2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

Director Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke based on the novel by Clarke
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice)

“My God. It’s full of stars…”


One of the most famous lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t in the movie. Of course, this is something only weird uncles would know before the sequel of the original classic was released in 1984. In that film it’s said so frequently, it seems like the only line of dialogue I remembered going into tonight when I watched the 70mm IMAX release of Kubrick’s film, commemorating its 50th Anniversary.

I have seen the film a couple of times before with emotions that ranged from boredom with its silence to frustration when the soundtrack reaches the upper register of my hearing capacity. This was on a series of small screens, with no real sound system to speak of, though.

There seems little point in denying the film’s impact on the world. Even the Vatican regards it as one of the top films ever made. Ebert considered it the 2nd best film of 1968 (behind Battle of Algiers, which was technically released in 1966. Go figure.) Too many people swear by this film for it to be dismissed even partially.

For me, Kubrick has always been a little bit harder to sell, if for no other reasons than his fans treat all of his films like home runs, even when he hit a few singles. 2001…is definitely one of his better efforts. There is plenty of evidence of his complete obsession with the topic of the film. His development of the movie cooperates and corresponds with Clarke’s formation of the novel, which in turn is inspired by Clarke’s 1948 short story The Sentinel.

All this and more is common knowledge to too many people for me to want to reiterate it poorly here. Ultimately my goal is to express a fair critical evaluation of the material as it relates to the IMAX release.

In short, one should see it if they have the chance. The film is a definite visual masterpiece that is designed to be experienced with the overwhelming sensation of eternity’s beckon. At no point after the prelude does the film feel its age, aside from the fashions of the time presented by the flight attendants.

The opening, featuring many actors in decent but primitive ape suits, suffers a little. Most obvious being when the leopard drops (or appears to slide) onto what looks to be a stunt actor in an ape suit. There is little of the assured cat pouncing we’ve grown used to seeing in nature shows or even in our homes. There, the neck is almost always immediately secured. This time we can tell great lengths are taken to avoid that area. After the initial landing, there is an awkward struggle and the cat begins to slowly back off, until it’s spurred on by some signal. That interaction must have taken too many takes to count.

The concept of the opening more than makes up for its shortcomings. The music plays to a perfect crescendo with the climax of the point of the open. Then there’s the throwing of the weapon / tool that serves as the catalyst for mankind’s development. It’s as clear of a case of setting the president as I can remember seeing. It will dovetail perfectly with the end of the story.

The second act is pretty much the only place one can get a dash of exposition. There are some nice scenes here, and Kubrick really lays the groundwork for his treatment of space travel. He really shows that he understands the concepts throughout. The dialogue is wooden, for the most part. It’s necessary if we want people to have a chance at tolerating the subtleties inherent in the last act.

The best part of the film takes place with Dullea, Lockwood and Rain as Bowman, Poole and HAL. On their way to Jupiter, we see as good an example of economy of dialogue, action and story as we’ll ever experience.

That it is interrupted by the intermission that works if one considers what happens before and after. There is some beautiful imagery throughout these last two acts. The one potential flaw in Kubrick’s treatment of zero gravity occurs here in the form of a free-floating body that shows some odd resistance when it’s motion is interrupted. Given that they broke ground on so many levels, I really enjoy seeing them “mess up” here in a manner that would not be topped until nearly 45 years later with Gravity. Amazing stuff.

As indicated earlier, the last section of the film works perfectly as a counterbalance or evolution of the first act. There is some dynamic experiences occurring here for an elevated level of movie watching. Really, this film should not be viewed on any screen smaller than 70 inches.

My biggest complaint of the film is still with the sound. The choice to have silence for large chunks of the film is fine. The upper register during the urgent situations borders on atrocious, even with state of the art equipment.

Is this one of my favorite films? Not by a long shot. It’s Kubrick’s finest 142 minutes though, and it definitely needs to be experienced by everyone at least once. Just make sure the screen is large enough to encompass what’s great about it, and make sure your stereo dulls the piercingly high register.

This film will be in 350 IMAX theaters for only one week, starting August 24. If you were ever curious, take the time to see it now.

IMAX rating (****1/2 out of *****) any screen smaller than 70 inches (***1/2 out of *****)

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