A review of the sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Directed, produced and co-written by the auteur Stanley Kubrick and five years in the making, this is a true film classic. The brilliant Kubrick created a number of classics in different genres and this science fiction work is among the very best in the genre. I have seen it four times now: the first on its original release at the cinema and the last as part of the current Kubrick season at the British Film Institute half a century after its initial release.

“2001” is a long work: two and a half hours. And it is a slow production with long stretches – starting with the first half hour at the Dawn of Man – featuring no dialogue. There are a limited number of characters, most of whom are somewhat robotic, and one of the ironies of the film is that the computer HAL 9000 in some respects comes over as the most human character in the story.

Yet the film is never less than mesmerising. Visually it is one of the most stunning cinematic works ever made with scene after scene beautifully composed like a painting or photograph with tremendous use of colour. Aurally it is one of the most memorable movies ever released with dramatic use of classical music from Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss plus modern sound from Aram Khachaturyan and Görgy Ligeti. Philosphically it is one of the most challenging – and opague – films in mainstream cinema: what are those four black monoliths and who is that star-child at the end?

The work started as a novella called “The Sentinel” by Arthur C Clarke who co-wrote the script for the film with Kubrick. Clarke subsequently wrote a series of four linked novels: “2001”, “2010”, “2061” and “3001”, all of which I have read amd which provide an more intelligible interpretation of Kubbrick’s film.


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