I expected a long, slow, laborious, and arty history of mankind extending into the near future—well, near for the late Sixties but already a decade past now—set to Classical music, with lots of scenery from outer space and little or no plot. Think of an elaborate promotional video for space travel—that’s what I anticipated. Fortunately, Stanley Kubrick was more sophisticated than that.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a cool film. After a silly opening segment that involves a group of apes, a monolith, and the birth of tools, the story jumps ahead two million years or so to the 21st Century. In the second segment, Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester) shuts down colleages asking questions about a coverup on his way to a space station to investigate an artifact discovered in a pit: it’s a monolith just like the one that sent the aforementioned apes into a frenzy. A third—and the best—segment involves two astronauts (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) on a mission to Jupiter controlled by a computer named HAL. HAL is making mistakes, exhibiting jealousy and vindictiveness, and being generally creepy—a little too human. The final segment is a tripped out time warp for David, one of the aforementioned astronauts. And there’s that monolith again, this time inside a goofy Italian Renaissance inspired bedroom with a glowing dancefloor.
It’s total sci fi, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is clever in ways that allow it to transcend the genre. Kubrick’s vision of the future is not only elegant but remarkably smart and accurate. Humans are still human, but technology is everywhere. Despite the appearance of defunct companies like Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, his characters use tablets, video conferencing, flat screen TVs, and plastic credit cards. There’s a coffee bar and acronyms for unidentified things called “ATM,” “COM,” and “HIB.” Furnishings and clothing look a little different in a realistic way. The story is open to many interpretations, none of which Kubrick ever debunked. He left a lot of fodder for discussion. I see why it’s on many “best of” lists.
I saw a restored version that included an overture and an intermission. The latter broke up what probably would’ve verged on too long for me.
In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed 2001: A Space Odyssey “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).
(Music Box) A
Music Box Theatre 70mm Festival