By Caitlin Kelly
There are films you see once and never forget, their images locked inside your head for decades to come.
If you’ve ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” it’s unlikely you’ll forget it.
It opens with a blank screen and long minutes of music. The first word of dialogue is 20 minutes into the film.
It’s unlike anything I’ve seen since, and I watch a lot of movies.
For those of you who’ve yet to see it — and it was recently playing at IFC in Manhattan — it’s a science-fiction film of almost three hours, shot on sound stages in England at a total cost of $10.5 million — a staggering sum in those days. It also arrived in theaters 16 months late, premiering in D.C. on April 2, 1968.
I love this film, but it’s definitely an acquired taste: little dialogue, extremely slow pace, focused mostly on visuals and music.
It’s fascinating to see what — in the mid 1960s — a filmed notion of 2001 might look like: space stations (yes); “picture phones” (Skype, yes); liquid and mashed-up foods eaten through straws (hello, juicing!)
And to see what didn’t last — the sleek Concorde jet (gone) with the Pan Am livery (gone) ferrying passengers to the space station.
The sleek white interiors and stunning Djinn chairs in hot pink wool still look gorgeous. The flight attendants, with their bulbous white helmets, are both elegant and weird. But the guys still wear suits and carry briefcases.
My favorite part of the film is the final one, long minutes of astonishing beauty — yellow and magenta and turquoise and orange shapes and landscapes, (the Hebrides and Monument Valley), flashing past us, re-colored, at dizzying speed. You have no idea where you are or what you’re seeing. but you’re dazzled.
It’s interesting to see how dated the film is in some ways — the final scenes feel like an extended psychedelic drug trip (very 60s) — yet how timeless the themes and questions are: Where does human intelligence come from? Are we alone in the universe? What would it be like to travel to Jupiter (and beyond) and what would we find there?
Elements of the film will be familiar to viewers of the television series “Lost” — like earlier scientists offering counsel via pre-recorded video and to fans of the “Alien” films, whose every voyage ends up (as here) actually being a secret mission, with technology that kills off all the crew but one, leaving us to cheer on a lonely, terrified explorer left unaided to face unknown dangers in the deepest reaches of space.
Does it get much scarier than that?
Over the years, the film has grossed $56.9 million in North America and $190 million worldwide.
I’d see it again — even though the young guy beside me snored for the first half, then left at intermission. (Some movies in the 60s had intermission.)
Have you seen it?
Loved it? Hated it?