2014 has been a cosmic year. Humankind landed a probe on a comet hurtling through space six billion miles from Earth. INTERSTELLAR got people talking about wormholes. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY put sentient tree creatures on the map. And an 88-second trailer for the new STAR WARS film was watched more than 100 million times.
Despite this Jedi trickery, the best new trailer of 2014 was for a 46-year-old movie. In it, dawn breaks, the planets align, and a pensive astronaut looks like he’s in some serious trouble. A weird-looking ape wields a bone like a weapon. Majestic spaceships glide among the stars. A stark black shape inexplicably crops up in a number of locations.
This cinematic sorcery was, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), given a shiny new trailer as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season. The excitement surrounding the film’s rerelease in November was a reminder of the gravitational pull it continues to exert on generations of viewers. What is it that draws people to such a strange, unwieldy behemoth?
Alfonso Cuarón (himself a veteran of cinematic space travel with 2013’s GRAVITY) called it “the black monolith of cinema”. That’s an accurate summation of a movie that defies straightforward explanation and seems to contain within it a star-field of hidden mysteries.
Kubrick’s crack team comprised sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, effects maestro Douglas Trumbull, and advisors on loan from NASA. They rigorously researched the future of space travel and speculated on what form intelligent life might take, should we ever meet it.
Beneath the surface, conspiracy theories about 2001 abound. Did Kubrick fake the moon landings in exchange for a limitless budget and the cooperation of NASA? Is the movie full of occult symbols and alchemical imagery, exposing the secrets of mysterious global illuminati?
These whacky theories aren’t hard to find (and you can travel further down this path with THE SHINING conspiracy documentary ROOM 237). But when the lights go down and Thus Spoke Zarathustra shakes your bones, none of this matters. It’s hard to deny the otherworldliness of the experience.