Writers Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Runtime 160 mins
Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey still stands as the archetypal science-fiction movie, marking the genre’s coming of age with a philosophical meditation on space, time and the nature of mankind. As part of the BFI’s ‘Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder’ event, a month-long celebration of all things science-fiction, Kubrick’s transcendental epic was re-released in cinemas around Britain.
Embedded within 161 minutes of stunning space-scapes, 2001 is structured in four acts which move from ‘The Dawn of Man’ to ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’. The film was co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke – the author of The Sentinel, a short story on which the movie was based.
The first act, titled ‘The Dawn of Man’ follows a tribe of ape-men who awaken to find a mysterious monolith and discover that bones can be used as weapons. Kubrick here succeeds in painting a pessimistic image of the birth of mankind out of primitive violence as an enemy ape is clubbed to death. A bone is tossed into the air and we divulge into the second act with an iconic match cut that jumps four million years to the image of an orbitting nuclear weapons platform.
Abroad a Pan-Am space plane, Dr Heywood R. Floyd is served by a swanky stewardess as Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’ perfectly mimics the weightlessness of the plane’s zero gravity. During the stop-over at a space station, the doctor encounters a group of Soviets who question him about strange occurrences on Clavius which he says he isn’t “at liberty to discuss”. Upon journeying to Clavius he briefs a team on their investigation of an unknown object buried on the planet, later seen to be the monolith.
The most chilling act is the third, wherein we watch the crew aboard Jupiter-bound spacecraft Discovery One battle against their sentient computer, HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain), whose disembodied voice is both menacing and petulant. Most of the crew members are cryogenically frozen inside large tomblike pods, appearing almost mummified. Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), the two men kept awake, become increasingly aware of HAL’s malfunctioning, which is suggested to be the machine’s superior intellect abandoning the fallibility of its human controllers.
The film’s crisp colour palette of clinical whites, greys and black for the spacecraft interiors jars perfectly against the vivid red worn by David Bowman. Red begins to dominate the screen as man combats machine and Bowman journeys deeper into the crafts core to deactivate HAL. There is something reminiscent of his use of red within his other films such as The Shining or Eyes Wide Shut that hints at a sense of hidden, lurking danger. The ending is bold and bizarre as David Bowman travels through a vortex of psychedelic flashing colour and arrives in a time loophole where he catches glimpses of himself at various different ages.
2001 is a testament to Kubrick’s attention to detail. The sets were constructed with the aid of NASA spacecraft consultants and the stunning visual effects earned the film an Academy Award. This exacting approach was previously unseen in the science fiction of the 1960s, where effects and costumes were more pitifully amusing than awe-inspiring.
A masterpiece for its era, the film also stands up against the high production values and CGI of modern blockbusters such as Interstellar. There is no doubt that 2001: A Space Odyssey will continue to dominate science fiction until another director, even more visionary, can topple it.