Classic Movie Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Release Date: April 3, 1968
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey as a kid, excited to see a science fiction classic.  I was not at all prepared to watch a slow-moving film with limited dialogue that touched upon themes of evolution and existentialism.  It left me feeling a way I couldn’t describe with words, somewhere between disturbed and confused.  Upon repeated viewings I was still confounded.

It’s been decades since the last time I watched 2001, yet it’s a movie I still think about a lot. So I was glad to revisit it as an adult with an appreciation for the the film’s cinematic innovations.  I am also in a place where I’m much more comfortable with watching something and not having to know what it “means.” The film is impressive from the very beginning with the shot of the earth from the moon, released to cinemas before astronauts got the same view for the first time on Apollo 8 later the same year. The effects used to create weightlessness are also terrific and I particularly like the scene in the airlock.

The opening segment, “The Dawn of Man,” which particularly bored me as a child went by quicker than I remembered.  It still feels like dioramas in the natural history museum have come to life, particularly since Kubrick shot it against backdrops rather than on location in Africa.  The “Star Gate” segment, however, goes on for far longer than I remembered.  Did hippies really even need to take hallucinogens before watching this?

The core of the movie is aboard the spacecraft Discovery One on a mission to Jupiter with astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood).  They grow increasingly mistrustful of the intelligent computer HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain) which leads to horror and tragedy.  The scene where Dave disconnects HAL’s circuits leading to HAL’s “death” is one of the most heartbreaking in film history even though it’s for a murderous computer.

In summation, 2001 is still a slow and “boring” film, but in a good way.  It’s predictions of the future seem way off since humans have not left low-earth orbit since 1972.  On the other hand, the corporate branding we see on everything seems spot on even if Pan-Am, Bell Telephone, and Howard Johnson’s restaurants didn’t make it to 2001.  The movie is stunning visually, and it will make you think about important topics even if you can never figure out the right answers.  This is definitely a movie I’d like to see on a big screen when I get the opportunity.

Rating: *****


Classic Movie Review: Some Came Running (1958)

Title: Some Came Running
Release Date: December 18, 1958
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Production Company:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Some Came Running is the first movie I’ve watched starring Frank Sinatra (not including cameos in films like Around the World in 80 Days). It’s directed by Vincente Minnelli, who is most famous for classic musicals and romances like Meet Me in St. Louis.  Despite starring one of the great vocalists of all time, Some Came Running is a straight-up drama, or melodrama as is the case.

Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, a man who has published novel but now struggles to write. He left his hometown in Indiana 16 years earlier bouncing around among odd jobs and most recently serving in the army.  As the film begins, he returns to his hometown, accompanied by Ginny (Shirley MacLaine) whom he drunkenly invited to join him in Chicago and then promptly forgot about. His homecoming is not joyous as he has a strained relationship with his brother and sister-and-law (Arthur Kennedy and Leora Dana).  They are social climbers and since Dave is a noted author they introduce him to a prominent local professor and his schoolteacher daughter, Gwen (Martha Hyer).

Dave immediately falls in love in Gwen, but she has little interest in him beyond his writing.  She’s particularly put off by his drinking and association with the gambler Bama (Dean Martin).  Dave starts off as a cynical and self-absorbed character but gradually opens up a kinder side. He shows kindness to Ginny, who falls as helplessly in love with him as he has fallen for Gwen. He also takes his niece Dawn (Betty Lou Keim) under his wing, perhaps feeling a kinship with her because she has a strained relationship with her parents.

I wanted to like this movie more than I did.  The acting is great, particularly Sinatra, MacLaine, and Martin, but the plot is just too melodramatic. I’m always a tough sell on the “love at first sight” trope in movies and this one failed the “show don’t tell” test.  The story though does seem to have the seeds of something that could be remade as a quality movie today.

Rating: ***