Silence has never been as deafening in Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 1968 movie is able to cover a million years worth of progress in an awe-inspiring two hours and twenty minutes.
Kubrick not only dramatizes the ever-increasing fear of a superior artificial intelligence, he takes you from one side of the galaxy to the other, raising questions on existentialism that will haunt you. Most movies will follow a structure, which will engage the audience with expected cues, and with a definitive ‘end goal’, 2001 does none of this, which is why many people at the time of its theatrical release considered it to be boring and unintelligible.
This highly regarded classic begins at the dawn of man, starting at the very beginning of our existence, smashing things on rocks in our pre-evolutionary primate form. An encounter with a huge ominous black monolith presents a point of change within the movie, a sign of progress. Cue the many millions of years flash forward, and William Sylvester appears, a scientist, sent to the moon constructed on a set that was so intricate that many believed Stanley Kubrick to have faked the moon landings. The second appearance of the intimidating monolith brings about further progression and moves the film into the third ‘act’. From here, we are taken on an epic journey through space, as Sylvester, Keir Dullea, and Gary Lockwood are sent on an unspecified quest to Jupiter with the help of their intelligent super computer H.A.L 9000.
To say that this movie maintains the conventions of a science fiction wouldn’t be true, Kubrick uses sound, or lack thereof, to highlight one’s isolation in the eternal vacuum of space. It is considered in many ways to be a silent film, and the minimal use of dialogue is only used to push the movie further than possible with just visuals. However, the most climactic moments of dialogue don’t come from two humans, but in an exchange between Dullea and H.A.L, voiced by Douglas Rain. H.A.L’s final moments are its most human as it progresses to the point many technophobes fear, when it ascends higher than artificial intelligence and develops sentient thought.
Stanley Kubrick delivers a movie that refuses to conform to the ‘conventional’. The pace set throughout is slow and does not give in to what the audience usually wants from a movie, ignoring the typical structure of an entertaining movie. 2001 revels in its own ambiguity, using the long stretches of silence to allow you the time to question the movie’s motives; no longer are you the audience, you are the analyst.
Not many films have the scale involved to be able to justify Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” yet Kubrick’s Odyssey handles it superbly, using ground-breaking special effects. This particular song on the soundtrack is based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, and the opening notes of the piece were written to represent a man’s ascension to the Gods. The sheer size that this soundtrack is trying to emulate is perfect for the brevity of Kubrick’s movie. The soundtrack plays on the role of the narrator, taking us on a journey through music, which reaches fantastical heights and crescendo as Kubrick’s scenes revolutionise special effects throughout the science fiction genre. The soundtrack is noted for using particular pieces of Jonathon Strauss II’s waltz, “On the Beautiful Blue Danube”, to portray a space-station docking sequence and moon landing. Its hauntingly beautiful sounds refuse to dictate what you’re required to feel, and instead induce a eerily atmospheric vibe, which further accentuates the brevity of Kubrick’s shots. Visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull became a pioneer in the special effects industry due to the masterful scenes he was able to create in this movie, landing him work on other ground-breaking cinema including Blade Runner and Star Trek: A Motion Picture.
2001: A Space Odyssey leaves a burning desire for further exploration, through its infamously ambiguous finale, one can’t help but question the role of humanity and wonder if everything we do as humans, aspire, live, and dream, is all part of a larger role within the universe. Kubrick’s slow pace allows the audience to appreciate the film’s motif as more than an artistic piece of entertainment, and more as an analyst. An Odyssey is defined as a long wandering or voyage, usually marked by many changes of fortune, and there is no doubt that 2001 captures a voyage that will be remembered throughout history as the one that reminded humanity of its ability for so much more.