Saturday, March 24, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick                             Writer: Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke
Music Consultant: Patrick Moore                  Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, and Douglas Rain

Boooooooooooring. This was only the second time I have ever watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The first time was on TV when I was still in high school, and what I had remembered from that viewing was a slow, pondering film that, except for the scenes with HAL 9000, made little sense and had a finale that was tedious and self-indulgent, providing no real conclusion to the story. Well, it was just the way I remembered it. Fortunately, this time my viewing experience was greatly enhanced by the fast-forward button on my remote control.

One of the things that is becoming clear to me about The A List, is that many of these films seem to be included on the list because of their ground-breaking qualities, not necessarily their entertainment value. That’s a shame. Just because a film does something for the first time, or is experimental in some way, doesn’t make the film itself great. As such, I acquired my copy as part of the Turner Classics Collection, which also includes Soylent Green, Forbidden Planet, and George Pal's The Time Machine.

It’s a curious film that unfolds as slowly as an actual flight to Jupiter. The prolog is overlong, especially with the only payoff being the monolith as the impetus for human evolution of aggression. Then the suspense that is built up at the moon space station is quickly dissipated when the action shifts to the expedition to Jupiter. Easily the best scenes are those where the computer, HAL, kills Pool and intends to do the same to Bowman. There are definite modern expectations at play, as it seems far too easy to disengage the computer, but there can be no doubt about the intensity of the suspense that this section of the film delivers. Unfortunately, the conclusion is something of an anti-climax afterward.

James Verniere’s essay on the film in The A List, does make several good points. In terms of technical replication of space travel, the film was far more realistic than anything that had come before. He calls Kubrick’s vision “authentic” and it is very much that. Except for the groovy lounge chairs in the moon station, the minimalist sets still feel authentic today. There is also the monochromatic acting of Dullea and Lockwood, that manages to allow the computer voice of Douglas Rain to become the central character in the film. Nevertheless, the film can hardly be called entertaining. And while that might not have been Kubrick’s aim, it tends to be important to a viewing audience, and begs the question of it’s inclusion in a list of the essential films of all time.

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