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Review: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

With:
Bowman - Keir Dullea Poole - Gary Lockwood Dr. Heywood Floyd - William Sylvester Moonwatcher - Daniel Richter Hal 9000 (voice) - Douglas Rain Smyslov - Leonard Rossiter Elena - Margaret Tyzack Halvorsen - Robert Beatty Michaels - Sean Sullivan Mission Controller - Frank Miller

Stanley Kubrick is alive and well and living in Outer Space. Those filmgoers who have wondered what happened to the man who gave screen birth to “Lolita” and “Dr. Strangelove” can stop worrying. He’s taken up a new hobby–science-fiction–and his first effort comes close to running away with itself. One criticism that will be raised is that film cost too much for so “personal” (i.e. Kubrick) a film.

When Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi specialist Arthur C. Clarke first conceived the idea of making a Cinerama film, neither had any idea that it would run into a project of several years. Shooting actually began late December, 1965, in England and continued, if one counts added footage and retakes, until early this year. Much of the lengthy shooting time, of course, is attributable to the detailed special effects the story made necessary. Keir Dullea, for instance, completed another film (“The Fox”) and did a Broadway play (“Dr Cook’s Garden”) between completion of his role in “2001” and its current release.

Was all this painstaking research and work worthwhile? There will be many filmgoers, fortunately for Metro, who’ll think it was; there’ll be others who won’t see this in the finished handiwork of Kubrick and his staff. A major achievement in cinematography and special effects, “2001” lacks dramatic appeal to a large degree and only conveys suspense after the halfway mark. Despite the enormous technical staff involved in making the film, it is almost entirely one man’s conception and Kubrick must receive all the praise – and take all the blame.

The plot, so-called, uses up almost two hours in exposition of scientific advances in space travel and communications, before anything happens. The surprisingly dull prolog deals with the “advancement of man,” centering on a group of apes (the makeup is amateurish compared to that in “Planet of the Apes”). An important prop is also introduced but so sketchily that many viewers will scarcely note, and promptly forget it–a huge black monolith is shown briefly (to reappear light years later as the key to possible life on planets other than Earth).

The little humor is provided by introducing well-known commercial names which are presumably still operational during the space age: the Orbiter Hilton hotel, refreshments by Howard Johnson, picture phones by Bell, and Pan Am space ships (although one shown is carrying only a single passenger). A computer named Hal that can talk is, initially, good for a laugh but when it turns out to be the villain, this attitude quickly changes. Hal (voiced by Douglas Rain, although originally done by Martin Balsam) is one of the film’s best effects and surprisingly acceptable, considering reaction to it is based on the use of a voice.

Dullea and Gary Lockwood, as the two principal astronauts, are not introduced until well along in the film. Their complete lack of emotion becomes rather implausible during scenes where they discover, and discuss, the villainy of the computer. Except for William Sylvester, as the scientist who reveals the project to investigate possibility of life on another planet, the other human roles are little more than walkons.

Kubrick and Clarke have kept dialog to a minimum, frequently inserting lengthy passages where everything is told visually. One inside joke is the remark by a femme Russian scientist that her husband is busy elsewhere doing underwater exploration (Clarke’s real-life hobby). Scientific advances appear much further along than would seem possible for the 33 intervening years until 2001. The only earth shots shown are interiors transmitted over picture phones or closed-circuit TV but, incongruously, Earth citizens are shown dressed and acting 1968 while the scientists (even in their casual attire) wear stylized space-age garb.

Film ends on a confused note, never really tackling the “other life” situation and evidently leaving interpretation up to the individual viewer. To many this will smack of indecision or hasty scripting. Dullea, after being subjected to a wild celestial ride through a series of galaxies that create a psychedelic effort on both him and the audience, finds himself in a room decorated in a style familiar to Earth although the implication is that he’s on Jupiter. After confronting himself in various advance stages of age, he finally succumbs to the power generated by the black monolith (still unexplained) which has reappeared. The ending shot blends a planet with an orb-shaped view of an embryo, possibly suggesting the rebirth of civilization in another universe.

There can be little doubt that the special effects created for “2001” are the equal of any the screen has come up with. A fantastic array of spaceships (close in design to those now in existence which helps credibility) and planetary shots have not only been painstakingly created by production designers Tony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernie Archer, and directed by Kubrick, but Geoffrey Unsworth and John Alcott’s beautiful Super Panavision-Metrocolor camerawork covers any suggestion of miniature work (although this must have been considerable).

The Cinerama projection takes a bit of adjusting to, the curved look of tables and other squarish objects being a bit unreal but this passes as one becomes involved in the fantastic settings. The tremendous centrifuge which makes up the principal set (in which the two astronauts live and travel) reportedly cost $750,000 and looks every bit of it, being one of the most unusual sets ever dreamed up for a film.

Ray Lovejoy’s editing, generally good, too often holds views to the point of losing interest while other scenes are chopped abruptly, sometimes with no explanation. This suggests some wholesale and rather hasty cutting decisions on the part of Kubrick. The 160-minute running time, still over­long, could be shortened sufficiently by some slicing in the lengthy introduction to make the intermission unnecessary. Music credits were not provided to trade reviewers although screen credits acknowledged such non-space age composers as Johann and Richard Strauss and Aram Khatchaturian.

The commercial future of “2001” will be followed with interest. With an initial print order of 103, Metro evidently intends to follow up its Washington (Tues.) and New York (Wed.) premieres with numerous openings, as suggested by the tremendous promotional campaign on the film already underway.

But “2001: A Space Odyssey” is not a cinematic landmark. It compares with, but does not best, previous efforts at science fiction; lacking the humanity of “Forbidden Planet,” the imagination of “Things to Come” and the simplicity of “Of Stars and Men,” it actually belongs to the technically-slick group previously dominated by George Pal and the Japanese.

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Review: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

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Production: M-G-M. Director Stanley Kubrick; Producer Stanley Kubrick; Screenplay Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke; Camera Geoffrey Unsworth, John Alcott; Editor Ray Lovejoy; Art Director Tony Masters, Harry Lange, Ernest Archer. Reviewed at Loew's Capitol, N.Y., April 1, '68.

Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1968. Running time: 139 MIN.

With: Bowman - Keir Dullea Poole - Gary Lockwood Dr. Heywood Floyd - William Sylvester Moonwatcher - Daniel Richter Hal 9000 (voice) - Douglas Rain Smyslov - Leonard Rossiter Elena - Margaret Tyzack Halvorsen - Robert Beatty Michaels - Sean Sullivan Mission Controller - Frank Miller

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