2001: A Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Production: Stanley Kubrick

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Keir Dullea,Gary Lockwood

Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke

Loosely based on Arthur C. Clarke's The Sentinel (1951)

160 minutes, cut to 141 minutes; Color

This was the most ambitious sf film of the 1960s and perhaps ever. Kubrick's unique production, which received a 1969 Hugo, takes several traditional sf themes - including the idea, derived from Charles Fort, that "we are property" - and spins from them a web of pessimistic metaphysics. In prehistoric times the mysterious arrival of an alien artifact, a black monolith, triggers primitive ape people into becoming tool-users; the first tool is a weapon. The transition to AD2001 sequence - marked by the resonant image of a bone weapon thrown (in slow motion) into the air and becoming a space station - suggests that, for all the awesome complexity of our tools, humanity itself is still in a primitive stage. The idea of human deficiency in the 21st century is reinforced by the deliberate banality of the dialogue and the sterility of the settings; ironically the most "human" character is a neurotic computer, itself subject to Original Sin, HAL 9000. A second monolith discovered on the Moon beams a signal at one of the moons of Jupiter and a spaceship, the Discovery, is sent to investigate, but, through HAL having a nervous breakdown, only one of the astronauts (Dullea) survives to reach the area. These he embarks (through a "Star Gate") on a prolonged, disorienting trip through what appears to be inner time and inner space, pausing to meet his dying self in an 18th-century bedroom, and becoming the foetus of a Superbeing, an optimistic apotheosis - with its suggestion of a transcendent evolution, directed by never-seen aliens, or perhaps God - in an otherwise dark film.

Aside from its intelligent audacity, 2001: A Space Odyssey is remarkable for a visual splendor that depends in part on astonishingly painstaking special effects. Conceived by Kubrick - notoriously a perfectionist - and achieved by many technicians (pointing forward to the huge teams that would work on the special-effects blockbusters of a decade later), these mostly employ traditional techniques. Instead of such modern automatic matteing processes as the blue-screen system, hand-drawn mattes were produced for each effects frame at the cost of two years' time and much money, which is why this method is now rarely used. Innovative in another way is the setting of romantic music by Richard Strauss and Gyorgy Ligeti against much of the technological action, giving the paradoxical feeling of a cool romanticism and reinforcing the film's amibiguities. The present 141min version, cut from the 160min version preview length, should be viewed in the full wide-screen 70mm format.

The tension between Kubrick's love of oblique allusion and Clarke's open rationalism is resolved in the latter's book of the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which - written after the film's completion - provides clear explanations in Clarke's usual manner. He describes his connection with the film in The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1972), which also prints alternative script versions of key scenes. The film sequel, based on another Clarke's novel, was 2010.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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