The first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was about ten years ago on a computer screen across the room. Though I was intrigued, it was late and collectively, my husband and I slept through half the movie. Disappointing, I know. However, a few weeks ago, my brother gave me a wonderful birthday gift: the chance to see this great film the best way possible, in 70 mm IMAX. It was a beautiful, immersive experience that blew me away and made me truly appreciate this amazing science fiction classic.
Sometimes even after seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey people have trouble putting into words what exactly this film is about. It’s not the sort of film that focuses on a tangible story, but more of a medication of linking images that connect to show the human race advancing thanks to some help from mysterious beings across the universe. That’s how I interpret it anyway, but let me try to plot out a plot.
The film starts with ancient man still as primitive apes, in such detailed ape costumes that should make Planet of the Apes jealous. A mysterious black monolith appears, catches the ape men’s attention and I believe gives them an evolutionary push to begin using tools. A bone is tossed into the air and suddenly we see a space transport. It’s now 2001 and humans have invented space travel and evolved pretty much as far as they can with their tools. Then a second monolith is discovered buried on the moon. It’s connecting to a signal out around Jupiter. Then we’re on a mission to Jupiter, with a crew of five humans and one super computer, HAL 9000. Any real film fan knows HAL causes trouble and the crew’s lone survivor, Dave (Keir Dullea) travels beyond the infinite.
By the end of the film, we’re left more questions than answers. Who brought the monoliths to Earth and the moon? Why does it make such an ear-piercing noise? Does HAL want to prevent humans from reaching the next monolith? Where exactly did Dave go? What’s up with the space baby? I don’t know if there are any concrete answers, and that’s fine by me. I feel that this film is supposed to make us feel a bit uneasy, question our existence and what’s beyond everything we know.
What makes this film so amazing is the spectacular visuals. The Earth, moon and Sun align with the triumphantly iconic opening music. An ape smashes sun bleached bones that fly into a dazzling blue sky. The bone white spaceships move gracefully along a background of stars. We see huge, spinning space stations and spacecraft moving together in a mesmerizing cosmic ballet. Inside the spacecrafts, people move in precise, gravity defying ways that boggle the mind. HAL’s menacing red eye is ever-watching. Traveling beyond the infinite is a technicolor ride that I had me holding onto my seat in Indiana’s largest IMAX theater.
There’s never been such a beautiful blend of mystery, technology, triumph and wonder like 2001: A Space Odyssey and I doubt there ever could be again. The images Kubrick captured could never feel as authentic in today’s CGI film world and a film that contains so little dialogue would be hard for a 21st century audience to connect with. It’s hard to believe the only Oscar this film won was for best special effects (obviously). But much like Kubrick, this film was so ambitious it can be too much for some to appreciate. To each their own. It was such a pleasure to enjoy this film during its 50th anniversary run in IMAX; the large format is incredibly immersive and moving.
“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”
Awesome. I was able to see this in Imax this summer too, and I’m very glad I had the chance to do so.
Also, you have demonstrated the problem I have with people watching movies on computers or, far worse still, phone screens.
Ugh, I can’t stand seeing people watch movies on their phones!
I often think that ASO is a film one is meant to “experience” moreso than “understand” in the most literal sense. I get that it has some vague plot, but the combination of characters, music and stunning effects are meant to evoke a feeling rather than an emotional connection, if that makes sense. I have to admit, I’d love to see this in 70mm (the best I ever did was a small retro cinema in the city close by) and am thoroughly jealous of all who get to experience it in such a mammoth way!
You’re right, this film just needs to be experienced, bonus points if you claim to understand it. While IMAX is awesome, sometimes those small retro cinemas are the best and often you get real film fans out at those. In fact, I plan to go to my nearby retro cinema this weekend to see Psycho.
Just had to respond with an old hippie’s perspective…Back in 1968, attending graduate school, secondary to counterculture studies in Columbia SC, the word was passed that there would be a midnight showing of this new Kubrick sci-fi epic. It was playing at the largest theater in town, so at midnight a group of us walked in to find every freak in the county ready to witness the magic of 2001!
I recall the intermission with hundreds of hippies wandering around the theater–almost everyone I knew in town…I also recall my next door neighbor with a bag of treats, passing out purple microdots to the assembled crowd. Anyway, I was overwhelmed and immediately picked it as the Best film of 1968. The critics and the Academy were less generous, though within 5 years all were naming it as one of the 50 best films of all times…it still is! The end sequence with the telescoping of time and the arrival of the star child is still awe-inspiring. One additional comment…over the years, it has come to mind more frequently that of all the screen characters EVER…the voice of HAL always comes to mind. So, with no disrespect to Jack Albertson who won Best Supporting Actor for The Subject was Roses, I submit that the award should have gone to Douglas Rain for his haunting portrayal of the voice of HAL. Anyhoo, thanks for the review and bringing back some good long-ago memories…read the original book/screenplay by Clark & Kubrick for insightful comments about the various concepts in the book.
Sorry, the novel is by Arthur Clarke, based on the screenplay by Clarke & Kubrick.