Movie Review ~ 2001: A Space Odyssey (IMAX)


The Facts
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Synopsis: Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer HAL 9000, sets off on a quest.

Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Rated: G

Running Length: 149 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Hello and welcome to another episode of Confessions of an Embarrassed Movie Fan. Today’s episode will briefly cover my red-faced shame in admitting that before catching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey projected in glorious IMAX I had never seen the film all the way through. Yes, it’s true. Though not for lack of trying, up until yesterday my efforts in taking in this masterpiece where thwarted by distraction, sleep deprivation, and, gulp, a little boredom. The Blu-Ray has played from start to finish in my house a grand total of 3 times and each time I fell asleep. I think it was because before I was seeing it out of necessity rather than true interest so it failed to capture my attention or keep me awake.

I had no trouble staying awake, however, seeing the film during its one-week engagement in IMAX at the Minnesota Zoo. For the first time I was able to sit back and truly take in the beauty and wonder of Kubrick’s grand epic and be totally enveloped in the dazzle of it all. For a film celebrating its 50th birthday, it has lost none of the grandeur and awe it inspired when it was first released. Sitting here now in the midst of seeing one CGI-fest after another, it’s truly an amazement to recognize the magnitude of the work that went into 2001: A Space Odyssey and marvel at the countless movies, actors, directors, and effects technicians it has inspired in the years since it was first released.

To explain a summary of the movie in full would be to oversimplify things because the plot is very clearly secondary to the portals of self-interpretation opened up to us by Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke’s short story provided the genesis of the project, which, after Kubrick’s ambiguous movie came out, he spent the next years trying to explain in greater detail. Kubrick was ok with leaving the film (especially its divisive ending) open to interpretation and so am I. There’s a refreshing sentiment in a filmmaker trusting the audience enough to let them make up their own minds.  By the time the film ends we’ve been on such a journey that it feels right for Kubrick to hand it back to us and let us discover what it all means to us.

The connective tissue of the movie surrounds a mysterious black monolith. Appearing first in a 20-minute dialogue-free opening segment following primates in the Africa desert millions of year ago, the presence of the monolith seems to grant the great apes knowledge that helps them advance in evolution with the use of tools. That leads us to the next segment several million years later when the monolith is discovered buried on the moon. When the monolith is first exposed to the sun it seems to send a signal through the universe directed at the planet Jupiter and that’s when the most familiar elements of the plot take hold. The Jupiter mission, led by Dave (Keir Dullea) and Frank (Gary Lockwood), is on its way through the stars to the far off planet when they run afoul of HAL 9000, the sentient computer that oversees the operations of their ship and their life support.

At 149 minutes (not including a 20-minute intermission 90 minutes in), the film is a commitment to get through but it does fly by. Even numerous prolonged sequences set to classical music, mostly involving spacecraft landing places with grand majesty, don’t feel overindulgent or repetitive. It’s the incredible visuals from cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth aided by Kubrick’s Oscar-winning way-ahead-of-their-time visual effects that give the film its sheer size.  There are several camera shots done practically that you’ll be scratching your head wondering how they achieved such a feat.  An extended light sequence near the end as our hero passes through time and space might test your visual and aural limits but its best to just grip your seat (or your companion) and take it all in.  Kubrick is attuned to every element of what is coming off the screen.  There’s silence when necessary, exposition only when required, and large sequences without dialogue that are presented visually in such a way that we are able to narrate for ourselves almost subconsciously.

The film is massive in cinematic size, emotional scope, and cognitive scale and is easily the most recommended on the biggest screen you can find. For one week you can catch this in IMAX theaters near you and if you’ve never seen the film, never made it through without falling asleep (apologies again, Mr. Kubrick!), or haven’t seen it in years, now is your chance to check another classic off your list in the most deluxe way possible.

Movie Review ~ Room 237

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  The film may be over 30 years old but it continues to inspire debate, speculation, and mystery.

Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Director: Rodney Ascher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  At one point in the “subjective” documentary Room 237 one of the unseen commentators qualifies his theory regarding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining by stating “I may be grasping at straws here” – a not so off the mark statement.

The majority of this entertainingly watchable but ultimately far-fetched examination of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the movie version of Stephen King’s novel is focused on obsessive minutiae that the casual movie-goer won’t notice.  That’s not to say you’re going to need a film degree to appreciate what director Ascher has complied here, but even the most dedicated Kubrick/Shining fan may have their work cut out for them as five points of view surrounding hidden meanings behind the carpet, costumes, setting, food cans, and so much more  that are used in the film are explored.

Released in 1980 to disappointingly mixed reviews considering the caliber of talent involved, The Shining has grown in popularity over the years and its with repeated viewings that some of the true genius of director Kubrick’s vision emerges.  What on the surface looks to be a standard horror yarn surrounding a family taking care of an isolated inn over a chilly winter and the various evils they encounter could really be about the genocide of the American Indians, or the holocaust, or a thinly veiled confession by its director that he helped fake the footage of the Apollo moon landings.

At least that’s a few of the ideas the five individual theorists put forth over the brisk running length of the documentary.  It’s a classic case of seeing what you want to see in the images displayed and I can’t disagree that some of what it presented makes a lot of sense when you ponder on who was behind it all.  Kubrick was notorious for his obsession with the smallest detail in his films so when its pointed out that props disappear or change color from one shot to the next it’s worth thinking it over because something so glaring is clearly intentional – but what does it all mean?

It’s when the movie goes into theories that involve looking at the film frame by frame that the documentary gets a bit thin in the supporting information.  True, some of the extra long dissolves from one scene to the next have definite cinematic clues in them but claiming that one freeze fame shot makes a file inbox look like a phallus may raise your eyebrow in a “give me a break” arch.

Agreeing or disagreeing with the theories aside, I can’t imagine anyone watching this documentary and not having a strong urge to revisit the source material again right away.  You won’t be able to view The Shining the same way again once you’ve learned about the set-up of the Overlook Inn (with its impossible windows and contradictory lay-out) or the poorly hidden (when pointed out) references to the Apollo 11 mission.

Ascher plays these carefully edited interviews over even more carefully edited footage from not only The Shining but every Stanley Kubrick film released (save for some of his short films) in addition to other Hollywood films that help the story. It’s a remarkable compilation of clips, animations, diagrams, models, and a few recreations that help tell the story and illustrate the theories presented.

The Shining is a film I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go by and Room 237 adds another layer of interest to viewers both new and old alike.  Though I thought a hefty portion of the theories read way too far into what Kubrick was presenting, it’s hard to deny that Room 237 is a fascinatingly obsessive look into a film crafted by a fascinatingly obsessive filmmaker.