2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

At 160 minutes, the methodically-paced 2001: A Space Odyssey is Stanley Kubrick's crowning epic. One of the greatest science fiction films in history, it probes the very nature of human existence and evolution, while featuring visual splendor in virtually every frame. The sheer audacity of this film is astounding, and Kubrick succeeds in crafting a movie that was decades ahead of its time and quite possibly our own. After holding off on watching this until I got the chance to see it on the big screen, I'm glad to say it paid off. This movie is extremely beautiful in a theater, with Kubrick's leisurely-paced tracking shots, pieces of enchanting classical music, and special effects that look extremely realistic.

The film begins with the mesmerizing "Dawn of Man" sequence that tells of one of the most important leaps in human evolution. Audaciously, the movie has no dialogue for the first 25 minutes, instead focusing on the primitive revelations and violence of our forerunners. The discovery of the iconic black monolith is mesmerizing, and Kubrick makes the wise decision never to reveal its true makeup or origin during this appearance or its other ones during the film. With the opening scenes, Kubrick's sheer ambition is apparent. What's most impressive is the parallels he draws between the chattering apes in this sequence and the humans later trying to find the answer to the question of our own existence. And with a simple but deservedly famous match cut, Kubrick inextricably links the first tool of violence with a nuclear weapons satellite in orbiting the Earth.

From there, the audience is guided through Clarke and Kubrick's vision of the future--clinical, commercialized, empty. The coldness and isolation in space is portrayed extremely well here, and they never skim on the minutia of space travel, artificial intelligence, or other technology. The attention to detail is impressive, and the result is some of the most realistic-looking spacecraft I've ever seen in a movie. On the bleak lunar surface, the discovery of another strange monolith signals that humanity is ready for the next jump in evolution. However, the film is not nearly as cut-and-dry as it sounds. Instead, it revels in the unanswered questions of life and space.

While Kubrick's technical genius keeps you entranced for the first two parts of the film, the meatiest part of the narrative is undoubtedly the mission to Jupiter. Accompanied by the advanced supercomputer, HAL-9,000, two astronauts (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) journey with their hibernating crew on an odyssey that they hardly know the extent of. This is the most traditional, narrative-driven part of the film, and it's here that Kubrick gets to indulge in a tense and creepy story of artificial intelligence. HAL-9,000 is undoubtedly one of film's greatest villains, simultaneously scary and sad. In many ways, he exhibits more humanity than any of the other characters. His story is also essential to the tale of human evolution.

The film delights in ambiguity and mystery, all the while holding the audience's attention. Despite the long running time and slow pace, this is a highly-watchable movie that's entertaining in its beauty and scope, while leaving you with a heap of questions to untangle after you go home. Kubrick is my favorite director, and after watching this, I think it's quite possible that 2001 is the purest example of his genius--his technical mastery, style, originality, and ambition is on full display here. After throwing out the score which he didn't care for, Kubrick decided to use notable, pre-recorded classical music. Pieces like "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and the Blue Danube Waltz are iconic for a reason, when paired up with Kubrick's stunning imagery. Their beauty only adds to the majesty of this epic, which sits with you after it's over, and leaves you wanting to experience it again.

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