Friday, June 26, 2015

2001: A Space Odyssey


Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, and the voice of Douglas Rain

Rated G

Stanley Kubrick was always an intensely cerebral filmmaker.  Even "The Shining," which was certainly terrifying, was horror of a psychological kind.  Never has that been more true than in "2001: A Space Odyssey."  There are definitely elements of this film that are worthy of praise, and the visual effects are brilliant (even by today's standards).  But the amount of time and effort (Kubrick's films are not "easy viewing") that the film demands doesn't reward enough to recommend sitting through it.

The film's plot is not its strong suit.  It's paper thin and not very interesting.  A large black monolith has been discovered, and two astronauts (Dullea and Lockwood) have been sent on a secret mission, although they don't know its parameters.  The rest of their crew is in cryosleep, but when the ship's computer, HAL 9000 (Rain), detects a problem that doesn't exist, the scientists stop trusting him.  It's something that he takes personally.

Watching this movie, I was surprised at how many moments I had recognized from other films.  The film's opening, dramatic scene has been parodied numerous times, and elements of the plot echo other films ("Gravity" and "Interstellar" come to mind, as well as every other sci-fi movie where a machine has gone homicidal).  Sadly, that only makes this film look worse, since the aforementioned films took Kubrick's concepts and improved upon them.  That's partly due to the screenplay (which has very little dialogue...a pet peeve of mine as many of you know) and partly due to the fact that Christopher Nolan, and to a lesser extent Alfonso Cuaron, are better filmmakers than Stanley Kubrick.

Just because I'm giving this movie a negative review doesn't mean I hated it (hence the 2/4).  I liked "The Shining" and "Eyes Wide Shut" very much.  Kubrick was a gifted filmmaker.  There is a undeniable element of craftsmanship here.  But there's so little to grab onto that it's hard to remain invested in the film.  It quickly becomes one of those movies that is decent while you're watching it, but if you have to pause to go to the bathroom, you'll find yourself struggling to motivate yourself to push "play" again.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it is far too long.  I don't mind slow-moving or subtle films on principle.  Some of them, like "The Samaritan" or "Star Wars" (any), have been enjoyable.  But they had plots that I wanted to see through to the end and characters I could identify with.  That's not the case here.  There's barely enough material for a 90 minute movie.  In fact, a better filmmaker would have realized that the majority of the film's first hour could have been cut without losing anything.  And while clips of slow movement set the film's tone, pace and mood, Kubrick overdoes it.

And yet, the film looks fantastic.  It's astonishing, really.  Kubrick was infamous for his obsessive desire for perfection (even taking days to get a single shot), and that shows here.  "2001: A Space Odyssey" is a feast for the eyes.  If only it had been the same for the mind and the emotions as well.

Film lovers might do well to check it out if only so they can say that they saw it.  Everyone else should stick to "Interstellar" and "Gravity."

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