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2001: A Space Odyssey
Reviewed by Navin Vembar, © 2001

Format: Movie
By:   Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Genre:   Science Fiction
Review Date:   July 01, 2001
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Daaa, Daaaa, Daaaaaa, Da-Dum. Even my crappy onomonopeotics can evoke one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever used in a movie, Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarustrutha". Hum just those five notes on a crowded bus and everyone around you will get a glint of recognition in their eyes. And even the middleschooler who has, with a straight face, said the words, "Justin Timberlake is, like, a musical genius," will know exactly from whence they came. He'll turn to you and say, "Isn't that from the one where Homer goes to space?"

Damn kids ruin everything.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is irrevocably linked to three pieces of music: "Zarustrutha", Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz", which is played over the docking sequence which takes place early in the film, and "Daisy". The memorable use of music throughout 2001 is just one aspect of the cinematic grace with which Kubrick has imbued this film.

2001 sweeps through millions of years, starting with the beginnings of humanity. Apes, barely surviving amongst their more predatory enemies, develop tools when a tall, black monolith appears amongst them without explanation. In a segue that is as famous as it is stunning, we watch as a skull-crushing bone is tossed into the air and its image is replaced by a space ship, hanging above earth, one human tool morphing into another.

This is only one among many brilliant images that assail us throughout 2001. The docking sequence, the artificial intelligence HAL 9000's death scene, Dave Bowman's psychedelically-inspired travel to the infinite and his return as the Star Child have all become indelible pieces of pop culture, even for those who have not seen the film. Parody and imitation (the docking sequence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture) have imprinted Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's work within our collective memories, even if we don't know it.

2001 is not a movie that lets its viewers off easily -- like any good piece of art, it puts forth questions without answers and presses the watcher to ponder them. The coincidence of our evolution is challenged and we are even dared to ask ourselves what our next leap in evolution will be. It makes us wonder what happened to our sense of wonder about space. It focuses all of our fears of Frankenstein's monster and golems into the cyclopean red eyes of HAL distributed throughout Discovery I, the Jupiter-bound ship, reminding us that no matter how perfect a computer's operational record is, it is subject to its designer's personal flaws. And, the ending itself throws its viewers into a contemplative confusion that makes us wonder not only what happened to Dave but what it implies.

It has probably been noticed that I've made very little mention of the actors, characters, or performances. This is because the movie itself makes very little mention of them. After all, this is a movie in which the first comprehensible word is spoken 25 minutes after the open credits; a movie which spends only 40 minutes of its 139 minutes actually in dialogue. The most forceful performance of the movie is that of Douglas Rain's HAL 9000. The actors do fine jobs, but are not the main focus of the movie. Instead, they are the vessels upon which the ideas of Kubrick and Clarke are transported to their viewers.

Whether this is a weakness or not is extremely subjective -- some have called Kubrick a cold filmmaker because of the dehumanizing tendencies which show up in many of his films. I, however, believe that it fits the material perfectly. The spare directing gives us a chance to watch the details of Kubrick's future vision waltz their way across the screen -- we are forced to appreciate the mechanics of space travel (no gravity and no sound), as well as the fact that trips to the moon are so mundane that the space station has a Howard Johnson on it. And, the only explosion in the film is soundless, like it should be. (Are you listening, umm . . . everyone who's ever filmed an explosion in space?)

This is reason enough for everyone who loves movies to see 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001, The DVD

I have the MGM DVD that was put out in 1998. The video quality is excellent -- my DVD player normally has a little trouble with pixellation when lots of dark colors are on the screen, but not in this case. The sound is a bit disappointing. There is very little use of real surround sound; most of the noise comes from the front speakers. The extras are extremely disappointing. There are two trailers, one for 2001 and one for 2010, and a talking head interview with Arthur C. Clarke that took place before the premiere of the film that doesn't seem to be very enlightening.

Freelancer Navin Vembar became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. His instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught him to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it, he can sing it for you.

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