2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

This is a very hard review for me to write. I had to watch it in two nights, but not by choice.

Continuing my trend of watching Sci-Fi epics in 4K while blitzed on edibles, I had another bar of fudge loaded with THC and this one hit me a bit too hard. This may be a bit of a wake-up call for myself to ease up on the substances over the next while and focus more on actively maintaining my health and focus.

I will say, the time I spent watching the film was sublime. The high kicked in earlier than I expected, and really started ramping up during the overture. My eyes had nothing to focus on except the outline of the completely black screen in front of me. It felt like my entire vision was shaking and swirling with the strings, almost as if I was hallucinating, being transported through time to the dawn of man. It was an intense experience to put it mildly, and set the tone for the next 40 minutes.

Over the rest of my viewing, I was encapsulated by the images on the screen in front of me. Everything was so crisp and clear it felt like it came out yesterday. The film was so sharp, the grain was practically non-existent. The endless string of Fibonacci frames lulled me into a stupor of admiration to the point where my ears just shut off and all sense of context and understanding faded away. I ogled the images while my mind wandered towards introspection. The visual representations of loneliness and solitude in space were not lost on me.

I don’t know what exactly happened that brought me to the conclusion of my viewing, but shortly before the Monolith is discovered on the moon, I got up to get a glass of water to soothe my dry throat. When I got back and sat down, for reasons not entirely related to the film but also not removed from it, I burst into tears for about 20 minutes and then turned off the TV and called it a night. I can definitively say I’ve never felt sadder in my entire life than I did at that moment. It took a lot of time for me to settle myself out, and I’m feeling better now, but I could still feel the residue weighing down my soul after getting out of bed the next morning, and it carried through the rest of the week.

I can’t believe 2001: A Space Odyssey wrecked me this fucking much. I feel like a goddamn mess.

The next day, I decided that I might as well finish what I started. I took the second half of the edible, and timed the resumption of the film as it kicked in.

I love this film to death. It’s one of the first of its scale and reputation I ever discovered back in early high-school. Kubrick was one of my core influences and entry points into cinema, and over time I had thought my appreciation had somewhat outgrown him, as my tastes are far different than what they were 10 years ago. It had been quite some time since I had last watched this film so I didn’t know what to expect upon revisiting, but its impact and magnificence is still as strong as ever, and seeing it broadcast in this 4K HDR is an otherworldly experience in itself on top of that of the substance of the film within.

The scenes with the pod outside the ship are fascinating and incredibly well shot. Or at least it feels that way the first time you see each shot… But then that whole sequence that kicks off the second half of the film where the dude gets thrown out into space just bores me to death. (As a side note, for some reason I always think it’s the other guy that survives. I’ve seen this film many times but for some reason I’m expecting Dave to fly out into the void each time). They reuse the same shots OVER and OVER and OVER all within a 15 minute time frame that feels like a whole movie runtime in itself. Not to mention the fact that it’s practically silent still shots being cut back and forth, there is absolutely no tension or excitement. It’s hands down one of the most boring “action sequences” I have ever seen. That is, until…

Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.

Now, HAL might be one of my favorite antagonists in film. He’s certainly my favorite in the Kubrick Canon (except maybe Gunnery Sgt Hartman). He’s fascinating to me because of how unclear his motives are (at least in my eyes). I’m sure there are many theories out there that try to pin down his thinking, as is the custom with any Kubrick feature, but rather than try to settle on an absolute, I prefer to revel in the ambiguity. I’m aware this question was answered in 1982 in the sequel novel, but I imagine Kubrick was operating on his own train of thought, and given his track record of skewing the source material to fit his own vision, I imagine he had something of his own in mind.

The scene where Dave shuts down HAL has to be one of the saddest scenes I have ever watched. I managed to keep the tear ducts dry for the majority of my second viewing, but this sequence opened the floodgates with force. Hearing HAL’s voice slur and distort as the memory cards are ejected is such a slow and painful process. I thought I would have been okay until HAL said “I’m afraid, Dave” as the cards slowly slid outward. What really made it happen was when HAL started singing Daisy Bell, and what makes it even worse is Dave’s response of “Yes, I’d like to hear it, HAL.” You can tell the mutual respect between the two of them. It is not a malicious action on either of their parts, but pure self-preservation. What an utterly, utterly heartbreaking scene.

This brings us to the pièce de résistance, the stargate sequence, which has got to be one of the most incredible cinematography feats of all time, no exaggeration. I felt as if I were transcending time and space, reaching enlightenment, and finding peace. The clarity seen in the 4K scan of this film is mind-boggling. It puts the birth of the universe sequences from Tree of Life to shame, because every single element was done practically and entirely in-camera. It took TWO HOURS to expose every single SECOND of film, and if you’ve seen this film you know it is a LONG sequence. You can read more in-depth about the creation of this sequence here, and watch this clip for a more concise visual explanation.

In conclusion, it’s good.

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