Retro Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Short Attention Span Review™

2001: A Space Odyssey

5.0

2001: A Space Odyssey PosterRegardless, if you're a fan of the genre, this is required viewing.  Maybe not for the sake of viewing it just to see it, but to realize what an influential piece of work it is. 2001: A Space Odyssey created ripples that are still being felt in Hollywood, even to this day.  A visual and aural masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey assaults both the eyes and the ears in addition to the mind.

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The text below the break is part of a DVD review originally published on August 16th, 2000.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I can’t remember the first time I watched 2001.  I would guess I saw it on TV when I was a teen, and I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate it, coming off the heels of being absolutely infatuated with Star Wars. I would also guess that the first version I saw was a pan-and-scan version taken from Kubrick’s matted original, thus cutting out even more of the image (see below).  That certainly didn’t help.  But I know as the years passed and my appreciation/knowledge for the genre increased, I learned to love this movie just as much as Star Wars, but for completely different reasons.  When writing for a movie site fifteen years ago I learned another appreciation for the film when the DVD was first released.  Finally everyone had access to a high quality, widescreen version of this masterpiece.

Last year when Interstellar was released I was once again reminded of how influential 2001 has been.  Almost 50 years later it’s influencing the current generation of filmmakers.

My wife still hates it.

Stanley Kubrick had the quirky habit of filming his movies in full screen format (1.33:1 aspect ratio) and then producing a matte version for the big screen by blocking out the top and bottom of the image to an aspect ratio he wanted.  This is opposite of what most people are accustomed to when they think of a “pan-and-scan” version of a film.  He did this for all of his movies including 2001, which has a huge aspect ratio, and The Shining, which only has an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.  The aspect ratio of 2001: A Space Odyssey is 2.20:1.  Not the highest aspect ratio, but certainly on the high end.  What does this mean?  It means that Kubrick chopped out a hell of a lot of movie when he matted it from the original source.  He believed that some of his films looked best with an open matte and some didn’t (2001).  Being able to watch an open matte version of 2001 would be interesting, as it would restore nearly 40% of the images cut out during the matte process to 2.20:1.  But this method works to perfection in 2001.  Kubrick’s method of matting and releasing different aspect ratios has been a hotly debate topic since the movies started coming out on VCR and DVD formats.  Kubrick obviously knew what he was doing.  I would only like to see the open matte version out of curiosity.

Anyway, on to the movie itself.

This is a biggie ladies and gentlemen.  In my Top 10 Sci-Fi feature I chose 2001: A Space Odyssey as an era-dividing point in science fiction cinema history.  With its release, it introduced not only realism, but a great deal of much needed credibility to a genre that was saturated with bad scripts, bad acting, and bad special effects.  It was the first movie that showed the potential of a newly matured science fiction genre.  Forbidden Planet came very close in 1956.

2001 is not for the person who doesn’t want to think during a viewing.  It introduces concepts and ideas that literally make the brain ache with overwrought analysis, but at the same time it presents a visual and aural feast that really hasn’t been effectively re-created to this very day.

2001: A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey is a countdown to tomorrow, a road trip to human destiny, a quest for the infinite, a compelling drama of man vs. machine, and a stunning meld of music and motion.  To begin out voyage into the future we visit prehistoric ape-ancestry past, then leap millennia into colonized space, and ultimately get whisked into uncharted realms of space, perhaps to the edge of immortality.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Director:  Stanley Kubrick
Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain, William Sylvester
Genre:  Science Fiction
Media:  Film, 142 minutes
Rating: G
Budget: $11 million, est
Box Office: $120 million, worldwide, est
Year: April 3, 1968
5 out of 5 stars

In my opinion this is Stanley Kubrick’s crowning achievement in film making (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a sci-fi nerd).  Forget Full Metal Jacket et al., this is what movie making is all about.  There are barely 40 minutes of dialogue in the 142 minutes.  Now, to the addled masses, this will undoubtedly present itself as a challenging view.  But, for those of us who also enjoy films that leave much to the imagination, this is an intellectual and artistic feast.  So how did Kubrick pull this off with so little dialogue?  Through masterful storytelling, in collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke, using the basics of stunning visuals coupled with the perfect choice in music.  The special effects are dazzling and are comparable to effects in a movie that came 9 years later . . . Star Wars.  The sophisticated viewer will be so entranced by the artistry, that they will not even notice the lack of dialogue.  The down side to this is that the average viewer who isn’t into anything other than mainstream offerings will probably scream their head off in boredom and tear their hair out at the roots!  2001:  A Space Odyssey is a polarizing film.

So what’s the movie about you ask?  That’s a tough one, and can only be interpreted by the viewer, but at it’s core it’s a story about humanity being uplifted from its proto-human cradle by mysterious obelisk sentinels placed in our Solar System by aliens.  There are so many themes running throughout that it’s really hard to pin down the main point of the story.  The film begins with early man (nearly apes) learning how to use tools.  When a mysterious obelisk appears the proto-humans learn the fine art of murder, which has been practiced with great efficiency for countless thousands of years.  It ends with humanity journeying to Jupiter to investigate a strange alien transmission.  The movie shows the dehumanization of mankind as he evolves from ape to man and ultimately being controlled by the machines that he invents.  That flawed machine, HAL9000, being almost more human than the human characters in the story.  In the end the main character, Bowman, transcends humanity itself and is transformed into the star child, thus completing humanity’s uplift at the hands of aliens.

The aforementioned obelisks are placed at strategic points in the Solar System (Earth, moon, Jupiter) so they will be discovered as humanity expands and explores.  Our technological growth drives us towards the mystery of an alien presence. The true meaning of the obelisks are never explained, and are left to the musings of the viewer.  Aliens seeding the galaxy with mechanisms to detect (and/or control) the emergence of life is not a new idea, but in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey it is handled with grace and intellect . . . in stark contrast to other works of shoddy fiction like Supernova.

Some people absolutely hate this movie and think of it as boring drivel (my wife).  I still get confused when watching this one near the end, and the day I don’t get confused, or wonder what the hell is going on, is the day I’ll probably stop liking 2001.  Regardless, if you’re a fan of the genre, this is required viewing.  Maybe not for the sake of viewing it just to see it, but to realize what an influential piece of work it is.  2001: A Space Odyssey created ripples that are still being felt in Hollywood, even to this day.  A visual and aural masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey assaults both the eyes and the ears in addition to the mind.

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Neal is a writer and recovering engineer who likes pizza, the insidious power of sarcasm (and pizza), and debating science fiction (and pizza). You can also find his writing on Omni, Geeks, and other media platforms.