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2001: A Space Odyssey Retrospective

Summer 2023. Audiences are flocking to cinemas to see the eagerly anticipated blockbuster, Barbie. The film begins and we open on a horizon. Cut to children playing with dolls in a desert landscape, only to find something that will change their lives forever, a monolithic Barbie doll.

Now to many, this might have seemed like a strange but interesting way to open one of the biggest films of the year, not realising that director Greta Gerwig is in fact paying homage to one of the most famous opening sequences in cinematic history, ‘The Dawn of Man’ scene from 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Barbie, The Simpsons and even SpongeBob Squarepants have all lovingly parodied 2001: A Space Odyssey, just to name a few. But for many, 2001 will go down in history as one of, if not the, most influential films of all time.

A classic of science-fiction cinema, director Stanley Kubrick could’ve never imagined that his 55-year-old space epic would still be relevant today, referenced to the nth degree within pop culture, debated among cinephiles, influencing countless other filmmakers to pursue their dreams (Nolan, Spielberg, Lucas and Cameron were all heavily inspired) and is still being screened in local multiplexes.

2001: A Space Odyssey still

It really was a special experience to see this in a cinema. The sound is crisp and pristine, the colours rich and vibrant and filmmaking that was truly ahead of its time. However, two things stood out, firstly the BBFC seemed to have classified 2001 as a ‘U’ so it is suitable for everyone.

Have they seen the film!? 2001 is full of underlying existential terror, enough to make a 7-year-old stare into the never-ending void of time and space. Secondly, 2001 is so old (and so long!) that it includes an intermission. A welcome addition and something I wish was reintroduced for longer films nowadays. Looking at you Oppenheimer!

Released in the late 60s, the film accurately depicts the nature of space travel along with predicting elements of the future including video calls, artificial intelligence, voice recognition and space stations. All this a year before man had even walked on the moon – which really gives credence to the whole ‘Kubrick directed the moon landing’ conspiracy theory! 

2001 is a visually stunning film, sparse on dialogue but full of ambiguous and striking imagery, accompanied by elegant and imposing classical pieces of music. It honestly at times feels like you’re watching a space musical. However, while the film is full of adventure and wonder, like I said before, 2001 brings up a lot of existential dread and ambiguity. It produces these eerie, bizarre feelings around the infinite nature of space, the origins of man and where our future lies as a species. It’s this ambiguity and ‘show-don’t-tell’ approach to the narrative that really has stood the test of time, leading to thousands of theories and discussions surrounding the film’s ending and deeper meaning.

In terms of today’s modern movie goer, 2001 won’t capture the attention of everyone. Drawn out scenes of classical score and endless space accompanied at times only by silence and heavy breathing, can really start to wear on the patience of a modern audience yearning for excitement. However with the benefit of hindsight, just think about how ‘ground-breaking’ these effects and this style of film must have been at the time. Nearly every science-fiction film since owes a debt to the creativity and unprecedented nature of 2001. If you can appreciate that, along with the ambiguous storytelling and hypnotic cinematography, 2001: A Space Odyssey really is ‘the ultimate trip’. 

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