It is the 50th anniversary of one of the most influential films ever made: Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece (no, really), 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lucky for film buffs, hardcore sci-fi fans, recreational drug users, and Pink Floyd enthusiasts, Odyssey has received a limited one-week theatrical rerelease officially starting August 24, 2018. Four IMAX locations (none, sadly, in Minnesota) are screening in IMAX 70mm, created from the “unrestored” 70mm print. The rest of us at other IMAX locations get a 4K remaster.
The rerelease trailer for Odyssey, which originally debuted in 1968, calls it “the movie that changed all movies forever”—a lofty statement, but an accurate one. Whatever criticisms anyone has of this film, and there are a lot out there, nobody who takes movies seriously can dismiss its importance. 2001: A Space Odyssey is, at its most basic, a movie about a secret in the form of a featureless black monolith first discovered by ancient hominids in an African desert and rediscovered millions of years later by humans on the moon. The discovery of the secret prompts a mission with a hazy objective to Jupiter, what seems to be the destination of a lone transmission from the monolith. A crew comprising two pilots and three scientists in suspended animation embark to Jupiter on a craft manned almost entirely by a sentient computer “incapable of error,” HAL 9000. The rest of it is an exploration into existentialism, artificial intelligence, the ethics of technology, and evolution.
One of the striking things about 2001 is how relentlessly creepy it is. For all the stunning visual effects designed and used for the film, every single shot is uncomfortable, from the first to the last. Everything feels subtly dissonant. It’s in the lanky silhouettes of the hominids, the texture of their fur, in the human eyes behind the prosthetics. It’s in the harsh lighting on the face of Doctor Floyd’s daughter in a video call to wish her a happy birthday, in her fidgeting that is just only too much. It’s in the spacecraft food that is both completely foreign and identifiable, the sarcophagus design of hibernation pods, the visual plays with scale. It’s in the tracking shots that linger, yes, far too long. It’s in the calm and confidence of HAL 9000’s voice. And that’s just the subtle stuff. Brilliant, almost violent sound design—alarms, monitors, breathing—contrasted against the elegance of iconic classical music and strategic silence is jarring and awful in the best way. The HAL computer himself, personified as the iconic lens with a red light core, is visually disturbing in a profound way.
There is an eeriness that permeates everything, including the 1960s predictions of future technology that in most other media come off as absurd or comically obsolete. The timelessness of this movie is so impressive, and it can be attributed to the astounding practical effects designed and implemented by Kubrick and his technicians. A futuristic flight attendant grabbing a drifting pen out of midair on a zero-gravity flight may not seem like much in our world of CGI, but for an effect created using double-sided tape, sheet glass, and some clever camera work, it still impresses. Every shot, each one, is a standalone composition.
At the end of the day, 2001: A Space Odyssey is as relevant and poignant as it was 50 years ago. Maybe even more so. The ability to see such an iconic and important classic on a theater screen is an absolute treat—if nothing else, it is worth the price of admission to be reminded of how many pop-culture staples Odyssey influenced. (Or bring a pair of headphones and sync up Pink Floyd’s “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” to the last 23 minutes of the movie. I won’t tell if you don’t.)
The most common criticism of the film is that it drags on—and on, and on, and zzzzzzz—but it feels completely necessary in context. Slow? Yes. Boring? Hell no. It’s true that 2001: A Space Odyssey is not an easy film to watch; it demands total presence, almost mindfulness. But it is (still) worth it. So shut down your brain to its basic functioning, remember a little tune from your childhood, and take the opportunity to experience “the movie that changed all movies forever.”
Still not interested? Well.
That can only be attributed to human error.