2001: A Space Odyssey is widely regarded to be Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, a pretty impressive accolade considering he also directed classics such as Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. It is praised for its storytelling, special effects and soundtrack; yet somehow, after first watching the film I was left confused and, I confess, a little bored. I can still appreciate the mastery of craft on show, but perhaps it takes more than one showing for Kubrick’s brilliance to truly shine through.
The film begins at the dawn of man. The cinematography immediately takes centre stage, accompanied by the equally iconic sound of Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, but what struck me most about the film was the pacing. In 142 minutes, Kubrick takes us from 3.5 million years ago to 2001 and yet it still feels slow. Huge sections of the film are devoted to ballet-like sequences or psychedelic flashes of light which, while contributing to the overall feel of the film, are at the very least too long and at worst completely superfluous.
The film wasn’t all bad of course! The technology and practical effects on show are extremely impressive considering this film was released in 1968 (nine years before Star Wars); the huge rotating sets used for the spaceship interiors are especially impressive. The ideas explored in the film are also worthy of praise; this film explores the inner working of an artificial intelligence to great effect, much like classic science fiction authors such as Isaac Asimov. I also want to commend the performance of Douglas Rain who voices the AI, HAL 9000. It is a classic performance and will continue to be remembered for a long time.
This film is undoubtedly a milestone in cinematography and visual effects, and should probably be viewed for that reason alone. However, I don’t feel as enamoured with it as many others are due to the slow pacing of the film and some of the poorly explained ideas; what are the monoliths? Why does the film end with a giant space baby? Maybe I’m just not intelligent enough for this film, or perhaps it just requires more than one viewing for its impact to shine through. Woody Allen says that he had to watch it three times before he truly appreciated it so maybe I’m just due another screening.