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Saturday, August 16, 2014

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Decades ahead of the pack on release, the analogue effects in Stanley Kubrick’s game-changing thinking-man’s Sci-Fi classic are now decades behind the digital curve. Yet the film still convinces. And while sheer compositional beauty & attention to detail play their part, along with the film’s philosophical/metaphysical mysteries, the factor that makes it hang together may simply be Kubrick’s fearlessly slow tempo; a ‘real time’ aspect that lends weight, depth & scale to models & matte shots that can now be easily spotted. And it’s the use of classical music, with its extended time arc, especially the J. Strauss waltz & the Khachaturian, that lets him inch along without losing his audience. (Later he holds tempo & builds suspense with nothing but ambient noise & breathing on the soundtrack.) The first half is really a staggering achievement, climaxing on a gasp-worthy reveal before the intermission break. (You only see it for the first time once, so choose your viewing conveyance carefully! Alas, no more curved Cinerama® screens.) That said, the final section, JUPITER AND BEYOND, hits a wall, and Kubrick seems to know he’s boxed himself into a corner. The lightshow at least raises the hope of an appearance by THE DOORS (unrealized). But the solarized landscape flyovers are nearly an admission of defeat before we get a glimmer of the old Kubrick humor with a full tour (bathroom included!) of that God-awful Las Vegas Louis Quinze reproduction suite right before the final, glorious fetal peroration.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Note the uncredited performers of Richard Strauss’s thrice played opening section of ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA. Some fool @ Decca/London records allowed Kubrick to use the track, but only if they didn’t mention conductor Herbert von Karajan & the Vienna Phil. Odd, since Karajan is credited, along with the Berlin Phil for their performance (on DG records) of The Blue Danube. Odder still, poor Alex North wrote an entire score for the film, styled on what he thought was Kubrick’s classical ‘temp track,’ only to show up at the premiere totally unaware that nothing he wrote had been used.

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