By Nikayla Goddard, July 18 2019 —
Being an archivist for the Gauntlet has led to me uncovering a number of super interesting stories from 1960 onwards, including reviews of older movies from when they were first released. In our September 11, 1968 issue I came across a review of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Gauntleteer Allan Stein. I had never seen the movie myself though I had long intended to after discovering the Gauntlet server that I had worked with for two years as the online editor was named HAL after a character in this movie. My past year working with science fiction novellas for an English Honours thesis had also heightened my interest in science fiction in other mediums too.
From this came the idea: I’d watch 2001 at last and see how it compares to Allan’s review in the Gauntlet from 1968. Does the movie still hold up? Is my interpretation of this rollercoaster of a flick going to be strangely similar or vastly different?
Allan’s 1968 article opens as such: “What can one say about 2001? After the eye-boggling effect of the cinerama and the mind-boggling effect of the screen have worn off, the movie still stands as one of the most significant achievements in modern filmmaking.” This sentence gave me the expectation that the movie would be impressive for its time, though I was wary about its potential to seem tacky in my modern eyes.
The opening of the film for me seemed unremarkable and confused me with its lack of science fiction themes — what’s with the apes? The introduction of the black stone slab, however, immediately changed my perception. Allan’s thoughts echoed in my mind: “What is the slab? What does it represent? Technology? A Superior Being? The Universe? God? Perhaps it is all these things, perhaps none, perhaps much more.” The movie certainly had my attention at this point.
As the film progressed on and turned towards space, I was rather impressed by the quality of the space ships and even more impressed with the portrayal and toying of zero-gravity, just as Allan was, saying the effect “was stunningly achieved.” Unlike other movies of the time that showed fast-moving spaceships roaring through space, it was slow and silent when the perspective was outside of the ship — a piece of realism I was pleased by as there is no sound while in the vacuum of space.
Centrifugal special effects went from interesting to phenomenally impressive in the Discovery One ship in the second portion of the film with a difficult-to-engineer double-rotating hallway shot and a circular main room that one of the crew fully jogs around.
Another portion of the film on the Discovery One brings in another science fiction theme: the power and usage of Artificial Intelligence. The character of HAL 9000 was arguably one of the most developed and interesting characters of the movie, a sentiment that Allan agreed with as well. “Surprisingly, the only warm note [of acting] is injected by HAL… The philosophical question of his humanness is a nagging one,” Allan wrote.
The slab returns twice after its first scene with the apes — once uncovered on the moon, and another once Discovery One reaches Jupiter, directed by a radio signal emitted by the slab. Its reappearance held my attention though I was unprepared for how metaphysical and weird things got.
While the “stunning kaleidoscope of sound and light and colour”, as Allan describes it, is “a new height reached in special effects, not to mention psychedelia,” it was one component of the film I felt was truly too drawn out. It seemed like the new technique, which reminded me of ink splotches and drops in water, was something the filmmakers wanted to flaunt, but took too far.
However, these effects are well worth the wait for the mindbenders after it. Doubtlessly one of the most memorable and strange parts of the film followed, and I find myself in the same situation as Allan: even if I was okay with spoiling the end, “if I were to make a conscious attempt to give the plot, I would be hard pressed to accurately do so.” The ending definitely made the movie, as out-there as it was.
There are a lot of wild movies that often require a second or third watch in order to catch all of the intricacies and foreshadowing. However, I think this is one movie that I will not watch again purely for the impact it left on me and for what I believe is the way it should be watched — once. Watching it a second time and knowing what comes next would take away from it, when I believe that the most enjoyable component of it were those first impressions of each scene that only come from seeing it for the first time.
While a few of the special effects seemed outdated to my modern eyes, my initial qualms about quality I had after reading Allan’s review were dismissed with seriously impressive special effects that still hold up today. And even beyond the excellent cinematography and special effects, the plot itself was unique and riveting — be sure to give it a watch.