Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - It can only be at­trib­ut­able to hu­man bril­liance 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is out now on DVD, blu-ray and Down­load

2001: A SPACE Odyssey may now be seen as ar­guably the great­est sci-fi movie of all time but, back in April 1968, it wasn’t even the great­est sci-fi of the month. That hon­our went to an­other ho­minid-heavy as­tro­naut movie, Planet Of The

Apes, a more ac­ces­si­ble but less tech­ni­cal pic­ture. While crit­ics went apes for Charl­ton He­ston, Stan­ley Kubrick’s space drama got the sharper end of their pens. They damned its lan­guid pac­ing, lengthy run­time, even its mys­te­ri­ous mono­lith. “Why doesn’t Pauline Kael like my movie?” fret­ted Kubrick to his mar­ket­ing team. The revered New Yorker critic had damned his film’s de­ter­min­ist out­look as “a cel­e­bra­tion of a cop-out”.

What Kael and her peers couldn’t have known was that Kubrick’s time-trav­el­ling movie would it­self travel glo­ri­ously through time. It re­mains a grand, highly cere­bral and wil­fully baf­fling ex­pe­ri­ence, but with each pass­ing year it glints with fresh rel­e­vance. You only need to watch Christo­pher Nolan’s

In­ter­stel­lar, its debt to 2001 ev­i­dent from its geo­met­ric tesser­act to its oblique end­ing, Robert Ze­meckis’ Con­tact or Alex Gar­land’s Ex Machina to feel its in­flu­ence still seep­ing into cinema’s pores. Its use of mod­els, pho­to­graphic trick­ery, in-cam­era ef­fects and that fa­mous bone-tospace sta­tion match cut thrilled a new wave of di­rec­tors like Ri­d­ley Scott and George Lu­cas. With­out it, there’d be no Star Wars. It was, sim­ply, a giant leap for moviemak­ing.

A trip­tych of in­ter­lock­ing sto­ries, uni­fied by three cameos from that alien mono­lith and

ac­com­pa­nied by Strauss’ lush or­ches­tra­tion and Ligeti’s jar­ring tones, Kubrick’s sci-fi was carved from the bones of Arthur C Clarke’s short story The Sen­tinel. He had the writer travel from his Sri Lankan home and hole up in New York’s shabby Chelsea Ho­tel to ma­noeu­vre the enig­matic cen­tre­piece of his story into a metaphor for hu­man evo­lu­tion around which the plot, such as it was, would hang. When MGM pres­i­dent Robert O’brien warned an ea­ger press that it wouldn’t be “a Buck Rogers kind of space epic”, he wasn’t kid­ding. The clos­est it of­fered to a Twiki-like side­kick was a sen­tient com­puter. Af­ter decades of hel­ter-skel­ter B movies filled with fly­ing saucers and lit­tle green men with ray guns, Kubrick of­fered a su­per-com­puter em­bark­ing on an un­pro­voked mur­der spree.

But HAL 9000, the Dis­cov­ery One’s on­board com­puter and aide to as­tro­nauts Frank Poole (Gary Lock­wood) and Dave Bow­man (Keir Dul­lea) on their mono­lith-led mis­sion to Jupiter, turned out to be much more than just your av­er­age AI with a glitch. As a vil­lain, it stands eye­ball-tocrim­son-eye­ball with any in cinema — cun­ningly dis­patch­ing first the sci­en­tists aboard, then lur­ing the two re­main­ing crew mem­bers one-by­one out of the air­lock to re­pair a bo­gus fault — only to be even­tu­ally un­der­done by that most hu­man of qual­i­ties, hubris. Un­ex­pect­edly, Bow­man is able to ne­go­ti­ate the air­lock with­out a hel­met and turn the ta­bles. HAL’S end comes to the strains of Daisy Bell (A Bi­cy­cle Built For

Two), the song tail­ing off as it slurs to­wards the in­fi­nite. For a malev­o­lent ar­ray of sil­i­con chips and wires, it’s oddly heart­break­ing.

If HAL’S self-aware­ness be­comes a lit­tle more chilling with ev­ery AI ad­vance hu­man­ity makes, Kubrick’s pre­science in other ar­eas is just as star­tling. Legend has it that, hedg­ing against be­ing beaten to the punch dur­ing pro­duc­tion, he placed a bet on the dis­cov­ery of ex­tra-ter­res­trial life. If he’d put a fiver on the birth of com­mer­cial space travel, so­phis­ti­cated ro­bot­ics and video con­fer­enc­ing, too — all pre-empted here — he’d have cov­ered off a por­tion of MGM’S $10.5 mil­lion bud­get. It’s hard to imag­ine how this al­most 50-year-old movie could be any more prophetic, short of hav­ing a Squir­tle perched on the mono­lith.

The shoot it­self took a mam­moth 20 months, with the vis­ual ef­fects re­quir­ing nearly two years (and $6.5 mil­lion) of their own. To its eter­nal credit, MGM, a stu­dio known for bet­ting big on epics like Ben-hur and Gone With The Wind, al­lowed its direc­tor to­tal con­trol, even as the bud­get bal­looned. “An ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of credit must go to Robert O’brien,” re­counted a grate­ful Kubrick later, “who had suf­fi­cient faith to al­low me to per­se­vere at what must have, at times, ap­peared to be a task with­out end.” The Dis­cov­ery One set alone cost an eye-wa­ter­ing $750,000.

The ends, though, jus­ti­fied the beans. A vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence like no other, 2001 is a film to bathe in, muse over and ar­gue about. Ini­tially shunned by au­di­ences, it found life as a stoner’s day out — a fact can­nily seized on by mar­ke­teers, who dubbed it “the ul­ti­mate trip”. An al­tered state cer­tainly wouldn’t have hurt in find­ing en­light­en­ment in its el­lip­ti­cal end­ing. Per­haps Bow­man’s jour­ney through the Star Gate and into a state of re­birth is not meant to be grasped at all. Re­fresh­ingly, here is a film with far more ques­tions than answers. Maybe Kubrick, like that darn mono­lith, is lead­ing us on an odyssey with no des­ti­na­tion.

Dave Bow­man (Keir Dul­lea) is hyp­no­tised by HAL.

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