‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Movie Review: From Apes to Spaceships and Beyond

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is a brilliantly conceived celestial alignment of man, medium, and material.

Long after its 1968 theatrical release, this cinematic attempt to explore human development is as relevant today as it was more than four decades ago. This Stanley Kubrick classic may have caused a culture shock after defying the conventions, style, and prestige of the sci-fi genre during its time, but it has definitely taken a good look at what world cinema holds for its viewers for the next years and decades to come.

As its title implies, this almost three-hour epic features an archetypal journey with a motive repeated for thousands and even millions of years. Part space opera, part motion picture symphony, and part horror tale, the film is a poetic contemplation of many eternal questions and issues about life, self-discovery, and intellect. It tracks the odyssey of human life, from the dawn of man around four million years ago to the exploration of deep space during the modern technological age. Like the mysterious monolith it probes, the film speaks with hard-edged imagery, metaphor, poetry, philosophy, and suggestion.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is more than just dialogue, plot, apes, and spaceships. Its meditative pace is mostly told not by words but by varying filmic means of expression. It transcends both the ordinary and the weird into a visual and aural spectacle about the human species and the world outside the grasp of human understanding. The film’s greatness lies in its scope of cinematic splendor and its attempt to marry some of man’s most beautiful music with the infinite mystery of space. Kubrick’s vision and treatment lead to a timeless blend of sound and visuals that bring to life both the realistic and figurative creations of human imagination and what lies beyond that.

With its aesthetic treatment requiring extensive establishments, long pacing, and deep philosophical thoughts about the vastness of space and the relative matter occupying it, this film is a confounding picture that may probably have part of the audience cheering and some others snoring. It lies somewhere in between hypnotic and boring, depending on the viewers’ tastes. Nevertheless, any viewer in the mood for something deep and mysterious can actually share the same wavelength as Kubrick, and at a certain level, surrender to the mind-shaping cinematic experience the film offers.

As a triumph of technological storytelling, the film’s highly impressive production values for its time and era never feel outdated even until today — a time when even the home movie enthusiast can already play around the green screen and make his or her own special effects-driven space flick.

For “2001,” its visual effects were more like do-it-yourself ways that today’s low-budget or no-budget filmmaking works could already utilize. Through paint and other chemical mixtures in dishes shot with a camera field size no larger than the palm, there came impressive images of exploding stars, vast galaxies, and clouds of interstellar dust and gas. Through rear and front projections of real footage, mock-ups, and scale models, there came the indelible shots showcasing weightlessness, spaceships, and deep space effects. With the many scenes featuring mounted trick sets, paint works, film transparencies, and semi-silvered mirrors composited together with live-action footage, this motion picture project’s technical achievement ages gracefully like the film itself.

As a visionary piece, “2001: A Space Odyssey” offers a certain form of mythic resonance. This intellectually and artistically stimulating opus is a rare kind. A viewer can take as much repeated viewings of it and get abstract musings from it every time. It explores an inscrutable tale of birth and rebirth and artificial intelligence of the past and the future. It also examines the relationship between the evolution of mankind and the development of human morality.

Retaining its artistic magnificence for many generations of viewers even decades after its initial release, “2001: A Space Odyssey” has clearly made oustanding impressions from diverse audiences coming from different backgrounds. From homages to references, from satires to spoofs, it continues to influence a great number of films, filmmakers, and filmgoers around the world. This masterpiece wanders through the beauty and mystery of cinema as a form of art and entertainment.