Contrary to the Love Conquers All message that festers Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, the message of Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey is rather more profound, albeit rather harder to define. Indeed, even after all these decades people are still arguing about it, and as I have re-watched it over the years I still find myself changing my mind about what the film means. Sometimes I think the Monolith is an Alien artifact and 2001 a story of aliens shaping our evolution- other times the Monolith is God and 2001 is a bold religious movie disguised as science fiction. The films very strength is the vagueness that some find so infuriating. One thing I am certain of however, we will never see a science fiction film ever so serious and ambitious ever again- something only further cemented by the recent release of Interstellar. Its not that Interstellar is particularly bad, its just films in general- the scope and ambition of films now falls far below what Kubrick was attempting back then.
Sobering thought though- discussing Interstellar with my friends at work who saw it with me, I compared the film with 2001 and was surprised that they hadn’t seen 2001 at all. Well, I dread to think what this generation would think of 2001‘s glacial pace and obscure plot- films over the decades have gotten faster and simpler, and 2001 is clearly the very antithesis of what the consensus of a ‘good’ film is these days, so I hesitated to recommend it. Would my work colleagues have even gotten past the Dawn of Man sequence? Likely not. Yet some of them clearly felt Interstellar was a great science fiction film. Hades in a handbasket.
2001 of course is not a film for everyone and had its many detractors even when it was first released in 1968. I can’t imagine what the impact of the film was back then, what it must have been like back then seeing it for the first time. Nearest thing I can imagine is Star Wars in 1977 or Blade Runner in 1982. Maybe Gravity last year? Alas, these days its more about what a film shows (the technology used, cgi /3D/Imax etc.) than what a film says. 2001 had such a lot to say about our history, our future, the dehumanisation inherent in technology. 2001 was the first truly serious science fiction film with A-list credentials/production values- science fiction was generally the domain of the b-movie before then. I know there are exceptions to that but it was an attempt at real science rather than, say, Forbidden Planet‘s fantasy. 2001 remains the grandest vision of any science fiction film, almost fifty years after it release.
I first saw 2001 on the BBC over one Christmas- 1979 or possibly 1980, I can’t remember which- and I remember John Brosnan writing afterwards in Starburst magazine vehemently condemning the BBC’s treatment of the film’s original widescreen format. It didn’t get any better on home video, Brosnan no doubt later venting further wrath with the films’ treatment on VHS. Anybody else reading this own a copy of the film on VHS pictured here? It was back in the very earliest days of video sell-through. I don’t recall if it was a retailer exclusive in Woolworths, but that’s where I had my copy from- there were loads of old catalogue films (John Wayne films mostly) . It was,as usual for those days, a horrible pan and scan version with fuzzy colours (a travesty when you consider the work that went into the film, its framing and cinematography), but it was still a remarkable thing back then being able to own a personal copy of a film, particularly one like 2001. But yeah, it sure was ugly. A reminder of how spoiled we are now with the excellent version on Blu-ray we have now.
8 thoughts on “Fifty Great films: 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)”
I haven’t seen 2001 in full since I was too young to appreciate it. I’m hoping when I finally get round to revisiting it I’ll ‘get’ it, which also slightly holds me back from trying…
The BFI are re-releasing ‘2001’ from the end of this week. It’s actually so essential tons ee it on a big screen that I’d recommend the trip to London to see it.
Failing that, the Blu-ray is immaculate. Really stunning.
‘to see’, not ‘tons ee’. Thanks, autocorrect.
I doubt I’d be able to make a theatrical screening, sadly. I do have it on Blu-ray, so it’s just a case of when…
Perhaps next year you could run a “What Do You Mean, You Didn’t Like…?” series in which you re-visit films you didn’t like the first time around, give them a second chance.
2001 is like many of Kubrick’s films, something of an acquired taste. Indeed, many of Kubrick’s films seem to have gotten better as I’ve re-watched them/years gone by. I wasn’t sure what to make of The Shining back when I first saw it, but i think its one of my very favourite horror films now. If you do give 2001 another shot, get it on Blu-ray, its gorgeous.
That’s a damn fine idea! I will mull on that, and 2001 would definitely be a top contender.
Every time I watch 2001 I find something else that intrigues me about it. You’re right about the film being the antithesis of what a good movie should be nowadays. And the ending is something out of a psychedelic dream. But, I can’t deny the visuals, especially with the object in frame, not being a topic of discussion. It certainly is provocative.
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