Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Review: 2001 - A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey
Cert: U / 134 mins / Dir. Stanley Kubrick / Trailer

Well, then. I haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey since the early 1980s, when I was allowed to stay up especially to watch it on TV (I was only little, I'm not that old). At that point I was obsessed with Star Wars (no change there), which had led onto an interest in broader sci-fi as well as real-world space travel. This movie, while not a swashbuckling fantasy with accompanying action-figure line, was nonetheless a fusion of experience and speculation; exploring the possibilities of the future while echoing warnings from humanity’s past. 2001 is pure Science-Fiction™.

And the mind of a child is arguably the perfect environment for these ideas to grow, largely unencumbered as it is with notions of social realism, engineering limitations and years of structural film analysis. So the opportunity to watch Stanley Kubrick’s seminal, influential masterpiece in the environment for which it was originally made was just too good to pass up. 2001 is half a century old and I’d be seeing this cultural touchstone afresh, almost for the first time, but still effectively sitting with my younger self and reminiscing all the while.

And what a load of self-indulgent old tosh it is.

The central plot-conceit seems to be that everyone was living happily in the Garden Of Apeden until the space obelisk turned up and gave them the idea of hitting each other with sticks; that it didn't so much spur evolution, as corrupt things it came into contact with. But then, HAL-9000 (ostensibly the film's 'next step' in evolution) turns into an absolute murdering space a-hole and he hasn't met the slab, he was just programmed to think for himself by (admittedly flawed) humans. So the idea of the obelisk as a recurring catalyst seems redundant.

The near-perfect storm of 1950s b-movie and 1960s disaster flick, 2001 is sloppily written, hammily acted drivel. Humanity's future is represented by everything in the minimalist sets having either explanatory labels, huge buttons or both, whereas the past is brought to life by a range of differently-skilled actors in ape-suits which must have looked atrocious at the time, never mind now.

Like a Stewart Lee routine, each new development in the film seems designed to push the audience to the limits of their patience. Except that in a Stewart Lee show, you're supposed to laugh.

The intriguing production design, fluid cinematography and deftly chosen soundtrack pieces are undercut by blasts of tinnitus-aggravating hard noise and bad acting. That scene in the pod where it's heavily telegraphed that HAL-9000 is lip reading? They're not even trying to simulate an interactive conversation, that's just a pair of actors waiting to recite their lines.

The known laws of physics apparently only extend as far as the effects would allow, so the floating pen on board the shuttle at the film's beginning looks great (albeit massively showboated as a shot). Then a flight attendant walks in and the audience think 'so wait, why isn't she floating as well? Oh, I see. Grip Shoes™. Right.'*1. And there's full gravity on the moon, apparently. Not just on the base there, but also in the shuttle seen skimming over its surface. But hey, this film was released the year before Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle module, so obviously nobody knew about that then. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins rocked up with a load of housebricks in the boot, 'just in case'.

Naturally, we were lucky*2 enough to get the complete version of the film with the full orchestral overture, where nothing appears on-screen after the vintage BBFC card and the house-lights stay up for three minutes. Oh, and the intermission. Because how could an audience possibly be expected to sit for two and a half hours without a ten-minute break in the middle to stretch their legs, go to the toilet and sit in the foyer trying to work out what the first half had been about?

But even accounting for 2001 as an historical piece, the fact remains that it's wilfully obscure chin-stroking, like a sixth-former musing "but if I put in a bit with an old man and a baby, people will think it's cyclical and I won't have to write an ending". This is why we got Interstellar, isn't it? The emperor's new clothes have never looked so old.

Still, Kenneth Kendall and Leonard Rossiter turn up, so that's pretty cool.

Best line, from HAL-9000: "The 9000 Series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, fool-proof and incapable of error".

Mate, why would you even say that? I's like answering the door to the police with 'oh hello officer, are you here about the backpackers I definitely haven't killed?'.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Yep, Interstellar.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Oh probably, I mean you probably love it, right?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you want annoy guest coming round your house to chill out and watch a movie, absolutely.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Del Goren is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Grip shoes.
Not even joking, mate.
Welcome to the future. [ BACK ]

*2 Tested. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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