Thirty-two years ago this week,2001: A Space Odyssey came out. The collaboration between author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick,with a run-time of nearly two hours forty minutes,the film elicited mixed reactions to begin with,and then quickly ascended to its position of one of the best films ever made.
2001 is not just science fiction. It is also science which could have been fact,as told to us by a series of distinguished physicists. Starry-eyed filmmakers,who were young at that time (Steven Spielberg,George Lucas) speak in awe and admiration of the kind of impact the film had on them,and the work they were to go on to do. It is particularly appropriate that the special features that take up a full DVD worth of space is introduced by James Cameron,the current guru of sfx: its worth wondering if there were no 2001,would there have been Avatar?
Of course,Clarke (and Kubrick) got a lot of it wrong. 2001 has come and gone,and we still do not have way stations on the moon. Intergalactic expeditions are not leaving every other minute. Jupiter is still a planet far,far away (in the film,Keir Dulleas descent on Jupiter makes for a perfect enigmatic climax). Computers no longer take up acres of space: the memory of HAL,the almost-human computer aboard the ship,will now take up a microchip,rather than a huge room,filled with ominous red light.
But the film is so compelling that it draws you into its world,and once in there,you are immersed,completely. Because 2001 is much more than just a mere sci-fi film. It traces the evolution of man,from four-legged ape to two-legged space traveller,asks questions about what it is like to be human,and leaves you with the even more disturbing thought that maybe one day machines will best man. Despite the deeply philosophic threads that run through the film,Kubrick is careful not to let them overcome his film,which is best watched in Cinerama,the way it was shot: marvellous passages in space,counter-pointed by some of the best music ever scored. Johann Strausss The Blue Danube was never the same after Kubrick got done with 2001. He uses sound like a magician,sometimes one at a time,to underline whats going on. When one of the astronauts (the film was made when the Soviet Union dominated space travel: an interlude has an astronaut putting down a cosmonaut) goes out from the mother ship to replace a faulty part,all you can hear,for a long stretch,is his breathing.
Pens float in space. Toilets have no gravity sign outside: the designers clearly had a good time envisioning all the stuff they thought was going to happen in the future.
Kubricks intention was to get away from grade-B sci-fi flicks full of mad scientists with goatees. Yes,parts of it are dated,but 2001 is a film that will not make scientists cringe in 2010. It is a masterpiece,and every sci-fi film thats followed is part of its heritage.