Sci-Fi season continues with 2001: A Space Odyssey
Adam Scovell discusses one of the greatest pieces of Science Fiction ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey
8 May 2014
In spite of now being technically set in the past, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is far from dated. In fact, despite the supposed advances made in visual technology and special effects techniques, 2001 still stands up as being the most believable and detailed portrayal of space travel ever put onto film. However, to simply laud over the film for its visual strengths is to somewhat miss the point of Kubrick's film as, beneath its layers of fascinating and logistically spectacular visuals, is a questioning and thought-provoking premise.
Due to the sheer scope of 2001's narrative, there seems little point in relating it verbatim. It covers the whole scope of time from a stark and desolate beginning through to the evolution of man and his subsequent life of space travel. This isn't just a journey of evolution but about an unknown force driving forward progress for its own purposes. Of course, the film's main attraction is its science fiction spectacle but, with it being from the mind of Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 is far more than just another science fiction epic.
In essence, 2001 is about the striving of mankind, almost towards the Nietzschean idea of the Übermensch. The black obelisk which seems instigative to the progress of life on our planet (as well as a, now iconic, piece of cinematic visual history), pushes everything forward; somehow instigating the apes we were to learn how to use tools to fight with and thus starting the process that leads us to space travel. The obelisk almost acts as chapter marks, not just in the film's narrative, but in the evolution of our race seeming to appear at key points when various characters get close to the heart of the mystery.
Kubrick fills his film with wonderful detail in spite of being on such a large scale. His obsessive touch means he's one of the few directors who can balance such scope with telling, humanistic touches. Take the space station of our first space-set chapter filled with small intricacies from the fact that the space station has a Hilton hotel to the utterly adorable video call from Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester) to his daughter. Coupled with this detail is a monumental sense of the infinite from the dramatic space opera surrounding the melt-down of the Hal 9000 computer ("I'm sorry Dave") to the still stunning space-warp sequence.
As a piece of aesthetic art, very few films can actually keep up with Kubrick's innovation; even the director himself struggled to achieve the same visual impact he achieved in 2001. This is a film so stylistically confident that it happily opens with a blank screening, opting to play the majority of Ligeti's Atmosphères to set the scene and tone. The film's use of music in particular is magnificent in spite of poor Alex North having his brilliant score replaced by Strauss (the younger and the later), Ligeti and others. There's no doubt though that the film's use of Strauss' Sunrise (a thematic as well as aesthetic tie in) is one of the monumental moments of Western art as a whole.
2001 would mark the turning point for Kubrick, both in scale, scope and interest. The endless labyrinth of ideas present in the film would become a trademark for the director, seen in such later films as The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). 2001 doesn't merely stand up to today's set standard of science fiction opus but still stands out as the high watermark of genre which has still yet to be reached again in Western cinema since.