Some movies live long in the memory. Others are considered classics. There are some that go beyond these terms entirely and are considered genre-defining works that are not only movies of the highest quality but also have a resonance that goes way beyond the cinematic world.
When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released back in April 1968, it had an immediate impact, and that impact is still being felt more than fifty years later. Some of the leaps the film took in terms of the product itself are still mind-blowing.
Kubrick was clearly the right man for the job when it came to adapting Arthur C. Clarke’s novel to the screen. The way in which the acclaimed director chose to approach the subject matter of the book, and the tools he used (and created) to envisage the world made by the author, are still impressive in today’s far more technologically superior world.
As well as the use of visual tricks that helped bring the story to life, the use of an outstanding score and sound effects made the overall production a sublime feat that has very much stood the test of time.
When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, the man had not yet even walked on the moon, and given that the world imagined by Clarke and Kubrick was far in advance of where humanity had traveled, the work put in by the production team was unparalleled.
The source material, namely the original book, made a number of predictions that may well have seemed like pipe dreams in the late 1960s but are now commonplace. Take, for instance, video conferencing, which we see take place in the movie. This is something that would have been quite alien to viewers who watched the original release but is now something that is very much part and parcel of the modern world.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a concept very much in its infancy when Arthur C. Clarke discussed it in his book, an idea that was only a theoretical construct that helped to breathe literal life into one of the book’s key characters. Namely, HAL 9000, who malfunctions and ends up wreaking havoc.
This is another aspect that the book and film predicted that has, to some extent, become a part of life; thankfully, there are very few cases of AI causing quite this level of destruction, but who knows what the future will bring.
In the film, Stanley Kubrick’s production team put together a hugely futuristic (especially for the time) idea of what a space station might look like, and it’s worth noting that at the time of the film’s release, there was no such thing as a space station, with the first launching of one occurring a few years later.
Clearly, the idea of a space station in the movie is a very stylized one, and even in 2022, we haven’t reached the level of opulence achieved by the movie. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the vision created by Kubrick is very much style over substance, and the reality is far more mundane and down to earth (no pun intended).
The idea of suspending animation, in other words, the act of putting passengers into a deep sleep for a lengthy journey, has become a staple of science fiction movies, but the way in which Kubrick approached the idea is quite a feat to behold. Again, this isn’t something that was commonplace even as an idea back in the last 1960s, and even now, in 2022, it’s not a process that we have, as a species, worked out how to achieve.
This prediction isn’t one that can be quantified, but the way in which the production approached the idea was a unique one that hasn’t, in our view, been bettered even by the likes of the Alien franchise.
An Undisputable Classic
As well to any forward-thinking ideas that the book and the film created there are also the amazing storytelling abilities at play when it comes to the sheer spectacle that is Stanley Kubrick’s finished masterpiece.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie that is regularly cited as a classic and studied by film students, and perhaps it is the ability to work on this academic and technical level while also being accessible to all is its chief accomplishment.
The subject matter that the film deals with is very complex, and there are elements that are incredibly deep, but the cinematic appeal goes beyond this. The dialogue is sparse, and arguably you could watch the movie without any words and still get a gist of what’s the intention of the movie.
The editing in the movie is also sublime and the way in which Kubrick takes his time to, in some ways, show off the scale of his vision also shows us a director who was at the peak of his powers and given the space to do as he wished, without film execs demanding he altered his work to fit an industry standard.
Kubrick came into the production off the back of some big successes that helped give him this room to breathe in. 2001: A Space Odyssey was the American director’s eighth feature film and came off the back of the massive successes of Spartacus, Lolita, and Dr. Strangelove, which were released between 1960 and 1964, and this meant that when the film was released in 1968, he had won a great deal of loyalty from the studio system.
He had proven that he could be a box office success while not compromising on his unique talents. 2001: A Space Odyssey cost just over $10 million to make, and on its initial release, the film struggled to make back this outlay, but a re-release in 1971 led to a much higher level of recompense for the film.
To date, it’s grossed over $140 million from theatrical releases and a great deal in additional sales on other formats.
The film is recognized as a masterpiece and is still shown in cinemas to new audiences to this day and will continue to serve as a benchmark in the cinematic canon and will live on forever.
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