I’ve had several awkward conversations over the last five years during my metamorphosis into a film nerd. Many of those awkward conversations revolve around one film- 2001: A Space Odyssey. I watched it in the early stages of metamorphosis, and found the film wildly inaccessible. I’ve since had it explained to me countless times… and each time, my reaction has been “How the hell was I supposed to get that from that film?!?!” But I’ve learned to concede the incredible visuals of the film. And I’d also learned to concede that one day, I would re-watch it, and would most likely have a kinder opinion of it after a second viewing. As it turns out, “one day” was today. Like the evolving monkeys and astronauts in the film, did I adapt?
It helps that I’d recently re-watched Fantasia (1940), a similar fusion of brilliant color and orchestral score. I found myself recalling Fantasia often. I also couldn’t help but compare the use of bright, vibrant primary colors to that of Jean-Luc Godard. I have no idea if Kubrick did this intentionally, either in the case of Fantasia or Godard. But it certainly makes for favorable impressions.
The next portion that jumped out at me is that the film is extraordinarily well made. The mash-up of the majestic score with the striking visuals is editing at its finest. Moreover, the film’s structure is impressive. When the monolith appears, you know that you can brace yourself for the next evolutionary jump- from monkey to man, from man to exploratory man, from exploratory man to… floating space baby thing. Using the monolith to pace everything is a wonderful device. The visual symmetry from shot to shot, and transition to transition, is some of the best I’ve ever seen (see the comparison of shots to the right).
Also noteworthy is the tension that Kubrick built in various scenes. Hal’s lip-reading scene instantly comes to mind, as does the scene where Hal cuts Frank loose in outer space. Moreover, the film has a really wonderful timeliness to it. I’m sure that 1968 filmgoers had to be taken a bit aback by a future in which Russians and Americans were working together, and there’s an interesting subtext early in the film about technology leading to detachment. That was my interpretation as I watched one interaction after another with crew members and their loved ones back at home. You couldn’t help but feel that the relationships were synthetic. Visually, if ever there was a movie for the LSD generation, this was it.
As you can probably guess by now, just as predicted, I’ve wound up with a far more favorable opinion of the film. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the very best ever made. I stand by my original contention- that it’s wildly inaccessible, particularly to the casual viewer- but that opinion sort of gets washed away in a tidal wave of admiration for the technical aspects of the film. Now that I can put that awkward conversation to bed, like the evolving monolith-observing monkeys, I can look forward to the next stage of awkward conversation… I still liked Sunset Blvd. a LOT more. Let the discussion begin!