Monday, January 3, 2011

Second look - 2001: A Space Odyssey

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke; based on the story "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain
Science-fiction art film
2 hour 21 minutes

43 years after the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 10 years after this futuristic film was set, it's amazing to see how well this film has aged. It was truly ahead of its time, and thereby achieved a certain timelessness. It still has the power to astound, mystify and thrill the audience.

On seeing it again, you cannot help but think that this film could never be made today. It doesn't follow any formulaic plot. It doesn't spell everything out for you the way films are expected to nowadays. Long silences are artfully employed - dialogue barely occurs between characters. Its special effects are lo-tech but actually special - they are far more impressive than our modern computer animated effects.

It earned Stanley Kubrick his only Oscar for Best Visual Effects (the film was also nominated for Best Director nomination, and Best Original Screenplay - with Arthur C. Clarke - and Best Art Direction.

Visually, the entire film is breathtaking. But its music holds just as much power. At the TIFF Bell Lightbox, it plays with an intermission to allow the projectionist a reel change. Each half begins with a musical prelude before the curtains open. Even now, the music seems edgy - with the exception of the Blue Danube Waltz of Johann Strauss that was probably kitschy even back then (having been composed a century earlier in 1866). Although it is Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra which is indelibly linked to 2001: A Space Odyssey, for me it's the strange and wondrous music of György Ligeti that takes this to an exalted level.

Time has been kind to this movie. When it first came out, it baffled audiences and critics alike. The New York Times called the film "somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring" while the review in Variety Magazine by Robert B. Frederick said that 2001: A Space Odyssey "is not a cinematic landmark. It compares with, but does not best, previous efforts at science fiction; lacking the humanity of "Forbidden Planet," the imagination of "Things to Come" and the simplicity of "Of Stars and Men," it actually belongs to the technically-slick group previously dominated by George Pal and the Japanese." 

Few would agree with these assessments today. Since its release, it has been named the #6 film of all time in the Sight & Sound Top Ten poll. It also ranks #22 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list, #47 on AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies list and #40 on AFI's 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies list. HAL 9000 was named the AFI's #13 villain and "Open the pod bay doors, HAL" is #78 on AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes list.

Most science-fiction films become dated quite quickly. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the only sci-fi movies (along with Blade Runner) that will continue to be essential viewing for many years to come.

The new 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey plays at TIFF Bell Lightbox for a few more days.

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