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September 03, 2010

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

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With his virtuosic adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's novel, Stanley Kubrick invented the modern science fiction film. That "2001: A Space Odyssey" has blown many audience members' minds to the point of causing them to walk out of the movie, is a testament to Kubrick's singular if stoically cold vision of a future that was never to be. Keep in mind that Kubrick made the film in 1967. It’s a film that defies its audience to scrutinize its enigmatic narrative structure. The story is a puzzle with large pieces left out for the viewer to fill in the blanks. “2001: A Space Odyssey” reveals itself the more times you see it. You shouldn’t expect to watch it only once; you will always find something new each time you return to it.

The ambitious movie is part philosophical reverie, part social satire, and part sheer cinematic poetry. The fantastic narrative structure jumps from a pre-historic era, when apes first discovered using bones as tools and as weapons, to a futuristic space-age when man discovers proof of intelligent alien life in the form of a gigantic black monolith on the moon. There is likely no creepier a signifier of an unknown life form than something so gigantic and inscrutable than the object that Clarke and Kubrick put before us. This dark monument could just as easily be a seamlessly sealed tomb.  

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Stanley Kubrick shuns common narrative crutches such as voice-over narration or back-glancing exposition in favor of a strict antiseptic license that necessarily utilizes classical music from the likes of Johann Strauss to serve as an inner-connecting emotional aural fabric upon which the filmmaker balances mesmerizing outer-space sequences that have been copied ad nauseam ever since.

Kubrick’s acute attention to detail is on full display in visually stunning astral sequences that set a new watermark for believability in a science fiction film when “2001” was released. The mercurial filmmaker embraces a minimalist format to allow the viewer to interact with the film in the same way that scientists and astronomers work beyond the boundaries of their knowledge and imaginations to discover what lies beyond. The audience is invited to play out its part of a grand cinematic experiment wherein the filmmaker knows the formula and its result inside out. Alain Resnais’s “Last Year At Marienbad” is this film’s closest precursor.

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"2001: A Space Odyssey" dares to admit that humans simultaneously comprehend nothing and yet too much about the power we hold to affect one another and the universe around us. Kubrick's multi-dimensional context of human significance is larger in scope than any other film that came before it. Here is a film that taunts its audience to think beyond its beginning and end, toward something that hasn’t happened yet but is based on human mistakes we are doomed to repeat.

Rated G. 149 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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