show how humans descended from apes and learned how to use tools and weapons. Special effects in 1968 were not advanced and so Kubrick simply dressed actors in ape costumes. This long sequence is told without the use of dialogue and will alienate a lot of viewers.

After one of my favorite cuts in movie history, in which a spinning bone transitions into an orbiting spaceship, we are taken into space. The story involves the discovery of monoliths. The apes find the first one and learn how to use tools. The second is buried on the moon and the third orbits Jupiter. Each monolith marks an advancement in the human race and alerts an alien race to our progress.

Kubrick got a lot of things right, portraying weightlessness and the lack of sound in space. He used classical music throughout the story and saw spaceships docking as a kind of dance. One of his most complex characters was a machine.

This isn't a film I would recommend to everyone. It's suitable for those who like to reflect on what they have just seen. It stands up to repeat viewings and analysis and sparks the imagination, but some viewers will give up very early. The first three minutes appears to be a black screen with background music (it's more than that). The evolution of the apes consists of a lot of shouting and jumping around. It took me several attempts before I fully understood Kubrick's vision and started to make sense of the story. I now regard it as one of the best science fiction movies ever made.

If you like 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, resembles 2001 in some ways. The use of models, the pacing, and the presence of an artificial intelligence all remind me of the feel Kubrick's film achieved. If you are a fan of classic science fiction, Jones has made a good film in which Sam Rockwell gives one of his best performances.

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