Review By Yong Shu Hoong of 2001 : A Space Odyssey (IMAX)

Watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey 50 years after its original release, I was surprised how well it has aged. True, some of the special effects may feel somewhat underwhelming by today’s standards, but none of it comes across slipshod, and there’s no denying how far ahead of its time this classic was in 1968.

Having viewed parts of this film on TV (I’ve never had the chance of properly watching it in a cinema), I felt it was a whole new experience embracing it again in IMAX. The wide-screen format lends itself well to the opening ‘Dawn of Man’ segment that follows the struggles of a group of primitive ape-like beings in a desert millions of years ago. The sudden appearance of a mysterious black monolith seems to spark off their discovery of using a bone as a weapon to fight against their enemies.

The rest of the film leaps ahead into the futuristic terrain of space travel with lots of zero-gravity effects. Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) takes a spaceplane to a space station, enroute to a United States lunar outpost. His mission: to investigate an artefact found buried near a crater on the moon – which turns out to be the monolith encountered by the apes in the earlier scene. Some of the technologies featured here – for example, video calls – might provoke gleeful chuckles from the viewers as they compare them against modern gadgetry and software they’re familiar with today.

The most prominent segment of the film depicts how two astronaut-scientists, Dr David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), interact with a computer named “Hal” (after its model name, HAL 9000) which controls the operations of their spacecraft. As this sentient computer with human-like intelligence (voiced by Douglas Rain) tries to wrestle control of the spacecraft from the humans it is supposed to serve, mayhem ensues – this is just one example showing how this film has influenced other sci-fi films to come. The hibernation mode, where three other crew members are kept in suspended animation within their sleep pods onboard the spacecraft, immediately invokes memories of Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, among works by other film-makers. The stargate sequence, where one encounters a hypnotic swirl of lights and patterns transporting from one realm to another via some kind of portal, also gives rise to similar sequences in other films.

In this sense, 2001 : A Space Odyssey is a ground-breaking masterpiece of science fiction on film, a labour of love with much attention to details put together by Kubrick based on Arthur C Clarke’s short story ‘The Sentinel’. Aside from the dazzling visuals, the soundtrack and audio effects are noteworthy too. A large swathe of the film is nonverbal, and classical music is used to fill in the gaps. Even if you’re at odds with the film’s conclusion, which by the way opens itself up for interpretations and further debates rather than providing an actual answer, the experience of deep space on an IMAX screen, filled to the brim by Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz, is one that’s not easily erased from the mind.

2001: A Space Odyssey is screened at Lido IMAX from September 27 to October 3, 2018.

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