Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack & Robert Beatty
There’s a reason why I haven’t reviewed too many classics on this site. Giving your honest opinion on a film that’s been acclaimed and celebrated for decades brings a certain level of anxiety with it. However, the ongoing Cinemark Classics series offers opportunities to catch these well-regarded films on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen. I had previously watched/reviewed 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for a first-year college film class and really didn’t care for it at the time (it’s worth noting that my cinematic taste was nowhere near as diverse and developed as it is today). As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic on the big screen and figured that I might like it more with a movie theater setting. While that’s true, I can’t deny that I still find faults in this movie. The pacing, writing, and final ten minutes underwhelm, but the sheer scope and beauty of the visuals on display make for an interesting (if one and done) viewing.
The film begins in the Stone Age as a group of man-apes struggle to retrieve their watering hole from an enemy tribe. The narrative then jumps millions of years into the future, where we have space planes and outposts on the moon. Dr. Heywood Floyd has been called out to investigate a mysterious object found in a lunar crater. Eighteen months later, five astronauts make a treacherous voyage to Jupiter…with a seemingly perfect computer companion, called the HAL 9000, on board. A big black monolith connects these three plotlines, though the storylines themselves don’t necessarily come to satisfying conclusions. At the very least, one can appreciate 2001’s epic scale and certain moments that feel like cinematic poetry.
First, I’ll speak of the positives. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY offers unintentionally cheesy camp value in the obviously 60’s vision of the distant future. We get goofy outfits, intergalactic flight attendants (complete with more goofy outfits), ground up food eaten through a straw, and gravity-enhanced space shoes. Director/co-writer Stanley Kubrick clearly had a distinct vision in mind when making this movie and he revels in every second of it…to a possibly annoying degree. While showing a spacecraft landing in a station, Kubrick lets the action play out in slow real-time. There are probably 20 minutes of this film that could have easily been cut out through some tight editing, but Kubrick wanted to wow us with the deep space intricacies of this technologically advanced future. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when paired with a fantastic soundtrack that fits the film perfectly, but it does get a tad tedious when watching a crew member press every button imaginable to operate a control panel.
As far as the three clumsily connected plotlines go, the man-ape segment opens things up with impressive effects work, grand music and an easy-to-follow narrative. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome. The same cannot be said for the second segment which is a lot of build-up to…absolutely nothing. I was interested in seeing where this storyline would go and it pretty much served as a second prologue to the most interesting plotline in the film: the mission to Jupiter! This third segment is the longest and could have made for a feature film all by itself. The slowly rising tension between the two main astronauts and the borderline malicious HAL 9000 is great entertainment.
Speaking of which, the HAL 9000 is possibly one of cinema’s most memorable villains and easily the best thing in 2001. He’s an unfeeling machine driven purely by logic and a desire to preserve his own existence at any cost. The cold voice of Douglas Rain perfectly matches up with this mechanical antagonist. As awesome as the conflict between the HAL 9000 and the crew is to watch, the conclusion to this story thread (and overall film) is a bit confusing for the sake of being confusing. The movie goes from having a coherent story to a ten-minute acid trip that ends in a giant question mark. I have no idea what Kubrick meant to accomplish by this and it certainly came across as mind-boggling…in a bad way. I’m sure that plenty of fans have their own interpretation for exactly what the hell happened, but it simply didn’t work for me and somewhat soiled the overall experience.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY comes recommended, if only so you can say that you’ve actually seen it. I love most of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but 2001 is far from his best work in my honest opinion. The film is a technical wonder in its visuals, effects, and scope. There are brilliant moments in this epic-length science-fiction tale, but they barely balance out the unfocused narrative and underwhelming pay-offs. Still, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is technically good and worth watching once, but I’d recommend A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET over it!