2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, I was about 11 or 12. I'd rented it and watched it in my living-room with the lights on while my family bustled in and out asking me what the hell I was watching. I have to admit that I was as baffled as they were. As the years passed and I grew older and wiser, I found myself eager to see it again, but preferably on a big screen. So when the BFI announced that as part of their brilliant sci-fi season, Days of Fear and Wonder, they were re-releasing 2001, I was keen to utilise the opportunity. The only trouble was, who was I going to go with?

I would have gone with a friend of mine, but he was too late in getting back to me, so I turned to my family. There was no way my dad was going to be free, my mum was never going to sit through it, and when I asked my brother (who likes sci-fi more than I do) he said, "No and never ask me that again. I've seen enough of that to know I never want to see any of it again, and so should you."

So I went by myself. And indeed it was, as the posters claimed, the ultimate trip. If you haven't seen 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen, you haven't seen it at all.

It would be pointless of me to review this properly. Pretty much everything's been said anyway. It's arguably an easier film to write an essay on than write a review of. But for those who don't know, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an epic in every sense of word, and in 141 minutes spans the Dawn of Man to the creation of another superintelligent species entirely. The main section of the 'story' concerns Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and supercomputer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) as they journey deep into space to investigate a strong radio emission aimed at Jupiter.

It seems almost pointless to say that this is one of the best films I've ever seen, but I really am struggling to find anything else to say about it. Kubrick's dazzling special effects (for which he won his only Oscar) still very much hold up today, and married with the extraordinary soundscape, make for a truly unforgettable cinematic experience. I'm not a religious person, but I find myself agreeing with Edgar Wright when he says that watching 2001 is the closest he has come to having a religious experience in the cinema. The planets hang majestically in the black void of space like gods observing the mission, of which there is certainly something divine. The idea that these monoliths have been placed by a higher power to chart our progress through time is incredibly thought-provoking.

It's also a funnier film than I remember; through HAL Kubrick is able to channel his wry sense of humour. HAL is surely one of the best characters is cinema history; his subtle condescension is hilarious, his blank red stare is petrifying, his rendition of 'Daisy Bell' is utterly heart-breaking. None of this would be possible without the wonderful voice work of Douglas Rain.

Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is stunning and Dullea is genuinely brilliant in his role, in which he single-handedly represents the entirety of humanity. The stargate sequence is as hypnotic as it is unsettling, and really makes the film. It is one of the most genuinely immersive films I have ever had the fortune of experiencing in a cinema.

This is the second time I've watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the first time I've really seen it.

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