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2001: A Space Odyssey


As mind-blowing today as it was when it hit theatres 51 years ago, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is a complicated classic.

Working with author Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick tells the story of man's history on Earth, starting with the Dawn of Man sequence depicting two tribes of man/apes, fighting over a watering hole and living a quiet life in a vast desert.

When a black monolith suddenly appears one morning at sunrise, towering over their heads, perfectly dark and smooth, they approach it cautiously, but Moonwatcher (Daniel Richter) is the first to touch it, cautiously, then admiringly.

The next scene shows Moonwatcher the following day, when he suddenly makes the leap forward to realize that the animal bones he's touched his entire life can be tools AND weapons.

In one of the best jump cuts in film history, Kubrick then jumps forward thousands of years to an orbiting space station, where scientist Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is approaching in a Pan Am space shuttle.

Kubrick and his team spent three years on the special effects of 2001 and it shows. Every single frame of the film looks fantastic five decades later. There's not one bad matte painting or obvious model shot. Every movement and detail is flawless.

Floyd is on his way to the moon, where another black monolith has been unearthed from where it was placed thousands of years ago. By whom or what?

Their interaction with the monolith is followed by another jump cut to 17 years later, dropping us into the massive spaceship Discovery on its way to Jupiter, the destination of a powerful signal emanating from the moon's monolith.

There are two astronauts outside of suspended animation on the long voyage. Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Poole (Gary Lockwood). We watch with dropped jaws as Kubrick manages to film Poole jogging in a straight line around, upside down and back again through the massive, rotating main cylinder of the Discovery.

Its shot for real, without wires, without special effects and it's movie genius. Kubrick's camera follows Poole around the cylinder three or four times, just to make your brain hurt trying to figure out just how in the hell he's doing that.

The third "awake" member of the crew is the supercomputer HAL-9000, voiced by British actor Douglas Rain in perfect voice.

The last hour of the film is a fascinating slow build as Poole and Bowman realize their perfect computer may not be perfect and that the mission may have deep secrets.

The final 25 minutes of 2001 is one of the movies all-time classic sequences as Bowman hurtles deep into what Kubrick and Clarke call "the infinite and beyond". Movie audiences called it an all out assault on the eyes and ears as Bowman soars through incredible lights, sounds and otherworldly terrain into......

Hmmmm. You figure it out, as the film has just as many interpretations as it does viewers.

MGM studio heads hated the film when they previewed it and thought they had a bomb on their hands, but audiences wrapped around the block from day one.

Younger film goers embraced the movie and dubbed it "the ultimate trip" loving the slow paced immersion in the past and future that Kubrick weaves with his own deliberate style.

His use of the classical strings of Strauss for space flight and modern avant garde music by Gyorgy Ligeti to inspire fear and tension was unheard of in 1968 and still works perfectly today.

There is little dialogue in the film and virtually none in the first or last half hour. There are so many scenes here that among my all time favorites.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time when I was 9 years old on the big screen with my brother Mark, who had already seen it three times at the age of 13. I didnt understand it, but it blew me away visually.

Still does.

It's a shame that the Academy Award for best make up that year went to "Planet of the Apes" and not 2001. I'm convinced that many of the Academy voters had no idea that all the apes in the Dawn of Man sequence were not actual apes. They were led by mime artist Daniel Richter, who studied animal movement and taught all the actors for many months before the sequence was shot. That level of detail is present in every scene of 2001.

For me, it remains Kubrick's best film among many great films he made in his lifetime.

After five decades, it's still the ultimate cinematic trip and gets an A+ and a monolithic place in my all-time Top 100 films.

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