50 Year Anniversary: The Wonder of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Last night I was able to sit down and enjoy a nice 50-year-old movie. Usually, I would do this in my house, because really, why go to theaters to see a movie you own on Blu-Ray. Honestly, there aren’t very many movies from pre-1975 that I watch continuously, “Psycho” and “Night of the Living Dead” among the few. Yet I trekked across town, to a sold-out showing of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Even though I was at the box office 45 minutes before the film started, I barely got a seat. What I witnessed was cinematic glory.

You may wonder why the hubbub? Again, you can watch “2001” from your house right now. Truth is, I did some film geeking out. A young man named Christopher Nolan organized a reprint of the original film for the 50th anniversary. Rather than update the film, clean up the frames, enhance colors and the like, Nolan wanted it to be left exactly as it was when it released. He also wanted it to release on a 70mm projector, a rarity. Luckily Miami has the only such projector in the state of Florida, and according to the assistant director of the location, the entire Southeast.

To me, it is always better to see something in a movie theater when possible. We settle down and let films wash over us. You relax, drop your stress, and partake in a moment. This is where art becomes something real and tangible. It can change your perception towards a film, and change how you experience it. It’s the same reason I’ve seen “Jaws” so many times in theaters. Simply put the experience is so much more.

I sat down to watch the space epic having seen the film once before. It’s a pretty important film in any geeks catalog, whether you like movies or not. It’s a near 3-hour rumination on the history of the human race and our place in the universe.  Yet it can be a drag and a tough watch under the best of circumstances. It gets weird. Men dressed as monkeys kill pigs with bones. There’s an extended sequence through a multicolor universe. It’s a super weird movie that I had not really enjoyed in past viewings.

Maybe I’m getting caught up in the hype of the moment. Maybe my viewing habits and appreciation of what Kubrick tried to achieve have changed since I watch the film as a young 20-year-old. Perhaps it’s the Millenial in me that wants to understand what is next in my life and how to get there. This time, the film spoke to me in ways it had not before. I appreciated every frame from start to finish with a renewed look at what it was attempting to build. I can legitimately understand the hype and will now begin to count it among the best sci-fi films ever made. It was incredible to enjoy this masterpiece.

What Kubrick does in this film is astonishing, deftly weaving criticism into his words and images. I must emphasize images because the film is told more through what is on screen than the words spoken by the characters. The conversations matter,  but the film could have no sound whatsoever, and you would be able to still understand it thoroughly. It briskly moves from scene to scene until the final act, when it chooses to slow it down and let you languish in the abstract. You may be able to draw meaning from the images Kubrick shows you. Just as likely, you’ll never understand what you just watched. Yet the images will stay with you in a profound or potentially pedantic way.

Yet to write this film off as simply a metaphysical wandering through the woods of Kubrick’s mind somehow sells the feature short. Kubrick’s visual eye is among the best ever to direct, setting up aesthetically pleasing and colorful moments. The film uses color in amazing ways, contrasting whites with deep reds, blues, and the darkness of space.

The only thing more stunning is the use of sound. Kubrick mixes classical music to the floating and weightlessness of space. The score rings out and provides all the emotion you need from scene to scene. Kubrick takes the film to absolute zero on multiple occasions, making the clicking of the film reel spread through the theater. He focuses in on tiny noises, through beeps, clicks, or even the sound of breathing. It is the breathing of a human, juxtaposed with the coldness of HAL-9000 that provides the most emotionally gripping scene of the film. It is the way that Kubrick levels the noises and sounds you hear that elevates the film considerably.

Finally, laying in the center of the film is HAL-9000, one of the greatest and most sympathetic characters to ever grace the screen. The idea of a killer robot may not have originated with Kubrick, but he perfected it in 1968. It is fitting that the most life that Kubrick gives to any character in the film is to that of a robot. HAL is a cunning character that is full of emotion, and the most willing to fight for his survival.

If you don’t perceive the emotion as genuine, you may find yourself in the same spot as Dave at the end of the film. He doubts the existence of HAL’s emotions, and HAL slowly begins to turn on him. When Dave and Frank agree they may have to disconnect HAL, HAL’s ability to read lips keys him into the conversation. He will not be the one to die in his mind, but instead, the humans will die. He kills Frank, forcing Dave to leave the ship. Kubrick painstaking turns up the sound as the humans die one by one, only to meet their actual deaths with silence.

HAL strands Dave, until Dave does the unthinkable and exposes himself to space. When Dave survives, he turns on HAL, unhooking all of his powers. HAL’s pleas with Dave to stop. “I’m afraid. I’m afriad, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it…” The tension and death is horrific, even as you know that HAL has given the same death to at least 4 other humans. Yet this death is sad and heartwrenching. It is cold and callous. It is human. He can feel. It is the exclamation mark that Kubrick puts on his masterpiece. We evolve to the point of creation, then watch our creations surpass us. The message is prophetic in a world that could create true AI. It is a beautiful moment, and in the theater, you are left stunned.

With this all said, I believe that this film is not for everyone. Some will find the same incredible insight into life that I did. Others will wonder what the hell I’m talking about. But for me, in this moment, “2001: A Space Odyssey” made sense in ways I had considered before. It’s a profound statement on humanity. It is one of the greatest films ever made, and it is one that should be seen in theaters to truly appreciate its greatness.

What do you think? Do you disagree with AJ? Let us know in the comments below! 

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