2001: A Space Odyssey review – Kubrick’s space trip still a standout

2001: A Space Odyssey
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Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cert: G
Genre: Sci-Fi
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter
Running Time: 2 hrs 22 mins

There are reasons to be unconvinced by Stanley Kubrick's biggest, broadest, most philosophically woolly confection. For all the eerie power of the prehistoric opening and the juiced-up psychedelia of the closing epiphany, it's easy to forget that large sections of 2001 are about the boring business of doing boring things. Much has been made of the director's obsessively compulsive need to reshoot every scene to the point of oblivion. It is less often mentioned how that near-psychosis extends to a bleaching of all character from his unfortunate actors. There could hardly be a greater deal of nothing in the central sections of 2001: A Space Odyssey. One senses a director annoyed that traces of pesky action still clog up his perfectly polished surface.

As any member of the Kubrick Klan will tell you, that is precisely the point of the sections in which food is eaten, exercise is taken and that whatsit is repaired. Space trav- el will be like this, you know?

For all that, the audacity of 2001: A Space Odyssey still sets it apart from the competition. The recent release of Christopher Nolan's unfocused Interstellar only serves to ram home the upside to Kubrick's notorious discipline. Whereas Nolan's film clatters chaotically from domestic drama to black hole to bad science, Kubrick manages the extraordinary feat of imposing concision on a story that stretches over four million years.

The final hallucinatory meltdown may have delighted contemporaneous chemical users, but there is not a hint of grooviness to the sharp surfaces and precise patterns.

This welcome re-release does, however, give us the opportunity to point up one nagging infelicity. Yes, there is no sound in Kubrick’s outer space. True, the spacecraft follow both Newton’s and Einstein’s laws. But just watch how, in the sections on the moon, the astronauts plod around as if in Earth gravity. Nobody would have made that mistake after the moon landing. Not that it matters.