2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is a sci-fi art film and one of the 20th century’s greatest films. 50 years later, and almost two decades after the film’s supposed timeline, it still is. Here are the reasons why many people still consider Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking work as great, in an era that’s already somewhat ahead than the film’s predictions.

Five reasons why 2001: A Space Odyssey is One of the Best Movies of All Time

Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Is that a Samsung Galaxy Tab? Photo Credit: IMDb

It was futuristic yet realistically accurate.

Futurism forms the core of any sci-fi film set on earth and humans. It’s what makes watching sci-fi fun decades after a certain movie or series’ original run. What set “2001: A Space Odyssey” during that time was its accurate depiction of future technologies. It’s one of the sci-fi films that major online science and tech magazines (such as Wired and Mental Floss) write about.

There are some predicted technologies in the film that exist today, such as the International Space Station, Livestream, video calls, tablet devices, and artificial intelligence (AI). But there are a lot more technologies that are still in the conceptual and development stages. Today’s International Space Station is much simpler than the film’s sophisticated rotating Space Station 5. Only a handful of spaceplanes have gone to space. We have yet to establish any major presence on the Moon, such as Clavius Base.

The good thing about Space Odyssey is that it already provides a scientifically-sound foundation for the realization of these innovations. That’s because Kubrick and his team personally worked with NASA, and IBM  to create the film’s set designs.

The film had a production cost of $10 million. Production supervisor Douglas Trumbull had to work closely with NASA supervisors to create the designs. Such accuracy was important due to the film’s technical requirements. Trumbull recounts,

There were no computer-generated effects in those days. Everything had to happen in front of the camera. Since the film was shot on 70mm Cinerama, and would play on screens that could be 100ft wide, every irregularity would be seen. So quality control was utmost in Kubrick’s mind…

Douglas Rain in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
What the HAL? Photo Credit: IMDb

It cautioned us against the dangers of artificial intelligence.

At 2016’S SXSW fest, the AI robot Sophia jokingly (yes, you read that right) stated that she wanted to destroy humans. Last year, Elon Musk called on the United Nations to ban armies of killer robots. The late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking gave out a warning on AI as well, despite his dependence on technology. As artificial intelligence and robotics continue to advance, the risk of creating dangerous and uncontrollable AI machines becomes more real.

HAL 9000 was the first sophisticated AI machines on film, and also one that displays criminal tendencies. Through the film, Kubrick cautioned us about the dangers of AI, way before Musk and Hawking did. Not only did he caution people, but reminded viewers of the importance of their humanity.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Photo Credit: John Jay – © MPTV – Image courtesy mptvimages.com

It had a truly out-of-this-world depiction of extraterrestrial life.

The use of thousand-year-old inert black monoliths in the story instead of typical aliens tells us how much there is to discover out there.

It had one of the best film scores of all time.

Space Odyssey used music sparsely, but when it did, it did so with much grandiosity and power. The film’s opening theme from Richard Strauss’ 1896 tone poem ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ is arguably one of the most popular themes in film history.

Kubrick did not use synthesizers or develop any kind of electronic music associated with futuristic films. Instead, he used classical music to score the film, which gave the film sensory power. Space Odyssey was not just a film, but a sensory experience that spanned centuries of musical and theatrical work. These songs were just supposed to function as placeholders during the film’s editing. They eventually made the final cut, with Kubrick disregarding the original score by acclaimed composer, Alex North. Kubrick’s decision was controversial and obviously disappointing for North. But it was also one of the most crucial decisions made in film score history.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Truly, the ultimate space trip. Photo Credit: IMDb

Its last scenes.

Keir Dullea’s trippy multi-dimensional space travel experience was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. First, it was a technical feat, considering the lack of visual effect technologies available in the 1960s. Second, it was a fitting homage to the era’s fondness for psychedelic drugs and the rising popularity of pop art. That was largely unexpected since the film was about outer space and planets. No wonder it was dubbed as “the ultimate trip”. These final sequences cemented its position in the world and history of modern theatre.