If you love 2001: A Space Odyssey or Stanley Kubrick, just walk away now. More than any other science fiction movie it stops me in my tracks. Every five years or so I re-watch it, thinking, like tomatoes, I may finally bite right in and say “tasty!” The movie is absolutely a treat for the eyes in much the same way as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These are great looking movies. But when it comes to storytelling? Ask fans of the film, those with a critical eye, and no two will describe what the film is about in the same way. Yet 2001: A Space Odyssey is often on lists of the best movies of all time, lists made by clever people who know good movies.
Only after reading the Cliff’s Notes version of 2001 (the film, not the book) do I understand what Kubrick was going for. I’m still left scratching my head. The dialogue is flat like the lines in the Star Wars prequels. Kubrick admitted he wanted the viewer to have his/her own understanding of the film. That’s “the point”. Hey–if you’re a fan of ambiguity it’s the film for you. If you tried making a movie like it today you’d end up with something like Punch-Drunk Love or the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Slow, boring, long, dull. Most of the film is just banal. But the star baby! The black monolith! So he takes a film and overlays it with well-known classical music and juxtaposes some cryptic symbolic imagery. Just because someone hasn’t done it doesn’t mean it’s groundbreaking. If I want cool images and great music sans linear story, I’ll take Powaqqatsi.
Maybe it’s because I like excitement in my science fiction, not this documentary-style filmmaking. For that give me a NASA IMAX movie and educate me along the way. Give me Star Wars or Star Trek II. Has anyone ever referred to 2001 as exciting? Great looking films minus a big story to back it up may be why I shy away from mainstream science fiction movies, the kind that get nominated for film awards like Gravity or Interstellar.
So why is it on the American Film Institute list of best science fiction films at #1 and on the Library of Congress National Film Registry?
You don’t have to like a film to acknowledge it is a classic. It set the visual standard for the medium. And it has its iconic visual moments. Four years ago here at borg.com we ran a poll for the most iconic image of sci-fi movies and 2001 made the #1 position taking almost 20 percent of the votes (Blade Runner placed second at more than 12 percent). It has other iconic moments. HAL saying “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” is up there with “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Well, almost). And no one except Neil Armstrong looked cooler in a spacesuit than Keir Dullea.
Yes, I know. It’s a sacred cow to many. I’m talking blasphemy here. Burn me at the stake. All you clever 2001 fans can sneer all you want. And you can go enjoy it in re-release. Hey, I’m jealous. I’d love to go see a film classic in the theater that I loved. I’d go see this if I didn’t think I’d fall asleep in the theater.
Here’s the trailer for the re-release:
Tomorrow, back to regular programming.