I love 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is not a risky statement, it’s one hell of a respected movie.
I’ve seen 2001 a few times but last night I finally had the chance to see it on the big screen (at the Astor on Chapel Street) and it absolutely blew me away. The entire timeI kept thinking: “I can’t believe how good this is in the cinema.” Over and over again. I am a huge fan of going to the movies but I can also admit that most movies are fine to watch at home. Even an explosively big-budget Bay-fest might be good on the big screen, but watching it at home is not going to fundamentally alter the experience.
2001 is the most cinema-worthy movie of all time.
From the opening crescendo of Also Sprach Zarathustra (I just looked it up because I want to know the name of that piece forever) you are transported to a vision of the future and held there right until the same thumping maelstrom of Straussian genius flings you into the final credits, left a blubbering mess trying to piece reality back together again. At every turn Stanley Kubrick leads your senses on a journey through his own prophetic ideas of things to come that has you transfixed from beginning to end.
And he’s cocky about it too. Kubrick isn’t a director worried about people getting bored; every scene takes all the time in the world, confidently expecting you to be so taken in by what’s happening you want it to go on even longer than it does.
I can only imagine what this movie was like in 1967. There should have been riots in the streets after every screening. To see something this bold and visionary would have been a revelation. Modern technology has only just caught up with some of the kit/gear/tech featured in the film – 16 years after it was predicted to occur – and just try getting mobile reception in the city as reliable as they had in space. At the time of its release, whoever was lucky enough to see 2001 experienced the best of the big screen for all time.
As my friend commented afterwards, the most depressing part of the film isn’t just that its prophecies of internationally-united commercial spaceflight didn’t come true, or that some of the technology is only now being seen everywhere. The most depressing part is that, not only has technology not become as good as predicted, movies themselves haven’t even improved in the intervening time! When a person walked out of that movie in 1967 little did they know they had hit the high tidemark of both hope for the future AND cinema-viewing experience for the rest of their life.
The three distinct acts of the movie are all individually awesome on the big screen. The opening scene on an African savannah is gorgeous. I watched it feeling entertained by its primal beauty mixed with respect for the balls on this director opening his science fiction movie with half an hour of monkeys howling on a savannah.
Then, as the movie continued, I finally understood exactly how good this movie is. Every shot and sound overwhelms the senses with its grandeur. Even the close ups of HAL made more sense to me: seeing his “eye” cover an entire cinema screen puts in perspective what the astronauts are going through, trying to take on a presence that is overwhelmingly in control of every part of the ship.
And then there’s the third act. It was always a trip, but this time it’s the real deal. It’s beautiful, it’s mesmerising and it’s confusing. It’s like nothing else. I felt like I was being hypnotised and I couldn’t get enough of it. Even after 50 years, no director has realised that all we need as an audience are some flashing colours,a little ominous music and we’re all thoroughly immersed and entertained.
Some directors have attempted this type of visual and aural assault in their movies recently, but it just doesn’t compare. Christopher Nolan is a good example: he uses absurdly loud music to make you feel engaged, but it gets to the point you can’t even hear what the characters are saying. I guess I can give him some credit for trying, but he fails to come anywhere even remotely close to 2001. Maybe he’s hoping the loud noises will make you ignore the dialogue and feel like you're seeing something as epic as a Shakespearean drama, instead his recent movies have the feeling of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The opposite is the case with Kubrick. Every single shot is painstakingly put together and combined with the music to leave you feeling more than can be put into words. Honestly, you could take almost any screenshot from the whole film and it would make a cool poster to hang in your room. I thought that before watching 2001 at the cinema and now I’m even more convinced of it.
Another plus-side to seeing this film at the Astor is seeing all the other people that are there with you. I don’t know who they are, but I loved them all.
If you ever have the opportunity to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen, do it. You won’t be disappointed.