2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's intellectual extravaganza

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2001: A Space Odyssey, Directed by Stanley Kubrick
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - By Stanley Kubrick
Our Rating: 10.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.4
Genre: Adventure | Sci-Fi
CastKeir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Country: USA | UK
Language: English
Runtime: 141 min |160 min (premiere cut)

2001: A Space Odyssey is the 1968 ground-breaking Sci-Fi film directed by master American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The movie’s screenplay, co-written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley himself, is loosely based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”. 2001: A Space Odyssey chronicles a series of strange encounters between the human race and mystical monoliths cut across two different timelines—the distant past and the not so distant future—that seem to interfere with the course of human evolution. During the course of the movie, in what is often described by his staunch critics as a tedious exercise in style, Kubrick most spectacularly demonstrates the use of cinematic space through long uncut shots of the celestial infinity. Kubrick's elaborate mise en scène enables him to devise a riveting framework that simultaneously serves the dual purpose of fascinating his viewers as well as stimulating their senses, thus setting the ball rolling for an intellectual odyssey, underlined by spiritual and existential overtones, across the uncharted avenues of space.

Hominids make contact with the Primary Monolith, ape-like hominids, rectangular black monolith on earth, 2001: A space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick
Hominids make contact with the Primary Monolith
Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One" (TMA-1), Humans make contact with the 4 million years old Monolith buried in Moon's crater, discovery on Clavius Base, 2001: A space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick
Humans make contact with the Monolith discovered on the Moon
2001: A Space Odyssey begins in the distant past wherein a tribe of herbivorous ape-like hominids, inhabiting an arid landscape, suddenly comes into contact with a tall, thin, rectangular black monolith, standing among the rocks. This episode marks the beginning of human evolution as the hominids gradually begin to gain the basic predatory knowledge and wisdom needed for survival. Subsequently, the story switches to the not so distant future wherein man has embarked on a journey into the outer space. Dr. Heywood R. Floyd is sent to the Clavius Base on the Moon, transiting via a space station orbiting Earth, to look into the strange occurrences and the rumors of an epidemic at the base. At Clavius, Floyd, while briefing the base personnel, apologizes for the epidemic cover story while emphasizing on the need for secrecy concerning their latest discovery: a tall, thin, black rectangular monolith identical to the one encountered by the hominids. Floyd and others travel to the site in order to examine the monolith. At the site, while examining the monolith, they hear a very loud radio frequency emanating from within the monolith.

Journey to Jupiter on the Spacecraft named Discovery, 18 months after the discovery of the Monolith on Moon, 2001: A space Odyssey, Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The journey to Jupiter
HAL - 9000 sentient supercomputer, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
HAL-9000 supercomputer
Eighteen months later, a team of scientists is sent on a special mission to Jupiter in order to trace the signal emitted by the monolith discovered on the Moon. The team consists of Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, and three other scientists who are in a state hibernation. The spacecraft’s major operations are controlled by the sentient supercomputer, HAL-9000, referred to by the crew members as “HAL”often conjectured to be a cheeky variation of IBM with just a one-letter shift. We learn that the 9000 series of computers are the latest result in machine intelligence. The HAL-9000 computer can mimic most of the activities of the human brain and with incalculably greater speed and reliability. We also learn that HAL not has the ability to mimic the cerebral capabilities of a human brain but also has an uncanny propensity to exhibit its emotional side. In fact, HAL seems to be oozing with an overwhelming sense of pride and superiority buoyed by its own peremptory nature, especially in matters concerning its reliability and infallibility.

The Star Child, witnessed by an aging Dr. Bowman, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Star Child
The Monolith that Dr. Bowman comes across on Jupiter along with his aging self, an old Dr. Bowman, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Dr. Bowman comes in contact with a Monolith on Jupiter
Behind its benevolent facade, HAL seems to carry a rather grim persona that inexplicably grows darker as the voyage progresses. It’s indeed a matter of great irony that amidst an array of largely indifferent human beings, HAL is by far the best embodiment of human traits and emotions. When HAL erroneously predicts a fault in a spacecraft unit, its finds it difficult to come to terms with its rare failure. Deeply disturbed by the evidence of his own fallibility, HAL undergoes an acute emotional crisis and starts to furtively interfere with the crew's quotidian operations, as both Dr. Bowman and Dr. Poole gradually grow suspicious of it. What ensues is a battle of wits, a sort of a showdown between Frankenstein and his diabolical creation, in this case the HAL-9000 supercomputer. While Dr. Poole falls prey to HAL’s skulduggery, Dr. Bowman manages to dismantle HAL’s processor modules, just in time. On reaching Jupiter, Bowman comes across another monolith in the orbit around the planet. As he approaches the monolith, he starts experiencing a chain of bizarre visions and strange phenomena including the sighting of the mysterious Star Child. The movie’s abrupt ending that eschews from delivering any concrete outcome can perhaps be looked upon as a deliberate attempt on Kubrick’s part to honor the endless uncertainties of the cosmos. Instead of spoon feeding the viewers, Kubrick’s sui generis works are rather inclined to present the viewers with some food for thought and 2001: A Space Odyssey is no different. The movie poses a plethora of questions, a majority of which remain unanswered, but this surely doesn’t prevent the movie from inciting our deepest emotions and reviving our darkest fears. And, like a quintessential Kubrick film, the end product is more than the sum of its parts.
The Space Station orbitting Earth, used as transit to Moon, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Earth Space Station
Landing on the Moon, probe the discovery of Monolith on Moon's Clavius Base, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
A Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey
The use of dialogue in 2001: A Space Odyssey is so sparse that one wouldn’t be remiss to look upon it as a silent film. However, it is the music that fills the void and uplifts it. As far as the film’s background music is concerned, Kubrick had initially asked his longtime collaborator Alex North to write an original score for the movie. But, during the filming, Kubrick got so impressed by the temporarily chosen track, which was a concoction of classical music gathered from various existing commercial sources, that he decided to stick with it. What attracted Kubrick’s attention was the fact the classical track immensely added to the movie’s overall non-verbal appeal. The models for movie’s space vehicles were designed with utmost care in order for them to appear realistic. Such was the level of meticulousness involved that Kubrick actually two hired NASA scientists—Fred Ordway as the science advisor and Harry Lange as the production designer—to lead the movie’s modeling team. Lange's 2-D sketches were transformed into actual models by Anthony Masters. 2001: A Space Odyssey played an instrumental role in reinventing the Sci-Fi genre in the world of cinema. The groundbreaking technological advancements—including the unprecedented use of Front projection, employed through the means of Retroreflectors and Mattes, in commercial cinema—used in the movie paved the way for a whole new type of cinema that began to rely heavily on special effects.

An ape-like hominid learn to use bone as a tool as well as a weapon, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Dawn of Man
The circular walk upside down at the Earth Space Station under zero gravity, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
A Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Overall, 2001: A Space Odyssey presents cinema at its most vivid yet simplistic best. It’s only fitting that over the years the movie, having deservedly attained apotheosis, has become synonymous with the word “classic”. Vintage Kubrick, the movie is nothing short of a sublime cinematic experience that to its credit gets better with each viewing. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert eloquently writes of Kubrick, “The genius is not in how much he does in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ but in how little. This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn't include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations.”  2001: A Space Odyssey encompasses several science fiction themes including robotics, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life. The movie is universally regarded as a cornerstone in Sci-Fi cinema along with Tarkovsky's Solyaris (1972)—the two movies together encompass the entire science fiction genre without leaving any avenue untrodden. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a must for anyone who understands and values intelligent and thought-provoking cinema. 

PS. For those on the lookout for some concrete answers to the questions posed by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I suggest watching 2010 (1984). However, please do keep in mind that 2010, despite being a worthy sequel to 2001, is ought to appear too direct to those who reveled in Kubrick's reticent style of filmmaking in 2001.

Note: This post is a part of our Best of the Best Blogathon 

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  1. In the 1970's when I came of age, ther were two cinematic "acid trips" well worth taking with a chemical booster (wink, wink...nod, nod!). Those were 2001 & Fantasia.
    The plot is not as important as the visuals and music. These were supreme head trips, and it has been documented that Kubrick intended 2001 as such...a nod to the impending drug culture of the late 60's.
    And let's not forget the great voice work by Douglas Rains as HAL!
    I found your link at the LAMB, and I must say that I hope this essay/review wasn't as daunting as you thought it would be. Good job!!

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing the valuable information, Karl! Douglas Rains as HAL - 9000 was menacingly alluring. Btw, I assure you that it's one of my best researched reviews and that the entire task was no kid's play for me!!! :-)

  3. Each time sum1 reviews a kubrick movie i hope i wil publish the notes written in my diary :) i shall publish soon :) good review murtaza take a bow :) (original comment retrieved from fb)

  4. Thanks Mahesh! Btw, I too am quite eager to read it myself :-)

  5. Thanks Arun! It actually took me almost 3 full days to finalize it. The movie is ought to be an enigma, but if you are looking for any concrete answers then you can always watch 2010 (1984), which despite being a worthy enough sequel appears too direct to me. Btw, I am really glad that you found it useful!!! :-)

  6. This is a truly stunning film which, as you say, gets better with each viewing. I love the way that the film is in no hurry and Kubrick knows exactly what he wants. The way that Kubrick had the sets built and shot in such a simple yet stunningly effective way still echoes through film-making today. Great review.

  7. Undoubtedly... the movie is a landmark in cinema. No Sci-fi movie, perhaps with the likely exception of Tarkovsky's Solyaris, can come close to its brilliance. And yes, Kubrick was in absolute control throughout as is obvious from his choice to go for the pre-recorded classic music as the movie's score.

    Thanks a lot for sharing you valuable thoughts :-)

  8. Thanks for reminding me about this film...I really do need to see it again. I had watched it when I was a child. I had hated it at the time because it was not the usual bubblegum sci-fi that I was used.


  9. It's a movie that gets better with each viewing... a timeless masterpiece!!!

  10. One of the greatest movies ! I think this was the only movie where the book was released after the movie was made. The soundtrack is brilliant as well. Nice review, as this movie is a class of its own.

  11. Well, I couldn't have agreed more... it's a real benchmark not only in Sci-Fi genre but also in the whole of cinema. You must also check out Tarkovsky's Solyaris (1972), if you haven't already. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your valuable thoughts!!! :-)


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