2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

It’s easy to imagine an alternative universe where 2001: A Space Odyssey is a cult oddity, a largely-forgotten curio. Where Kubrick’s iconic sci-fi was met with mystified reactions to its glacial pace and its puzzling, almost religious narrative. That universe is perhaps more plausible than our own, where this thoroughly weird, elliptical film is an unquestioned member of the modern film canon – ranked sixth by critics and second by directors in the latest Sight & Sound poll.

2001 is an impressive achievement, demonstrative of Kubrick’s fastidious, inimitable command over the look and feel of his films. It’s hard to deny the audacity of cutting from the dawn of man to centuries into the future, the sumptuous beauty of the gentle ballet as spaceships weave amongst one another or the enigmatic power of the final sequence, which ascends through and then transcends human existence.

I have boundless respect for 2001 but after two viewings it still holds me at arm’s length, never truly engaging me. Its critical acclaim ensures that I’ll be revisiting it in the future, but part of me wonders if this is a cult film that happens to have a very large cult; one I may never join.

Rating: 175/200

19 thoughts on “2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

  1. It’s not a cult film, it’s a masterpiece. And if you are truly patient, you’ll again attempt to find its very particular rhythm—and maybe find that it’s not so “slow” after all. Do some reading on it as well, and you’ll discover just why Kubrick made some of the choices he did with the pacing and the audio. I admire your tenacity in saying you will “keep at it”. It’s worth it. I’m not certain how many times I’ve seen it…20? Including once on a huge screen in Manhattan in December of…2001. THAT was glorious. Every viewing gets richer, and I’m sure I’ll be back at it before long. One minor criticism of your writing…change the word decades to centuries. It’s more accurate and it sounds better. Other than that, an interesting piece. ML

    • I’m certainly not disputing it’s a masterpiece – I’m mostly just intrigued that such a different, cerebral, near-impenetrable movie has become so widely acclaimed. It’s a great thing, and testament to the power of art … even if it’s yet to completely engage me. I still find parts of the film breathtaking – in particular the early space sequence scored by “The Blue Danube” or the astounding final sequence, which is mysterious and profoundly moving. I’m hopeful that in future viewings, the effect of the entire film will match the power of the last ten minutes or so, which are a singular cinematic experience.

      You’re obviously a fan – and part of that “cult” I facetiously discussed, so your advocacy is appreciated – I’ll definitely be seeing it again sometime soon…ish. And you’re right on the “decades” – I’m not sure if I originally intended it to read “centuries” or “millenia” but certainly not mere decades. Thanks for all the comments 🙂

      • (Actually, I remember the original intent of that sentence was for the “decades” to refer to it being decades after when the film was made…which is super-unclear and confusing)

  2. Three years ago we went to a Star Trek convention and while I was waiting in line to get a George Takei autograph, the wife went to the bathroom. Apparently, while she was waiting for me she started talking to someone to waste some time. Later, as we were gearing up to leave, we passed the 2001 booth and she was like – “Wow, I talked to that guy for, like, 30 minutes while you were getting that autograph..” it was Keir.. she had no idea…

    • I imagine he was probably happy to talk to someone who didn’t immediately say to him, “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.” Cool story 🙂

      • At that same convention I met and talked to Gil Gerard for about 30 minutes and it didn’t cost me anything : )

      • Confession: I had to google “Gil Gerard” to know what you were talking about 😦 – at least I’m familiar with Buck Rogers, heh.

      • Buck Rogers was real big where I live when I was a kid so, in reality, I got to cross that off my imaginary never ending bucket list. : ) I also brushed by Tia Carerre’s table but she wasn’t talking to anyone because “her throat hurt”.

      • Fair enough – I don’t think ol’ Buck got a lot of airplay on Aussie TV! I do remember Tia Carrerre (and her Playboy spread) well, though. Do Star Trek conventions generally bring out a suite of non-Trek sci-fi celebs?

      • Yeah – it was surprising, the first one we went to had The Shat as the marquee, Michael Dorn and some people I didn’t really care about. The second one had Takei, and the other folks I talked about – which was a nice surprise. This summer it was cancelled because they didn’t have any money LOL

      • I imagine it’s hard for them to get a con off the ground nowadays without Chris Pine, Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto 😉

  3. I felt the same – I understood and respected the film without ever finding it very engaging – it is cold, and it is slow, and heavy on thought as opposed to emotion like all Kubrick – but I caught it recently after years avoiding it and was really blown away by the film. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. Something about it really struck me and that was maybe the 5th time I’ve seen it, without ever being too drawn in before. So maybe you’re in the same boat – I’d definitely come back to it one day, its the sort of movie which can just suddenly hit you.

    • Yeah, I’m hopeful I experience the same revelation with the film at some point – it’s certainly happened for me with other great films (like Taxi Driver, which is now one of my favourite films but didn’t wow me when I first saw it as a teenager). I’ll try again in a few years and see how it treats me then – perhaps on Blu-Ray next time!

      • Ah Taxi Driver is the same – I thought it was terrible as a teenager and avoided it for a good decade. Caught it recently and loved it. 2001 I watched alone, at night, in the dark and it really got to me.

  4. I think in order for me to fully “get” this flick, some serious mind-altering drugs need to be involved. However, as a sober experience, it’s still a movie worth seeing and being entranced by. Because let’s face it, no Kubrick movie is cut-and-dry, and that’s what we all loved about him. Good review Dave.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard stories about people in the ’60s getting stoned and going to watch this film specifically for the trippy special effects sequence that concludes the HAL section of the film – makes a lot of sense that you’d enjoy it more that way!

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