“2001: A Space Odyssey” is the most thought-provoking science fiction film to emerge out of the 20th century. A challenging film to watch, it has developed legions of admirers and hordes of critics. Critics have taken positions either defending this work as a landmark cinematic event as Roger Ebert and Tom Dirks noted or they have attacked it as a complete waste of time. No viewer can assume the middle ground with this movie. You either love it or hate it. This writer respects the artistic value of this movie, however hates it for entertainment purposes.
Broken into four specific sections, the movie is 4 smaller movies in one. Each film segment deals with a specific period centered on the key characters of that film segment. The film segments are unable to stand on their own. Each segment builds on its predecessor. You cannot watch only a portion of this film. You are forced to take in the whole film, from beginning to end and that is not without its own challenges.
This is a perplexing film to watch from many viewpoints. Purposely designed so that events are not fully explained, Stanley Kubrick has intended for this film to create conversation and dialogue among its audiences. Watching this movie you cannot help but want to ask questions about what is occurring on the screen to the person sitting next to you. You want to ask, but it will do no good as your movie companion will not understand what is occurring either. Like other viewers will develop opinions of what is taking place, however, no one knows for sure, because that is exactly what Stanley wanted the film to do.
Winston Churchill’s classic phrase referring to Russia is very applicable for this movie; “It is a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma”. The average movie is filmed with a very specific plot line, following a clearly defined time line. You clearly understand what is happening to the central characters, who the protagonist is and what their role within the movie is. With “2001: A Space Odyssey”, all of that is lacking.
Slowly prodding through time, with scenes meticulously filmed to provide inordinate detail (You will be able to name the type of shoes the stewardesses are wearing). This movie can very quickly become boring to audiences accustomed to rapid on screen dialogue, violence and sex. This movie, at almost 3 hours in length, feels like a movie that is almost 3 hours in length.
So, how does a movie that is boring and fails to make sense become a classic and be considered cinematic art? It becomes a work of art because this is not a movie simply thrown together with cheesy special effects, a sloppy soundtrack and poor acting. On the contrary, every component of this film is assembled with Kubrick’s utmost attention to detail. Akin to other great works of art that have become a classic, you have to look to the details.
No aspect of this movie is overlooked in this movie. From the state of the art special effects of the day, to the resounding soundtrack, to the many use of allegories, this movie is analogous to a classic painting or fine sculpture. The Academy Awards took notice of the artistic value of this film and nominated it for four awards in 1968 to include Best Director, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Story and Best Screenplay. The movie would win one Oscar, which was for Best Visual Effects.
This writer recognizes the artistic significance of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and heralds this movie for that reason. However, no other movie in the science fiction genre has ever been done like this before. Instead, George Lucas has spoiled an entire generation of movie goers with his epic science fiction trilogy that needs no name. Without battles among starships, angry aliens, an evil empire, who do we, the movie watchers, rail against in our darkened theaters? For me, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a movie best watched once, and just once.