When you think of films that are classics of a particular genre you would probably choose a film that perhaps represents what the genre could be at its highest level. For action films you might choose Die Hard for example, or for romance film, perhaps Casablanca and generally, more often than not, you would gain a general idea what other films from the genre might be like. 2001: A Space Odyssey is not one of those films. It is most certainly a classic of the genre and a fantastic piece of work, but when it comes to science-fiction films it is perhaps so unique in its concept and execution that no other film of the genre really comes close.
The scope of the story is enormous, it is perhaps one of the most ambitious stories that has ever been told on film. The film starts with a group of monkeys meeting a tall, black, ominous Monolith which mysteriously appears where they are living. With the help of the Monolith the monkeys learn to stand and use bones as weapons signifying their first step in turning human. It is a very strange opening and one that’s significance, perhaps isn’t obvious until you finish the film or if you see it again. It is very difficult to create a plot synopsis for this film without giving away too much away without going into the deeper themes imbedded in it. Readings of this film can vary dramatically, is it an early pre-cursor to the artificial intelligence movies like Terminator? Or is it an existentialist film about the meaning of life? This is perhaps one of the reasons 2001 is so highly rated among film scholars, it is a film about so much that it’s true meaning or idea is ambiguous. If you were to boil 2001 down to its core you could say it is about evolution, extra-terrestrial life, AI, and existentialism. What is perhaps interesting about this though is that no aspect of the film seemingly is focused on more than the other.
The film is over two hours long and like most Kubrick films it adopts a very slow pace. It is most certainly not an easy viewing, especially if you are watching it for the first time, but there are many aspects of the film that are sure to create intrigue. The film is breathtakingly beautiful, the practical special effects and the depiction ofspace flight are so realistic that it is rather incredible that it was released in 1968. In that regard the film is very much ahead of its time. The use of Dialogue is very minimal with the majority of the story told visually and through sound. At times, though as I said before, it isn’t always obvious what the film really is about, which can be equal parts confusing and intriguing. I tend to look at the film in two parts: One is a story about evolution and the reoccurring monoliths significance in the progression of humanity; whereas the other is about a crew of astronauts journeying to Jupiter on a ship controlled by the possibly sentient HAL 9000. It is only towards the end of the film that seemingly these aspects overlap completely in an ending that is perhaps the most ambiguousyet abundantly creative sequence ever created.
2001 is a classic of the sci-fi genre yet it is more an existential art film than it is an Alien or Terminator film. 2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps one of the greatest films ever created and an experience that anyone interested in film should experience.
If you would like to see the film you can watch the Falmouth Film Society’s screening tomorrow at 6pm in the SOFT cinema on the Penryn campus.