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45 Years On, Still Remarkably Original,
This review is from: 2001: A Space Odyssey  [DVD] (DVD)
On re-watching Stanley Kubrick's 1968 (pre-Apollo moon landing) futuristic masterpiece, one of the first questions it raised in my mind was what the current crop of (post-Star Wars) science-fiction film fans would make of it. I mean, what the hell is going on? A blank screen with classical music, a load of apes messing about and virtually no dialogue for 30 minutes! Of course, it is the film's very unconventionality (even by today's standards) and, (if you like) deeper spiritual significance, that sets it apart from subsequent 'run-of-the-mill' science-fiction adventure yarns. Even its (obviously) dated space-station sets ('futuristic' chairs, white walls, zero-gravity environment), for me at least, have a fond, nostalgic appeal to them - rather like that of the original Star Trek (which hit our small screens - remarkably - two years before Kubrick's film had people queuing round the block).
OK, on a simplistic level, at the centre of Kubrick's film (which was co-written with Arthur C Clarke and based on the latter's short story, The Sentinel) is (perhaps) the well-worn premise of aliens influencing the pattern of events in our solar system (earth, the moon , Jupiter) - via the communication device(?) of a black rectangular 4 million year old 'monolith'. But then again, the film can also be read as something much more philosophical, tracing the history and potential destiny of humanity itself, as well as touching on themes of technology and artificial intelligence (Kubrick was always notably reticent in helping to resolve any of the film's ambiguities).
For me, the effect of 2001 comes as close to 'mind-blowing' as anything in cinema (largely as a result of Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography and Kubrick's special effects design). And, OK, it's not exactly narrative dynamite throughout (part 2 notably drags slightly), but it still retains a great deal of innovation (both visually and conceptually), particularly in respect of part 1 (the apes) and part 4 (the 'cosmic regression' - whose high velocity sequence always reminds me of Dr Strangelove's B-52 traversing the polar ice, though apparently was shot in a combination of Scotland and Monument Valley). Then 'Dave' Bowman's (Keir Dullea, in probably the only notable - and it is brilliant - acting turn in the film) confrontation with the HAL 9000 computer (and the wonderful, dulcet tones of Douglas Rain) during part 3 provides the dramatic heart of Kubrick's film - for me, one of the great passages in cinema.
The other thing re-watching the film prompted for me, was a 'spot reassessment' of Kubrick as a film-maker. The man was, of course, one of the true geniuses of modern cinema - charting his way through the whole gamut of genres (not to mention controversies) - heist, sexual awakening, 'war crimes', nuclear holocaust, historical epic, dystopian treatise, costume drama, psychological horror, Vietnam - and hardly ever putting a foot wrong (well, OK there was Eyes Wide Shut, I guess). Not only that, but the man (in the main) eschewed Hollywood, and rarely cast megastars in his films. 2001 remains a great testament to the man's creative powers.