Thursday, 13 October 2016

2001: A Space Odyssey film review

(fig.1) Poster art

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is a 1968 film that is known as one of the most influential films in the sci-fi genre. The film itself takes a look into the optimistic future beyond the 70s showing strange computers, ships and space stations that would hopefully usher humanity into a new age. Assets for the film were designed in accordance with NASA making the possible future more believable. Filled with innovative technology, the film itself has gone on to inspire many other sci-fi films alongside parodies from shows such as ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Futurama’. Kubrick makes excellent use of various aspects including music, pace and the rule of thirds to create a captivating series of images.  

The film is rather odd as it opens with a black screen and an epic orchestral score. Shortly after, we see the development of man-kind. Following shots are seen hinting at man’s increased capacity for violence after learning about weapons. Suddenly, the camera skips forward into the future and man has managed to reach space setting up colonies away from Earth. Discovery of a monolith on the moon (and intelligent life) leads to a five man team being sent to Jupiter which ultimately ends with four of the crew dead and one other’s fate uncertain.

Kubrick has been very deliberate with the choices he has made in his film including the slow pace leading to a total viewing time of just less than two and a half hours. As Roger Ebert has stated “Some of Kubrick's effects have been criticized as tedious. Perhaps they are” (Ebert, 1968), every action, scene and moment takes a considerable amount of time to be completed. All of it seems slow, methodical and cold. While one can debate that this is a weakness in the film Kubrick has specifically chosen this to enact a different tone. The slow calm nature of David Bowman, the protagonist, is a clear example of this. Showing little to no fear this character reacts in a cool manor. This can be said for all of the human characters, “Kubrick's actors seem to sense this; they are lifelike but without emotion, like figures in a wax museum” (Ebert, 1968). Not only do the cast seem emotionless but there is a large lack of lines making them seem more detached, forcing the viewers to concentrate on the imagery instead.

Further emphasise on the distant nature of man is suggested by the use of uninviting camera angles. This can be evidenced in Fig. 1 as we see the protagonist in the mid-ground. Kubrick has chosen to place him there instead of closer up making it appear that the audience is peering from outside, isolated from the character. The use of clever shots is used throughout the film as Kubrick strategically places them to enhance the visual aspect of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

Kubrick uses The Rule of Thirds to great effect when composing his shots using it to draw the viewer’s attention to certain aspects of the screen.  This is assisted by the use of one point shots with a large amount of symmetry being favored by Kubrick. Looking at Fig. 2 we can see that the one point shot draws all attention towards the figure. The symmetrical nature of the chamber creates a single point of focus as the lines all merge towards the middle of the screen.

Not only does the film achieve an amazing picture but the sound design and score alone are capable of setting a grand atmosphere. As Chris Jones states, “the grandeur of the planetary alignment which heralds the ''Main Title''; but to hear it alone still stirs emotion” (Jones, 2002). The timing between the sound and footage is astounding as the music jolts to a sudden stop at the height of tension or slowly build up to create an epic moment. At the same time the lack of sound proved just as powerful as the audience is strained by the cold silence with the distressful actions no longer masked by a musical score. Some notable sound designs include the use of silent space a first for its time and the heavy breathing of the crew. The obnoxious inhaling and exhaling puts emphasis on man’s position in space and thus his vulnerability without his technology.   

Unexpectedly one of the most iconic characters, the computer HAL 9000, which guides the crew through space, raised many questions through its interaction with humans. Described as the sixth member of the crew by the conscious men, it is only more chilling when he is dispatched by one of those he was charged with protecting. Following the reoccurring theme of slow pace Bowman removes HAL’s vital components one by one rendering the “sixth crew member” into the equivalent of an electronic vegetable. To an extent Bowman has become more cold and calculated than HAL itself doing all that it will take to survive. This leaves HAL as “the film’s most unexpectedly sympathetic character” (Kermode, 2014) as it slowly recalls its earliest memories before winding down to a halt.

This brings on the next point to Kubrick’s film. It is apparent the Kubrick has chosen to leave the ending open to viewers to decipher alongside the large amount of symbolism as little is explained. One interpretation of the film is that man-kind has only been able to advance through the use of tools witnessed within the first scenes; additionally man-kind has not been able to advance without the need to destroy. Another is that man-kind has been allowed to advance beyond their physical selves.

(fig.4) early man discovering how to utilise a weapon

Ultimately ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is a breath-taking film with powerful imagery that leaves the answers in the hands of the audience, free to interpret the story how they like. One rather alarming insight to be taken from this film is that man had learnt how to kill before he had learnt to make fire.


Mark Kermode (2014)
2001: A Space Odyssey review – Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic back on the big screen

Chris Jones (2002)
Original Soundtrack 2001: A Space Odyssey Review

Roger Ebert (1968)

Illustration list



  1. Bravo Alex - this is a thoughtful, engaging and sincere review. I'd like to see those quotes in italics and likewise the film's title etc, but these quibbles aside, this is an assured and enjoyable piece of writing. Well done.

  2. Excellent, Alex :)
    My comment is regarding the bibliography - you should list it with the author's surname first then the initial, and they should be organised alphabetically, so -
    Ebert, R.
    Jones, C.
    Kermode, M.