Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Space Oddities: 2001: A Space Odyssey Film Review

Fig 1: 2001: A Space Odyssey film poster.

Bringing up in conversation the film’s title, and most would nod thier heads to agree: what an outstanding yet baffling piece of art.

Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) is described as an epic science fiction film that shows no bounds; from the imagination to the clever simplicity of the plot that captivates many. 

The feature can be straight away linked to modern movies, for example, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” (2013) plus Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014). The slow moving camera, the idea of being isolated in space as well the as the fear of the unknown can all be felt in these films. The sheer quality of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) portrays Kubrick’s deep fascination of exploring outer space - making it seem a strange and extraordinary environment. 

Fig 2: The ape discovering the bone can be used as a weapon.

Indeed, this is a lengthy feature, however the course of the plot flows smoothly and no scenes are rushed. Just as Roger Ebert describes, “He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations” (Roger Ebert, 1997). Each important segment has its own time frame in which it is free to display its elements. In addition to this, the gradual pan of the camera movement relates to how objects and humans float in space when left drifting due to the lack of strong gravity. 

When it comes to thinking about successful epic action movies, you’d think that it must contain some explosions, car chases, racing music, fights, murders, familiar city scenes. Yes, this movie may lack in all these aspects, but it is massively supported with gradual tension, the viewer becoming perplexed, opening eyes to a new perspective: getting the heart beating. The use of familiar classical string music that is loud yet flows makes an emotive environment. A simple set of just outer space, some space crafts, planets and a void of darkness sets the audience up to be in an unfamiliar world. 

Fig 3: Walking through the space craft. Here we see Kubrick's great use of one point perspective.

The viewers are introduced to the start of mankind. Apes are presented to a large black monolith, leading onto them discovering how to use bones as weapons (seen in Fig 2). A bone is flung into the air and the shot is cut straight into a spacecraft of the future slowly panning down, signifying the bone coming back down. Coming across HAL, a reliable machine incapable of error, it is shown that actually HAL is beginning to become self aware, and attempting to rid himself of humans. This self aware behavior is closely linked to the ruthless killer super computer, “SKYNET”,  from James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”  (1991). 
    Learning that the machine is a slave to mankind, it becomes knowledgeable that computers must surpass mankind and rid itself of the “disease”.  HAL successfully ends the lives of astronauts in hibernation and as Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) comes to realise the twisted intentions of it, he returns to the spacecraft (after attempting to save Dr. Frank Poole) to slowly shut down the memory banks and heart of HAL and finally shut him down (seen in Fig 4).  Suddenly, Bowman is taken through a strange journey of warped and pulsating colours: the unsettling yet mesmerizing series of lights are linked to the popularity of the 1960’s hippie movement, where spreading peace and love, and smoking narcotics to make you hallucinate were at a high at the release of this film. This warped vision is definitely seen during this scene: perhaps this is was Bowman was witnessing. Bowman eventually witnesses himself age rapidly as he enters a marble room. Once again, the black monolith appears at the foot of the bed and presented to the viewers is finally a large fetus (Fig 6), where the film ends. 

Fig 4: Shutting down HAL.

Truly a baffling ending, but what can be noticed is the relation of past and future with the black monolith (seen below in Fig 5) – perhaps, this object is a symbol of evolution, knowledge, reincarnation. Does it posses some sort of ethereal power or a hidden entity that shows no concern of time – or does it chase a desire to travel through time to acquire as much information and knowledge as possible, and create the ultimate race. Almar Haflidason states : “The plot is not so much of structure but rather of events or moments in time that are united by the appearance of a large black monolith.” (Almar Haflidason, 2001) In agreement to this statement, another logic is that yes, the monolith is the center piece that mainly shows itself at the beginning, middle and end – the crucial components of any story. 

Another point is made by Roger Ebert that describes is words the feelings after witnessing “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) – “What he (Stanley Kubrick) had actually done was make a philosophical statement about man's place in the universe, using images as those before him had used words, music or prayer. And he had made it in a way that invited us to contemplate it -- not to experience it vicariously as entertainment, as we might in a good conventional science-fiction film, but to stand outside it as a philosopher might, and think about it.”  (Roger Ebert, 1997). In agreement to this, the typical synopsis of a film would be to view as entertainment and be pleasurable to view, no matter the category, however as well as inducing this, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) really does force you to ask questions. 

Fig 5: Bowman laying, witnessing the monolith.

A noticeable feature are the periods of silence amongst the haunting choir music, powerful string music, sounds emitted from the machines and the breaths of Bowman – suddenly there are cuts to no sound and scenes of the dark void that is outer space. Kubrick must have wanted to convey the isolation and deathly silence of outer space as well as fear the unknown – will there be a sound? A bang? A threat? A monster? Haflidason also comments: This spiralling circle of deceit combined with the emptiness of space and some grand silences becomes quite terrifying” (Almar Haflidasion, 2001) 

Fig 6: The fetus

Of course, to this day, as Haflidason says: “it's an exercise in spectacle and even in today's world of CGI, it's safe to say that the effects are still very impressive” (Almar Haflidason, 2001) the special effects remain impressive. Kubrick immerses the audience into an unbelievable setting and go on a journey of awe, astonishment, unsettlement and makes the viewer question the entirety of what they just witnessed. Yet while in a state of confusion, you are also in a state of admiration.


Ebert, R. (1997) Great Movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, rogerebert.com (Accessed on 13/10/15)http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-2001-a-space-odyssey-1968
Milne, T. (May 5th, 1968) 2001: A Space Odyssey: Archive Review, The Guardian (Accessed on 13/10/15) http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/space-odyssey-review-science-fiction
Haflidason, A. (March 29th, 2001) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), BBC Films (Accessed on 13/10/15) http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2000/09/18/2001_review.shtml

Illustration List: 

Fig 2: "The ape discovering the bone can be used as a weapon." (Accessed on 13/10/15) http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/2001/images/3/3a/Monkey_man.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20111116210717
Fig 3: "Walking through the space craft. Here we see Kubrick's great use of one point perspective." (Accessed on 13/10/15) http://www.popoptiq.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/2001-a-space-odyssey.jpg
Fig 4: "Shutting down HAL." (Accessed on 13/10/15) https://nonamemovieblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/2001-dead-room.jpg
Fig 6: "The fetus" (Accessed on 13/10/15) https://i.ytimg.com/vi/yazu8vaGPwQ/maxresdefault.jpg


  1. Great review Manisha... I was enthralled reading it :)

    One minor housekeeping point - make sure that your bibliography is in alphabetical order by the authors' surnames; not a big deal when you only have a few references, but it becomes important when you have many more.

    Looking forward to reading the next one :D

    1. Ah thank you Jackie! :^D~ and sure thing!