After having watched the digitally remastered DVD I just couldn’t believe that this movie is more than 35 years old! The revamping of this masterpiece has taken nothing away from the sheer genius of the original. Yes, the image is razor-sharp and the music and sounds are sublimely re-recorded, but the main work was already done when Stanley Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull created the original fantastic look of the movie. Again, this is a quintessential Kubrick-movie: alienating, eerie, beautiful and mysterious. The benchmark for all science fiction movies and possibly Kubrick’s best work.
Although Arthur C. Clarke (co-storywriter with Kubrick) and Trumbull (SFX and design) have made essential contributions to this masterpiece, this movie is all Kubrick. It’s the story of a mysterious black monolith that presumably has an essential place in the evolution of mankind and our universe in general. The movie starts with the ‘Dawn of Man’ only to leap many millennia in the future through one of the most dramatic jump-cuts ever in film history. This is not the movie’s only revolutionary piece of cinematography, as you’re treated on a plethora of brilliant wide-angle shots, extreme close-ups, majestic pan-shots and the most incredible lighting I have ever witnessed in a movie. Furthermore, the set and miniature design, styling, still-action, costuming and typical (Kubrick-)use of colour leave you gasping for breath. After more than three decades this movie can still compete with any modern movie of this time ‘and still beat it hands down.
Next to the eye-candy there is another crucial element that makes this movie work: the music and sound effects. I have called Kubrick a painter, in the way he uses every visual tool to colour in his tableau vivant. That qualification would cut him short, since he possesses the unique gift of perfectly marrying sound and image to a mind-boggling experience. He seamlessly alters from pompous classical music to unsettling, harsh sounds. In this he is reminiscent (in more than one way) of the late great Sergio Leone, who possessed the similar gift to paint with sound.
As in most of Kubrick’s movies it is not the plot on itself that reveals the true message, but the symbolism used that conveys the movie’s deeper meaning. In this movie we again find Kubrick’s Leitmotiv: the gradual dehumanisation of man. I’ve mentioned this theme earlier in my other Kubrick review of The Shining. In this movie we see ghosts kindle the latent rage and fundamental madness that is already present in man (Jack), where in 2001 we see this human degeneration surprisingly represented by a machine. We’re not talking just a machine here but an Artificial Intelligence named HAL 9000. HAL is supposed to represent the perfect image of mankind, free from its errors and weaknesses.
Oddly enough, it is not the humans that fail in this movie. Instead, it is their unholy bastard-child that shows it is capable of that mortal sin of man: murder. We see that the computer (which controls an entire spaceship) is driven to murder in an attempt to safeguard its own existence and thus acts out of primal fear. This completes the circle as far as the movie goes, as we are taught that despite our technology and so-called civilisation we have not grown past our primitive, destructive origins. Eventually man is responsible for HAL’s ‘malfunctioning’ since the machine has been created in man’s own image.
Of course people can read different references in this movie. That is another beauty of Kubrick’s work: he leaves ample room for interpretation. It was a great relief to watch a movie that does not insult the intelligence of its viewer by over-explaining the story or forcing a singular interpretation as to its meaning. This shows true movie-making guts, as Kubrick willingly forfeits the easy labelling of his movie that would comfort the majority of its viewers. This movie shows even more intelligence and respect to the viewers, since realism in this is at an all time high. Contrary to 99% of all sci-fi movies some crucial facts are truly being respected here: like that there is no sound in space or up and down. This only adds to the realism and together with the sparse -but effective- dialogue and the intelligence of the characters, this makes for an involving experience, as the viewer does not know more than the characters themselves.
I strongly recommend people see this movie on DVD or -even better- on the big screen. Take the time for this uncanny work of art, savour every detail of its visual and aural beauty and you’ll come to the inevitable conclusion that it deserves ***** out of 5.
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