Top 100 Movie Review: No. 021 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Ranked 021 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during June 2020.

Cast: Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole), William Sylvester (Dr. Heywood R. Floyd), Daniel Richter (Moon-Watcher), Leonard Rossiter (Dr. Andrei Smyslov), Margaret Tyzack (Elena), Robert Beatty (Dr. Ralph Halvorsen), Sean Sullivan (Dr. Bill Michaels), Douglas Rain (HAL 9000 voice)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
My rating: 8.5 / 10

In the prehistoric African a tribe of apes are driven away from their water hole by a rival tribe. Later, they awaken to find an alien monolith has appeared before them. Seemingly influenced by the monolith, they discover how to use tools and bones as a weapon and return to kill the lead rival ape and drive the rest away.

Millions of years later, Dr. Heywood Floyd, Chairman of the United States National Council of Astronautics, travels to Clavius Base, a United States outpost on the Moon. During a stopover at Space Station 5, he meets Russian scientists who are concerned that the Clavius base appears to have gone offline and how it refused an emergency landing.

Floyd refuses to discuss rumours of an epidemic at the base. Continuing his journey to Clavius, Floyd addresses a meeting of personnel to whom he stresses the need for secrecy with respect to their newest discovery. Floyd’s mission is to investigate a recently found artefact buried four million years ago. Floyd and others ride in a flying Moonbus to the artefact, a monolith identical to the one encountered by the prehistoric apes. As they examine the monolith, it is struck by sunlight, upon which it emits a high-powered radio signal.

Eighteen months later, the United States spacecraft Discovery One is bound for Jupiter. On board are mission pilots and scientists Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, along with three other scientists in suspended animation. Most of Discovery’s operations are controlled by “Hal”, a HAL 9000 computer with a human personality.

A conversation between Hal and Bowman is interrupted when Hal reports the imminent failure of an antenna control device. The astronauts retrieve it in an extravehicular activity (EVA) pod but find nothing wrong. Hal suggests reinstalling the device and letting it fail so the problem can be verified. Mission Control advises the astronauts that results from their own computer indicate that Hal is in error about the device’s imminent failure which no one can believe as a 9000 series computer has never been in error. Ominously Hal attributes the discrepancy to human error.

Concerned about Hal’s behaviour, Bowman and Poole enter an EVA pod to talk without Hal overhearing, and agree to disconnect Hal if he is proven wrong. Hal follows their conversation by lip reading. While Poole is on a space walk outside his pod attempting to replace the antenna unit, Hal takes control of the pod, severs Poole’s oxygen hose, and sets him adrift.

Bowman takes another pod to rescue Poole; while he is outside, Hal turns off the life support functions of the crewmen in suspended animation, thereby killing them. When Bowman returns to the ship with Poole’s body, Hal refuses to let him in, stating that the astronauts’ plan to deactivate him jeopardises the mission.

Bowman opens the ship’s emergency airlock manually, enters the ship briefly exposed to space but survives.  Bowman then proceeds to Hal’s processor core, where he begins disconnecting Hal’s circuits. Hal tries to reassure Bowman, then pleads with him to stop, and then expresses fear. When the disconnection is complete, a pre-recorded video message plays, revealing that the mission’s objective is to investigate a radio signal sent from the lunar artefact, the monolith, to Jupiter.  While HAL knew about this none of the crew did.

At Jupiter, Bowman finds a third monolith orbiting the planet. He leaves Discovery One in an EVA pod to investigate, but is pulled into a vortex of coloured light. Bowman is carried across vast distances of space, while viewing bizarre cosmological phenomena and strange landscapes of unusual colours. Eventually he finds himself in a large neoclassical bedroom where he sees, and then becomes, older versions of himself: first standing in the bedroom, middle-aged and still in his spacesuit, then dressed in leisure attire and eating dinner, and finally as an old man lying on a bed. A monolith appears at the foot of the bed, and as Bowman reaches for it, he is transformed into a foetus enclosed in a transparent orb of light, which is then later floating in space watching the Earth .

What’s to Like
The high concepts, the visual effects, the great classical music used.

What’s not to Like
The high concepts can be confusing (which is also a highlight but can put many off).  

A massive epic movie covering thousand of years this movie can be interpreted in many different ways.  You could see it as hopeful as a creator or the universe helps us develop, or you could see that with evolution comes violence.  We are treated to the wonder, awe and terror of space as we step into the unknown.  We see a conspiracy created as US Government tries to hide this amazing discovery and revelation.  We see the potential horror of Article Intelligence running essential life functions and then turning against us, a big theme in science fiction after this movie.

The movie will dazzle you, and will likely confuse you and leave you wondering what just occurred.  It’s a big crazy journey and an amazing reach for a high unknowable question of our future evolution.  High concept science fiction definitely worth watching if you like such movies.

Academy Awards

  • Best Effects, Special Visual Effects – Winner
  • Best Director (Stanley Kubrick) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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