Movie Review – “2001: A Space Odyssey”

The classic has been reviewed. There’s a spoilerish chunk in there in the “film vs. movie” rant, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you may not want to read that part. Also, shame on you! Go rent or buy it right now!

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman

Douglas Rain as the voice of the HAL 9000

Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole

William Sylvester as Dr. Haywood R. Floyd

Written by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

This DVD release includes subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, at the least, I assume. My DVD release has different cover art, and is listed as being out of stock. (It was in the original 7 DVD Stanley Kubrick set, before Eyes Wide Shut was available.) The edition I’ve linked to here is more recent, so I assume they haven’t removed any features, although they may have added some.

Premise

An alien race with sufficiently advanced technology takes an active role in the development in mankind.

High Point

“I realize I’ve made some poor decisions recently.”

Low Point

The musical sequences. Frankly, they’re just long.

Some Words About Films And Movies

I’m one of those people who believes there is a distinction between a film and a movie. Movies are the products designed to tell a story for pure entertainment. These are the products that our rating scheme works well for. Films are different. James Cameron makes good movies, but he makes lousy films. Films are the products that are driven by an artistic desire more than a monetary desire. They strive to force mankind to look upon itself, and evaluate itself. They use heavy symbolism, visual metaphor, and thematic elements. Entertainment is often a secondary goal in the creation of art. (Some films, particularly those by Bunuel, actually try to eliminate all entertainment value from cinema, and turn it into a purely artistic medium. I’ve seen Bunuel’s Week End; it’s still more entertaining than Excess Baggage was.) Films do not fit our rating scheme very well, partly because they often worry about the Production category to the exclusion of all else. They tend to deliberately break the complete cause and effect relationships that we see in movies, which hurts them in the story category. The acting is often drab, as the sets and dialogue are far more important to the filmmakers. Some films, such as Requiem For A Dream, still manage to be great movies, but others do not.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a film, not a movie. The pacing is slow, making it feel remarkably boring to people who are used to finding most of a product’s meaning at the surface. If you’re used to seeking out imagery and thematic meaning, you’ll find it packed with things to think about and churn over, making the slower pace quite comfortable, as it allows you to process what you’re seeing as you go along on a few different levels. (The musical pieces are still too long, though.) The life cycles of individuals and species are represented here, right down to the symbolic rebirth in the unusually long airlock. The set pieces are drab and dry, as is the idle bantering conversation people have with each other over drinks. The development of mankind has moved from the community structure of primitive man to cold, isolationist relationships in the future, involving very little physical contact between individuals. The scores this film is about to receive reflect its value as a movie, because that’s what the ratings were built around. With the exceptions of the production and overall categories, these results will be significantly less than its value as a film. Try to keep this in mind as you read on.

The Scores

The originality of the film is strong. I can’t think of any film older than this one that uses a narrative structure that delays introduction of the main characters for half the film. As lengthy as the musical interludes are, they are unique. I give it 5 out of 6, dampened only by being an adapted work (inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel.”)

The effects are excellent for the time. Even today, a full 36 years later, the only bits that aren’t convincing are some of the weightless scenes, and we’re still having trouble with those today. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story itself seems incomplete. I know this was deliberate, though. The ending, like much of Kubrick’s work, was left open to interpretation. The musical interludes are more disruptive than beneficial. The structure is interesting, as are the pieces we do see, but big chunks of the narrative are missing. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting is pretty bland, but that’s the way the characters are meant to be. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is poor from a purely entertainment perspective. I love thinking about the bits that Kubrick intentionally left out, and how they fit with the pieces and images that he so carefully put in here, but a person who reacts only to what is on the screen without further contemplation will likely be bored and confused. I give it 3 out of 6.

The production is excellent. Every set, costume, lighting position, cut, camera angle, and sound element was carefully crafted by Kubrick into a very particular result. If it weren’t for the musical interludes, this would have a perfect score in this category. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, this is one film that belongs in every serious collection. There’s so much here for a person to delve into that repeated viewings are always offering up something new. This is the holistic category, so I can just go with my gut and ignore the movie-bias of the rating system to give this film what it deserves. This is a 6 out of 6.

In total, 2001: A Space Odyssey receives 33 out of 42 when reviewed as a movie. It would probably score much closer to 40 if our scheme was built for films.

8 replies on “Movie Review – “2001: A Space Odyssey””

  1. y42 says:

    I like the interludes
    But I don’t like the LSD freak-out, and I had to go read the book to figure out
    what the hell had hapenned.

    Interresting point about the difference between a film and a movie BTW…but
    you
    just made that up huh? ;-)

    • fiziko says:

      Re: I like the interludes

      Interresting point about the difference between a film and
      a movie BTW…but
      you
      just made that up huh? ;-)

      I didn’t make it up, but I’m pretty sure one of my
      classmates did. It’s just the terminology that stuck with
      me. I’ve taken a couple of film studies courses, and
      neither used this distinction. (They tended to use “art
      film” and “Hollywood film,” but you can get artless movies
      outside of Hollywood, so I still like these terms.)

  2. rickyjames says:

    The Forgotten Aspect of CinemaScope
    I’ve seen 2001 more times than I could count, and both the insights of rebirth in the airlock as well as comparative distance between individuals in the ape vs. astronaut scenes were new ideas to me. Very insightful. Kubric as a filmmmaker (and not as a moviemaker) was beyond brilliant, as you note. In this context, the ending becomes even more symbolic – Bowman becomes the most isolated individual in all of history at the point of humanity’s maximum development as a species.

    I really really wish that Kubrick were around to do a film on the transformation of humanity via DNA manipulation rather than alien contact with godlike beings. The former is turning out to be far more likely than the latter, and rather than being the result of distant isolation imposed by space it will be the result of the most intimate tinkering possible in the core of our very bodies. As you note, a million monster movies have been done on this subject; it would be interesting to see one good film on it. GATTACA probably comes closest.

    I saw 2001 as a 12-year-old in CinemaScope upon its original release in 1968. As one of an increasingly smaller group who can make that claim, let me just say that a frequently overlooked consideration about 2001 is that if you haven’t seen it in CinemaScope, you just plain haven’t seen it. Kubrick shot it in CinemaScope and I assure you he paid as much attention to that aspect of the film as he did on all the rest. I remember seeing it again in rerelease in 1969 after the moon landings after Chattanooga’s CinemaScope theater had closed and being SO disappointed at the time because I saw it as a 35 mm print in a regular theater and it was NOTHING like I remembered the original showing as being a year before – it was so FLAT and SMALL.

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    CinemaScope was of course replaced by the Panavision system which is still in use today and is what is used to project modern 70mm showings of 2001. Let’s just say that a LOT gets lost in the conversion between these two formats. There’s some effort to revive / preserve a CinemaScope / Cinerama (same process – different studios, Cinemascope was Fox’s superior version) projection capability, but it’s unfortunately probably doomed by economics. Pity. Bottome line, if you ever hear of a showing of 2001 at one of these retro theaters, jump on the next airplane to go see it.

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    • rickyjames says:

      Re: The Forgotten Aspect of CinemaScope
      I’ve been thinking some more over breakfast about this and have a few specific examples to share. The most incredible shot in 2001 when viewed in CinemaScope was the centrifuge scene where Poole is in a robe eating and Bowman climbs down the ladder to join him.

      This is a “trick” shot in several ways. First of all, the audience knows it’s somehow REAL instead of just a special effect. In fact, at the beginning of this shot the actor playing Poole is suspended upside-down high in the air and stays in his place only because of hidden straps that keep him from falling and getting killed. The set is an actual rotating cylinder and at the beginning of the shot Bowman is actually climbing truly “down” a ladder; the camera angle makes it look “sideways”. As Bowman sets foot on the main part of the centrifuge and starts walking towards Poole, the set is physically rotated with his every step to bring Poole back down to ground level.

      Here’s where CinamaScope comes in. That is a WIDE angled shot of a CURVED surface. Kubrick specifically designed that shot to mimic the width and curvature of a CinemaScope screen. And let me tell you, it was literally breathtaking. You really thought as a member of the audience that you were a fly on the wall of that centrifuge and you were going to fall all the way down, 100 feet or so, right down on top of Bowman and Poole at their dining-room station. That illusion of depth was absolute and is never achieved with a 70mm Panavision showing. My mom actually got scared at that point because she’s afraid of heights, which is why I remember it so well. I’ve watched that scene with extra care at other projections; it never comes close to what it was like in CinemaScope.

      Any time you see a wide angle shot in 2001 – apes discovering the monolith, apes fighting at the water hole, astronauts at the TMA-1 pit, beauty shots of Discovery, inside the centrifuge, the EVAs, the monolith floating (long end left to right!) over Jupiter, stargate shots and especially those where they’re dipping up and down doing terrain following – all of those shots were specifically designed to be CinemaScope money shots. There were a lot of them. Kubrick, the master director, did all of them as they are for a reason and if he’d been using Panavision, he’d have done them in a whole different way.

      • Cerberus7 says:

        Re: The Forgotten Aspect of CinemaScope
        Holy crap, I had no idea! Thanks for educating me. Now, how the heck can I watch 2001 in its original format? Does the DVD present it in the original aspect, or is it cut down to the “official widescreen” aspect?

        • rickyjames says:

          Re: The Forgotten Aspect of CinemaScope
          Apparently Warner Home Video has released 2001 twice. The first version did not accommodate the original CinemaScope cut; the second version “Kubrick Collection” did. Get the second version. Pray that someday you get to see it on a Cinerama screen in all of its original splendor.

      • rickyjames says:

        A Few Additional Notes
        I’ve done a bit more digging on this and I see I’ve actually been somewhat inaccurate in what I’ve said. 2001 was actually shot in something called Super Panavision 70, which was MGM’s version of the Fox’s curved-screen CinemaScope technology which MGM developed after CinemaScope came out so they wouldn’t have to pay Fox royalties. Basically it’s the same thing only by a different company. Bottom line, Cinerama (the original projection process) refers to a 3-film-strip-projection-onto-curved-screen; CinemaScope / Super Panavision 70 both refers to effectively identical single-film-strip-on-Cinerama-curved-screen process. The curved screens were all abandoned in the late 1960s and flat Panavision came to rule the world because it was cheap. What we call 70mm Panavision today for flat screens is nothing like the Super Panavision 70 used in the 1960s. In the second link below, blow the JPG up to max size and notice that the poster has in the lower right “Cinerama”, not “Cinemascope” or “Super Panavision 70”. This indicated to the 1960s public they would go have to go to a special Cinerama theatre to see 2001, kind of like IMAX today.

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  3. eubie says:

    2001: A Space Odyssey on Cinerama

    I’m interested in others’ comments on this film. I’m fortunate in that
    I live in Bradford, location of the National Museum of Photography, Film
    and Television, which is also home to one of the few curved Cinerama
    screens left in the world. I’ve been to see 2001 three times on this
    screen and it is quite a fantastic experience.

    I would say that you have to make sure you get a seat in the centre
    of the auditorium because sitting at one side or the other does give you
    a slightly warped view – as I found out when I was late buying a ticket!

    I’m not sure I agree with the comment about the musical interludes
    being too long. In particular the Gayaneh ballet music conveys a sense of
    the isolation felt in space, particularly as it’s during this music you get
    the family singing ‘Happy Birthday’!

    Euan

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