Second Time Around

2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) is pretentious and overelaborate, yet hypnotic in its impact and exhilaratingly audacious in its attempt to get at the connections between man and technology. Reopening at the Northpoint for a one-week engagement -- 28 years after it premiered in New York to the mixed reviews or downright pans that in many ways it deserved -- it holds up as a contemporary classic with a varied, living legacy.

What makes the movie mesmerizing is that Kubrick the born filmmaker couldn't help rhapsodizing the same sleek future that gave Kubrick the self-styled philosopher-king a case of the queasies. Kubrick the prophet may have wanted a space station to look as bland as a turn-of-the-next-century Howard Johnson. But oh, what blinding effects the filmmaker gets out of that ultrawhite decor -- he's the extraterrestrial Mr. Clean.

The movie begins on Earth as Planet of the Apes, with the emergence of homo sapiens, and ends with the emergence of homo who knows. The main characters are: Keir Dullea, skipper of a space mission to Jupiter; a mysterious black slab that keeps popping up at turning points in human evolution; and HAL, the malevolent but humorous computer that really runs the Jupiter mission. HAL is, like Kubrick, a chess player and autodidact, and in a key scene he even acts like an art reviewer, criticizing Dullea's portraits of the other crew members. HAL himself can't draw, though he "knows" all about drawing. Like Kubrick in the three decades after this movie, he's unable to translate knowledge and technique into art. 2001 may be Kubrick's last great gasp of vitality and fun.

Michael Sragow

2001: A Space Odyssey screens daily beginning Friday, Nov. 8, at the Northpoint, Powell & Bay. Call 403-8186 or see Page 78 for show times.

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