Self Film-Solation | Film 9 | 2001: A Space Odyssey
Look, I’ll level with you. When it comes to films that have been analysed and poured over by critics and analysts, you’d be hard pressed to find a film that’s been as widely examined as Kubrick’s 2001. So, I doubt I’ll be able to offer you any kind of new insight.
Also, at this point, I have been inside for 12 days and so I don’t even know if I’ve watched the film or imagined it.
But this has been on my watchlist for ages and its not often you feel like sitting down to watch a 2-hour 20-minute epic that leaves you full of existential dread.
Either way I shall give it my best shot. I’m going to tell you what I thought of the film as a piece of both filmmaking and storytelling. I’m not going to analyse it in terms of symbolism, philosophy or religion or anything. I’m just going to give you my opinion.
I went into this one cautiously. This may render me a complete moron in some people’s eyes, but I find Kubrick a little hit and miss. I love the Shining; I think it’s an absolute masterpiece. I even like Spartacus, although Stanley himself probably wouldn’t thank me for that. Yet both Full Metal Jacket and Dr Strangelove left me feeling a little cold. They weren’t terrible but they just didn’t live up to my expectations. But perhaps that’s more to do with my own expectations rather than the films.
Add to that the fact that I knew from various sources that this was both quite a lengthy and heavy watch and I went into this tentatively. But as I’ve already said, I can’t think of another, more appropriate time to watch this.
The first thing to be said about this film is that it is simply the epitome of epic. The way the film deals with the vastness of space and the sheer scale of it all is breath taking. From the moment the film begins the music hits us and lets us know, this is big and bold. Whilst the music is incredibly famous, it did not lessen the effect it had on me. Much like the shower scene in Psycho, I knew exactly what was coming and it still had the desired effect. That is true film-making craftsmanship.
In terms of his use of sound or the lack of it, Kubrick is the master. He really did know when to use music and what kind, or not at all. In this case he alters between big loud orchestral music to simple periods of silence or breathing. The juxtaposition is jarring and un-nerving. Which, for a film largely set in the vast emptiness of space, is exactly what he wanted. When our protagonists are space walking, all we can hear is a single and constant breathing. I found this to be so effective, especially when you consider the actual action on screen is slow moving.
Alongside the way the film presents us with scale, I think the film’s crowning achievement for me are the special effects. The attention to detail is incredible and you can really see why it has stood the test of time and influenced so many other films. I had to keep reminding myself that this film is over 50 years old and was actually made before we even landed on the moon. If anything, this film shows that the effort really was worth making at the time as the film went on to influence everything from Star Wars to the Simpsons.
Having said all this, and whilst the film is certainly an achievement in terms of practical film making, I did have one or two issues with the film. Purists can stop reading this now and just go and make a Voodoo Doll of me or bitch on the internet or whatever.
To be honest, the film was boring in parts. There are a lot of long drawn out scenes with a great number of establishing shots or scenery shots that are just not necessary. A lot of the tension is built up using the music and then lost by lingering too long at certain parts of the film. I also wasn’t really sure why the film had two moments in it featuring complete darkness whilst music attempted to build tension. For me this strayed a little from trying to keep us gripped to just being a little self-indulgent. Another example is the opening 20 minutes or so.
The famed scenes featuring the birth of man are effective at first but could have at least been half the length. It eventually became monkeys just screaming at each other. The film also lacked a little bit of an emotional impact at points. It seemed a little too intent on getting the practical effects right rather than having us connect with our characters. For example, when one of the astronauts dies, I felt it had barely any emotional impact. This may be an intentional decision, but I like to connect with characters and that’s not something I found able to do here.
For me, telling a good story is as much about holding our attention as the audience with concise use of time as it is about getting the overall message across. Making a good piece of entertainment can walk the line between these two things, stray too far in one direction and you get a mindless film that cant connect with its audience whilst trying to entertain them, stray too far in the other direction and you get self-indulgent. This film occasionally drifts into the latter.
Overall, the film is a gigantic achievement in the practicalities of film making. The effects are simply sublime. You can really see why this has both stood the test of time and, in doing so, influenced so many other things. However, the film’s achievement in effects as well as its legacy, paper over what is actually a slightly boring story that lacks some emotional punch that I personally felt it could’ve done with. That being said, it cannot be overlooked what a masterpiece of the practical side of the craft this is.
Originally published on Tumblr on 31st March 2020