Review by Jack Foley
IT'S hard to believe now, but Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking science fiction
masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey was given a rough time by critics when
it was first released in 1968. Pauline Kael, famous critic of Harper's,
said that the movie suffered from a 'monumental lack of imagination', while
the influential New York Times described it as 'unbelievably boring'.
No doubt, these critics are eating their words now. Time Out's Film Guide (Tenth Edition) refers to it as 'superior sci-fi, simply because it's more concerned with ideas than with Boy's Own-style pyrotechnics'. Whatever your view, few can deny that, in places, 2001 is a stunning and innovative piece of cinema, proof of a director at the top of his game. The late Kubrick is not referred to as one of the Big Screen's visionaries for no reason.
The film itself is a tripartite look at civilization's progress, beginning with prehistoric times - and how the apes learned to kill - and ending in a visionary future in the company of astronauts on a mission to Jupiter who encounter superior life forms and a rogue computer, HAL, who tries to take over their mission.
And while it is undeniably long in places (141 minutes), viewers are left in no doubt, when watching, that this is Kubrick's vision from start to finish - the attention to detail is immaculate, while the dark tone present throughout is typical of the director (this is as far removed from Star Wars as you could possibly imagine in terms of entertainment).
The movie itself marked a collaboration between Kubrick and screenwriter Arthur C Clarke, who became intrigued with how the computer-driven world was developing. It contains a rich and vast array of visual imagery, some of which has yet to be deciphered - including the role of the black monolith or the embryo floating in space.
But perhaps the most striking is that which marks the transition from past to future, as a bone used as one of the ape's killing tools turns into a space station rotating on its own axis to the sound of a Viennese waltz. It has become one of the defining moments of modern cinema and continues to draw gasps of admiration from audiences the world over.
I saw 2001 while very young and have to admit to being bored in places - it unquestionably places intellect above all else - and transfixed at others. That it has remained with me ever since, however, is evidence of the power of the film. It is essential viewing for any film fans and an absolute must have for sci-fi junkies.