2001 / A Space Odyssey: Attention, Please

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director – Stanley Kubrick

Writer – Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke

Starring – Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester

Rating – G

Genre – Adventure, Sci-Fi

Metascore – 82/100

Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, AMC re-released the film in theaters. Having never seen the film, I picked up a ticket and viewed it for the first time ever — on IMAX, no less. And after viewing such a significant film, I knew I had to write something. Here are my initial thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What I first noticed while viewing the film was its soundtrack. I can’t imagine how much ink has been spilled examining the use of tracks such as the inspiring “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and the harrowing “Requiem.” Also, the absence of dialogue and sound throughout significant portions of the film supplies the audience a contemplative environment. Granted, at times the sounds of the film were unbearable — like the screeching noise on the moon and the labored breathing on the Jupiter mission. I can understand how an audience member could easily walk out of this film halfway through.

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This film, however, rewards attention. And I think that’s what inspired later filmmakers to create audacious films such as Star Wars, Interstellar, and all sorts of epics in between. For instance, take Christopher Nolan. Memento, The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Dunkirk are best seen fully engaged and fully attentive, and they warrant multiple viewings. Nolan’s emphases on sound, time, space, intimacy, and practical effects must be appreciated in light of not only the contemporary slosh-fest of CGI but also the risk of accusations of mere mimicry. In fact, inspired by the very question asked of what HAL 9000 does, we might wonder: Does Nolan “reproduce” or does he “mimic” Kubrick? I say neither. Nolan does something no modern computer can do: He creates from inspiration.

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The theme I felt most heavily during my first viewing was the use of tools. It would seem Kubrick and Clarke saw tools as merely aggressive objects. At the “Dawn of Man,” the humanoid creatures utilize their first tools, animal bones, as means by which to kill and defend their territory. That same bone transforms on screen into a spacecraft as the film time travels to turn of the millennium. Just as the humanoid creatures used bones to fight encroaching enemies, in 1968 how could the parallels between the “Dawn of Man” and the Cold War not be seen? And eventually, the tools, becoming as close to human as possible, become actors of aggression. If there is a positive view of tools and their relationship to humankind, I didn’t see it.

2001: A Space Odyssey succeeded because it caused me to pay attention. And when I watch it again, I will still have to pay attention. Granted, the film can be tedious to watch (thank you, intermission) and it can be aggravatingly slow. Valid criticism can be levied against it: It’s pompous, self-aggrandizing, and elitist. But, in the course of cinematic history, it must be considered — and viewed at least once by every serious cinephile.

Author: Matt Welborn

499 Rating: 8 / 10