Scratch one off the bucket list and unsurprisingly, it does live up to the hype.
Synopsis: An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future in this enigmatic adaptation of a short story by revered sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. When Dr. Dave Bowman and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behavior, leading up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time. (MGM)
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester
Writers: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rating: PG (Canada)/G (United States)
Running Time: 129mins
Widely considered a classic and one of the greatest films of all time, this sci-fi behemoth set the bar for future films, inspiring many that came after it. Watching the film now after its fortunate re-release around its 50th anniversary (I’ve been meaning to do it sooner), it is easy to see why all of this is the case. There are definitely parallels here with many sci-fi films from the last few decades. This was, without a doubt, a film that was ahead of its time, maybe not for 2001 but certainly for 1968. From its amazing and Oscar-winning special effects, to its cinematography, to its story, and even its sense of style, this 50-year-old film can still rival many today.
While some may not have seen the film yet (although you all should by now), many big moments and scenes from the film have become part of pop culture from its iconic theme, to The Dawn of Man, and HAL (Douglas Rain). For those who still don’t know the story, the film is about a pair of astronauts named Dr. Dave Bowman (Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Lockwood) sent on a mission to investigate the origin of a mysterious monolith found on the moon after one was found on Earth during prehistoric time. What do these monoliths represent? Perhaps to mark the evolution of mankind? There is plenty of material about the film out there, both in print and on screen because what makes this film so great is how the plot and all the symbolism here is so open to interpretation.
The sheer ambition here continued with the film world itself. Considering the technology of the time, the set designs were ahead of their time that it’s easy to forget that this film is 50 years old. The film was chock full of amazing little details, depicting its ambitious vision of the future (which we now know hasn’t quite happened the same way). Its depiction of space was even more impressive, considering that no one had even explored the moon yet at the time of the film’s release. The use of sound, including the lack of sound (since there’s technically no sound in space) and an orchestral score, helped to create one of the best atmospheres in film. Meanwhile, the shots from inside the space station were so clean and the camerawork used to simulate zero gravity situations was incredible.
The story was thrilling to watch as Bowman and Poole, and a few hibernating astronauts, ventured out on their mission to the unknown with HAL on their side. Or was he on their side? Bowman and Poole didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going so they had to depend on technology, primarily HAL. In its vision of the future, one of the major themes of the film was the many dangers behind the advent of technology and its growing impact on our everyday lives which was definitely the case here (as well as today for the most part).
There was clearly no bigger example of this than with HAL, an artificial intelligence that operated the space station. He appeared to be this wonderful and infallible entity until he inevitably wasn’t and decided to fight back against the astronauts in what was a tense battle. The character of HAL was one of the most memorable parts of the film and deservedly so. He may have just been a disembodied voice but it was easy to care about and empathize with him. HAL’s true feelings and intentions were perhaps unclear, however, he simply wanted to help and to complete the mission whatever the cost. Finally, the last sequence and the end of the film was truly mesmerizing to watch and will surely be the moment that will be most open to interpretation as Bowman is faced with his own humanity and that of mankind.
The acting was great across the board though often felt secondary to whatever was happening on screen as the human characters only played a small part in the story which was by design. Dullea and Lockwood were compelling to watch as Bowman and Poole respectively. Bowman was a meatier role that Dullea was up to the challenge for. Since the film relied heavily on closeups to delve into the psyche of the characters, his many facial expressions were key in communicating the mood of scenes. The other performance worth mentioning was that of Rain as HAL. His vocal performance was near perfection, always hitting the right tone with his cold and chilling delivery.
Overall, this was an amazing sci-fi film deserving of its classic status thanks to plenty of moments that have since entered the confines of pop culture. This now 50-year-old film was definitely ahead of its time with an atmosphere and production values that still rival many of the films of today. It’s a shame that it’s only Oscar came for special effects, for which it truly deserved, since it was deserving of so much more (it was nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Design). This engaging, and often accurate, vision of the future serves as a cautionary tale that is still relevant today. Its open-ended nature has created plenty of discussion up to this point and will surely lead to more now and in the distant future, hopefully, as more discover the film.