Kubrick's Space Odyssey ahead of its time



164 minutes/Now showing/ 4 stars

The story: On the African plains millions of years ago, apes find a black monolith and, soon after, they discover the use of hand tools. In the present day, scientists find a similar monolith under the lunar soil, placed there millennia ago. It leads to the first manned mission to Jupiter. Astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are placed under the care of ship computer HAL 9000. They find that there is more to their trip than they have been told.

Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece has left fingerprints all over modern cinema.

There is a hint of it in the dramatic, grandiose orchestral score of Star Wars (1977), in the crew hibernation pods of Alien (1979) and, most recently, in the swirling tunnels of folding space-time in Interstellar (2014).

Before Odyssey, space movies were mainly pulp fantasies for men, built on ray guns and alien babes.

Kubrick's work proved that science-fiction films could ask deep questions.

He had the audacity to begin a story in the primordial past, before jumping forward millions of years - a move also carried out in Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life (2011) and in other films.

Now brought back in the Imax format for one week only to mark the 50th anniversary of its release, the restored film sparkles with new, vivid life. It will be shown in its full length and this work, clocking in at nearly three hours, includes a very welcome 10-minute midpoint intermission.

 A Space Odyssey stars Keir Dullea as an astronaut placed under the care of ship computer HAL 9000.
2001: A Space Odyssey stars Keir Dullea as an astronaut placed under the care of ship computer HAL 9000. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Watching it today, clues that this was made in 1968 are surprisingly scarce. In astutely showing how it will be private corporations, not governments, that will open the frontiers of space, Kubrick unwittingly dates the movie.

Companies mentioned in the film, like Hilton Hotels, Pan Am, Bell System and Howard Johnson's are either defunct or use new names or logos. Nor could he in 1968 have foreseen how Japan, China, India or Europe might rise to become space-faring powers.

In Imax format, it is a lot easier to grasp the things Kubrick got right. He knew, one year before the moon landings, that the experience of interplanetary spaceflight would be awe-inspiring. The way spacecraft pirouette to lock rotational movement, for example, has a regal grace never before seen, and rarely seen since.

And the head-spinning finale, which marries neoclassical furnishings with notions of cosmic death and rebirth, deserves to be viewed on a scale that matches the grandeur of Kubrick's ideas.

• 2001: A Space Odyssey is screening exclusively at Shaw Theatres Lido until Wednesday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2018, with the headline 'Kubrick's Space Odyssey ahead of its time'. Print Edition | Subscribe