TRIP SLAYMAKER ’18
If there were one thing about 2001: A Space Odyssey that stood apart from the sheer, staggering masterpiece of the film’s every other aspect, it would be easier to write a comprehensive review. It baffled audiences when it was released in 1968; cinemas were plagued by walkouts. Many had come expecting something more in line with the pulpy blaster-rifle space films of the earlier sixties. What they saw was no less than a philosophical treatise, not intended to entertain the viewer, but to inspire awe. The film places us, for a moment, in the context of our species, on a journey that will lead to life among the stars.
The bulk of what can be called a story in this film is adapted from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name. Part of the reason 2001 exists in such a gigantic context is because it spans an incomprehensible stretch of time. Its legendary opening scene takes place at the dawn of humanity. A group of apes lives in fear of infringing animals, far from the top of the food-chain. Suddenly, to the the opening thrum of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, the apes become frenzied by the sudden appearance of a featureless black monolith. They scream over its appearance. Soon they begin to touch it, prodding its surface in disbelief at the perfectly flat surfaces and straight lines. Because of the appearance of the monolith, a lone ape discovers that a large animal bone can be held in hand, and used as a tool, or as a weapon. In one of the film’s hundreds of perfect shots, a bone is cast spinning into the air, only to be immediately match-cut with a spacecraft, millions of years in the future.
So begins the space odyssey spoken of in the film’s title. From the dust of prehistory humans have developed even the ability to travel in space, even to the point that it is commonplace and luxurious for them. Kubrick’s choice to use only renowned classical music in tandem with these moments is effective, as it perfectly matches the images on screen without affecting their context.
Another of monoliths appears. Just as their ancient ancestors were, the human scientists and authorities are astounded by the mysterious object. A signal from the object points directly to Jupiter: Humanity is beckoned to a new level of its development by an unseen force. In one of the film’s best but least obvious decisions, no alien is ever shown. It is much more effective that these outside forces of destiny remain unexplained.
The two astronauts who were sent, unknowingly, to follow the directions of the monolith live out a quiet, space-bound life in the midst of their journey. These scenes, though long, are gorgeously shot in a the great wheel of the spacecraft’s quarters. Kubrick’s brilliant sequencing and cinematography constantly reminds the viewer that there is no up or down in space, and the resulting anti-gravity shots are entrancing and hallucinatory.
Douglas Trumble’s minutely detailed spacecraft models and the special effects that animate them are the finest of their kind. There is an unfortunate sacrifice made in the transition from these models to CGI effects in films about space. The models in 2001 lend them a sense of reality that cannot quite be achieved by any other means. In a kind of inlay storyline, the astronauts come to believe their ship’s computer, the HAL 9000, might be experiencing malfunctions. HAL is reputed to be as intelligent or more intelligent than a human. Amid the deliberately sparse and purely practical dialogue, HAL’s lines seem vibrant with life. This is a promethean story about a failed creation of human overconfidence, and a blurring in the division between living and inanimate.
Keir Dullea’s character Dr. David Bowman arrives at the end of his journey only to be propelled suddenly through a wormhole of sorts. Intense, psychedelic images flash across the screen as incalculable distance is crossed in an instant. The final fifteen minutes of the film are free of dialogue, though they are what elevates 2001 to the height of its existential wandering.
Those who stayed to the enigmatic final shot in 1968 must have congratulated themselves and each other on having the good sense not to get up and leave. They knew they had seen a classic film that would inspire endless interpretations and theories, and that would be thought of as the pinnacle of the science-fiction genre. In 70mm, the richness and original depth of every shot is expressed to its fullest potential.
2001: A Space Odyssey plays at Cinestudio from Sunday Dec. 3 to Saturday Dec. 9 in 70mm.