'2001' is stunning in beauty and cosmic lack of warmth

May 10, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Perhaps no director has combined genius with coldness to quite the same degree as Stanley Kubrick. His epic head trip "2001: A Space Odyssey" is as beautiful as a diamond tiara but as warm and feeling as an anthrax germ.

The movie, as stunning now (particularly on the Senator's big screen, where it opens today as part of that theater's 70mm film festival) as it was in 1968 when it redefined the concept of special effects, offers a view of the universe's significance and homo sapiens' insignificance. We are but cosmic worms, Kubrick seems to be saying; the only true godforms are the aliens whose ways we cannot know (and, of course, movie directors).

Beginning with the discovery by a tribe of apes on the African savanna some 2 million years ago that a bone could be a tool -- a weapon -- it takes the quantum leap into space as if the intervening years were a mere technicality. The story proper is as minimalist as a haiku: in 17 syllables, "Man finds signs of other life/goes to check it out/is surprised big-time."

It's as if Kubrick has coached his actors to near numbness, and he uses stiffs to begin with -- Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. Fighting off a rogue computer (the movie's single best sequence), the sole survivor reaches the source of a mysterious signal and confronts . . . otherness.

Kubrick would never give answers to the questions he raises. But his version of the ultimate alien encounter has never been surpassed for sheer audacity. It's a great movie but also a clammy one.

'2001: A Space Odyssey' Starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Released by MGM.



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