“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.”
This may have been the movie on this countdown I was dreading most. There are others on the list I’ve seen before and not liked it, including another movie by this same director. But I remembered this being such a long, boring, painful slog, that the thought of sitting through it again really was daunting. Then, an old cinema in Melbourne announced it was closing down and that it would be showing this movie over its final weekend. So I figured if I had to see 2001: A Space Odyssey again, I’d at least do it in style at the Astor.
Opening on the African savannah at the dawn of man, some vegetarian monkey-men are chased away from their watering hole by rival pack of monkey-men. The next morning, they wake to see that a giant monolith has appeared. The mysterious black monument is blankly anonymous, yet emits obvious power. Soon, under its influence, the monkey-men realise that bones can be used as tools and weapons.
Cut to a space station a few million years later where Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) stops on his way to the moon. Rumour has it, a disease has broken out on the moon, but the truth is, it’s all a cover up. Another monolith has been found, and it’s thought to be the first signs of extra terrestrial life.
Another 18 months later, and doctors Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are on a mission to Jupiter. With the rest of their team colleagues in hibernation, the only other company on board is HAL 9000, a super intelligent computer thought to be infallible. But soon, Dave and Frank start to suspect HAL may have an ulterior motive beyond the thinking of your average machine.
Like I said, I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey before. But back then, it took me three attempts to actually get through it. I fell asleep on the first two tries, and I think, I was borderline catatonic by the end of the third go round. But I got through it. This time, with the forced attention of a cinema big screen, the movie definitely got better. All of a sudden, I could latch onto it a lot more. Sure, the concepts and ideas are still beyond me, but the plot seemed a lot easier to grasp and hold on to.
What I was absolutely blown away by this time was the production design and technical film making behind it. The sets, models, costumes and look of 2001 are nothing short of amazing. A decade before Star Wars, and four decades before the onslaught of CGI, this looks just as realistic and high tech as the best space movies made since.
I also became really aware of Kubrick’s framing of interiors. In space, he revels in the infinite. There’s no limit to the areas and he takes full advantage of the perspectives available to him when things can literally be light years away. But when the story moves inside, he makes sure we feel those limited spaces. So many shots are framed to make sure we can see walls, ceilings and floors, all in one shot. Seeing the bottoms of walls meet the floor, and the tops meet the ceilings, means there’s always a vanishing point at the back of the frame, where everything is converging and closing in. I have no idea what Kubrick was trying to say with that, but I love that it made me wonder what he was trying to say with it.
This viewing didn’t convert me into a 2001: A Space Odyssey acolyte. It didn’t even make me change my generally negative opinion of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. But it did make me understand why other people adore this movie so much. It’s impressive and grand and ambitious and ambiguous in all the right ways, it’s just not my kind of movie. So while, God willing, I’ll never have to sit through it again, I also won’t cringe next time I hear someone bang on about it being a masterpiece.
Best Director (Kubrick nominated, lost to Carol Reed for Oliver)
Best Original Screenplay (Kubrick nominated, lost to Mel Brooks for The Producers)
Best Visual Effects