Film Review - 2001: A Space Odyssey


Fade to Space. Glaringly bright light, and Stanley Kubrick’s signature cinematic shots, symmetrical. As the music slowly builds up and the glare from the Sun breaks through the atmosphere of the Earth, there is a certain element of something impending on you soon. “But it makes you wait. Its five bold opening notes embody the ascension of man into spheres reserved for the gods. It is cold, frightening, magnificent.” (Ebert, 1997) For such a calm and slow shot it builds tension, and suspense. You want the Sun to be in full view but are also scared what will happen when it does.

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With an extremely symbolic yet slightly foreseeing beginning, the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey starts with the dawn of man. Apes are shown living their lives, and frankly not much else; whilst becoming partially sentient they are still only apes. Kubrick’s film up to this point had looked like a nature documentary until one of the most important yet simplistic assets to this film appears. The Monolith. (figure. 2) The Apes are confused by its static appearance and so is the audience. We don’t understand what this object is and neither do the apes. Relating us back to the age old theory that we are derived from Apes. Hence, the dawn of man.  A bone into a spaceship…

We skip into Kubrick’s 2001. Spaceships, space and classical music! Futuristic planes that look all too familiar yet different. Women dressed in slimming though simple outfits to help them walk slowly around in anti-gravity, not for the attraction but as an asset to the ship. All of these things are considered and the more you see the more you realise every single item in Kubrick’s 2001 Space explorative world is re-designed but not too far away from normality that we feel alienated. Kubrick knows when and not to evoke uneasiness but this is not one of those times. As Johann Strauss II’s “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” plays in the background it is clear Kubrick wishes for us to be just as amazed by the idea of future space-exploration for the masses as he is!

2001: A Space Odyssey shines in the regard of revelling in its own genius. “Moments of sheer brilliance and it is undoubtedly their stark visual power that lends this piece of cinema its famous visionary qualities.” (Haflidason, 2009) Nothing apart from the monolith is pushed forward to be noticed, withal but being the most simple. No questions are asked in the film, and Kubrick tries all too hard to not have an answer to your own. You are slowly fed strands of stunning visuals with almost ulterior conversations in the middle, patience endued the story eventually becomes apparent.  This is where 2001 becomes an oddity of it’s own. There is such strong symbolism and concrete visuals that the actual narrative of the film is hazy.  Arguably, there might not be one, but it leaves everything but the visuals up to your imagination as to what the film entails. As Kubrick’s imagination runs wild with the idea of space travel yours does too figuring out just what Kubrick is trying to tell you. This is not a story of politics or karma, but philosophy and the human race.

The Monolith seems so outer-worldly yet has opera-like voices radiating from it. Sounding menacing, but ultimately, human. This distinguishes 2001 from many other Space-travel related films (such as Alien 1979 and Forbidden Planet 1956) in which it does not deal with Aliens in Space. Any problems that Dave faces are not against Aliens, but against something manmade. Dave against HAL, Apes against Apes. Everything is circulated around mankind. From beginning to end. You could say it is making a point about what our nature as a species is rather than a story based on fiction. Perhaps cynicism from Kubrick’s part; or just a simple observation.

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With intermission included, 2001: A Space Oddyssey is almost 3 hours long. A slow-paced and almost dormant movie, but with good reason. Every slow shot makes you analyse and reflect on what you had previously seen, but not ahead. “it's through the film's silent, deliberate hypnosis that it achieves its ballet-like majesty, with every painterly image and effortless pan and cut communicating not only a necessary narrative/emotional cue, but the wordless beauty of mankind as a creative, conscious entity at work in the universe.” (Humanick, 2007) Scenes so still but with sudden change to another, you are left processing what you witnessed before without a chance or even inkling to what comes after.

HAL-9000 is the only life form that does not resemble nor come from the physical being of man-kind. The monolith is never present when HAL is around and only when HAL has been ridden of does the Monolith finally appear, back to Dave, the human. As well as the Monolith, there is an absence of music too. Infact, from the first mention of HAL up to the psychedelic breaking point of the film, there is no music at all. As the sequence of struggle against HAL continues the feeling of impending doom builds yet again further and further, lowering it slightly each time a false alarm created by Kubrick happens – Creating the spontaneous and un-guessable future this film holds as mentioned earlier.

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The one part of the massive psychedelic shift change of 2001: A Space Odyssey that really stands out apart from it either being film filters galore, or a distanced philosophical look on the world we inhabit, is Dave’s eye. (figure. 3) It can only be described as the “Predator Shot” and is frequently seen with animals before they are being hunted. We focus on the eye, it emotes the most feeling and depth. This brings us back to the main clause of the film. The dawn of man. At the beginning of the film the Apes are hunted by other Apes, man vs man. They are their own predator and prey. Equally, we are shown this as Dave being the prey but we do not know what to. That will remain a mystery as Kubrick does not give you a point-blank resolution to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The subject of much debate as to what the 1968 Sci-Fi film really was trying to get across. But remember, no matter the perhaps morbid outcome to the film, in the great words of HAL-9000, 
"Everything is going extremely well."

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Illustration List:

Fig. 1 - Kubrick, S. (1968). Film Still 1. [image] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Fig. 2 - Kubrick, S. (1968). Film Still 2. [image] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Fig. 3 - Kubrick, S. (1968). Film Still 3. [image] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Fig. 4 --Kubrick, S. (1968). Film Still 4. [image] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].


Ebert, R. (1997). 2001: A Space Odyssey Movie Review (1968) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Haflidason, A. (2009). BBC - Films - review - 2001: A Space Odyssey. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Oct. 2014].

Humanick, R. (2007). 2001: A Space Odyssey | Film Review | Slant Magazine. [online] Slant Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Further Reading (FYI:)
Forbidden Planet (1956):


  1. 'apes against apes' - very nice!

  2. Now this is an excellent review, Ella :) You have got the tone just right... you are not stating personal opinions, and by using terms such as 'arguably', you open your review up to the reader to make their own decisions. A good choice of supporting quotes... keep this up !

    Just one technical point - can you justify your text, rather than centring it please. When you centre it, it gives it the appearance of verse rather than text...

  3. Also, don't forget to italicise the film names!