2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968 UK/USA)

74376130John Lennon’s favourite film…or so I heard. The soon to be ex-Beatle used to pay complete strangers the price of their cinema ticket. He knew visual poetry up there on the silver screen when he saw it. Or did he?  I’m not sure whether this flick can be classified as British or American. Its budget was huge and the making of this took three painstaking years.

The money, plus the control freak director came from Uncle Sam. The production crew, technicians and location all came from England. Whatever. But this magnum opus is why Stanley Kubrick will be remembered and celebrated by film enthusiasts everywhere. You have to get into a certain, almost Zen-like frame of mind to be able to get into this. Turn you’re mobile off for a start and take a few deep breaths before clicking that play button on the disc player. It is slow, very slow. You will need to be able to quietly meditate with what your eyes are seeing. As it starts out, you see nothing but blackness on the screen for several minutes, with this ethereal, otherworldly soundtrack droning in the background. It goes on for quite a while. Just go with it. This is the polar opposite of Star Wars and the usual goodies v baddies, violent action that passes for typical sci-fi fantasy.

This is meant to realistically portray the beauty and silence of space exploration and the difficulties humans have trying to navigate up there. The use of German composer Richard Strauss for the sound track was a masterstroke. His operatic melodies hypnotize the patient viewer with a feeling of awe and majesty. Kubrick had a real visual eye. His weakness was dialogue and characters you can empathize with. But the languid pace of it all and the amazing visuals make you forget this. In real life space you can’t have an emotional soap opera. Humans are the fish out of water in the cosmos. It’s a dimension that is always one minute after midnight as far as homo sapiens are concerned. The film’s very detachment becomes its main strength.Instead of being stimulated the viewer is cooled down by it’s icy temperament.The villainous computer HAL is voiced by a Canadian named Douglas Rain.

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His vocal chords give the film some emotional colour. The two astronauts he’s manipulating are very bland. But HAL’ s voice is very soothing and possibly even seductive. Kubrick must have deliberately under-written the human characters to enhance the computer’s impact on the viewer. HAL is the personality in the story. After a while you start getting used to the pacing and you become one with it. But then, as soon as you think you are starting to get in sync with the rhythmn, things start getting weird. Really weird. By the end you’re left with nothing to say but “This is art.”

This had a stunning impact on most of the youth of its time. The special effects were so revolutionary that they still look impressive today. This is the only motion picture I wish I had been old enough to experience when it came out in 1968. I love it. Even though you could argue it’s not for everyone, it really is. I think everyone should see this movie. Its film-as-meditation. It slows down the viewer’s brainwaves. Whether you’re a sci-fi fan, geek in training, or just someone who wants to become culturally educated, this film is essential viewing. In a landscape of film and TV shows with their breakneck pacing, fast cuts, and adrenaline pumping soundtracks, 2001 stands tall, silent, beautiful and mysterious.

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