Re-released with a digitally remastered soundtrack, 2001: A Space Odyssey remains startling for its captivating images. Stanley Kubrick films tend to be deliberate and precise. He excelled in storytelling through visual imagery, and the elaborately
detailed sets and costumes sometimes lingered longer in the mind than the actors and dialogue.The first recognisable human speech comes partway into the second segment of 2001. The actors are few and frequently appear in oversized sets (William Sylvester arriving on an empty shuttle at a practically deserted space station; Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood as Doctors Dave Bowman and Frank Poole wandering through the spaceship Discovery). They handle their dialogue like trained technicians, and keep charisma to a minumum (Kubrick vacillated between using big stars - in The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, and relative unknowns - 2001, Full Metal Jacket). The greatest self-expression and originality comes from the melodious tones of the HAL 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain), in stark contrast to the monotonous delivery of Dullea and Lockwood.
2001 was scripted by Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke, based on Clarke’s story “The Sentinel”, which laid the foundation for his 2001: A Space Odyssey novel. 2001 begins at “The Dawn of Man”. A cluster of apes encounter a monolithic block. Subsequently, one of the apes (Daniel Richter) stand upright and fashions a first weapon out of bone. We move abruptly to 2001 where Dr Heywood Floyd (Sylvester) is enroute to the moon to investigate a newly discovered monolith. 18 months later, Bowman and Poole are on the first manned flight to Jupiter when their computer, the top-of-the-line HAL 9000, dangerously malfunctions.
2001 can be difficult to follow because the dialogue is mostly meaningless chatter or technical detail; the exposition comes in chunks, generally at the end of scenes, and is often thrown away by the actors. The film’s chief idea - that an alien intelligence has been assisting our “evolution” (or at least our ability to build weapons) at key moments in human history - isn’t so much explored as obliquely presented. The final half hour or so of the film (when Bowman comes upon the monolith in space above Jupiter) remains open to varying interpretations. But the beauty of the images throughout, especially when matched with the music of Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss, make it easier to feel 2001, than fully comprehend it.Kubrick and Clarke normally receive the most credit for 2001, but Kubrick’s visual effects team did marvellous, inventive work, long before computers were employed in this area. The production design is phenomenal and cinematographers Geoffrey Unsworth and John Alcott (who later worked with Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange,
Barry Lyndon and The Shining) also deserve credit for the film’s influential look. [Stephen Groenewegen]