2001: A Re-Viewing Odyssey


I’ve had several awkward conversations over the last five years during my metamorphosis into a film nerd. Many of those awkward conversations revolve around one film- 2001: A Space Odyssey. I watched it in the early stages of metamorphosis, and found the film wildly inaccessible. I’ve since had it explained to me countless times… and each time, my reaction has been “How the hell was I supposed to get that from that film?!?!” But I’ve learned to concede the incredible visuals of the film. And I’d also learned to concede that one day, I would re-watch it, and would most likely have a kinder opinion of it after a second viewing. As it turns out, “one day” was today. Like the evolving monkeys and astronauts in the film, did I adapt?

It helps that I’d recently re-watched Fantasia (1940), a similar fusion of brilliant color and orchestral score. I found myself recalling Fantasia often. I also couldn’t help but compare the use of bright, vibrant primary colors to that of Jean-Luc Godard. I have no idea if Kubrick did this intentionally, either in the case of Fantasia or Godard. But it certainly makes for favorable impressions.

The next portion that jumped out at me is that the film is extraordinarily well made. The mash-up of the majestic score with the striking visuals is editing at its finest. Moreover, the film’s structure is impressive. When the monolith appears, you know that you can brace yourself for the next evolutionary jump- from monkey to man, from man to exploratory man, from exploratory man to… floating space baby thing. Using the monolith to pace everything is a wonderful device. The visual symmetry from shot to shot, and transition to transition, is some of the best I’ve ever seen (see the comparison of shots to the right).

Also noteworthy is the tension that Kubrick built in various scenes. Hal’s lip-reading scene instantly comes to mind, as does the scene where Hal cuts Frank loose in outer space. Moreover, the film has a really wonderful timeliness to it. I’m sure that 1968 filmgoers had to be taken a bit aback by a future in which Russians and Americans were working together, and there’s an interesting subtext early in the film about technology leading to detachment. That was my interpretation as I watched one interaction after another with crew members and their loved ones back at home. You couldn’t help but feel that the relationships were synthetic. Visually, if ever there was a movie for the LSD generation, this was it.

As you can probably guess by now, just as predicted, I’ve wound up with a far more favorable opinion of the film. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the very best ever made. I stand by my original contention- that it’s wildly inaccessible, particularly to the casual viewer- but that opinion sort of gets washed away in a tidal wave of admiration for the technical aspects of the film. Now that I can put that awkward conversation to bed, like the evolving monolith-observing monkeys, I can look forward to the next stage of awkward conversation… I still liked Sunset Blvd. a LOT more. Let the discussion begin!


15 Comments

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15 responses to “2001: A Re-Viewing Odyssey

  1. Phil

    I saw 2001 when I was about 12, and it was one of the films that turned me into a movie geek. I’ve always think that when I don’t like a “classic” movie, it’s probably me more than the film. Sunset Blvd is a fantastic film, but I’d pick 2001 or Stalag 17 over it.

    • You’re a better man than me. I’m much too stubborn, and always assume that it’s the film’s fault if I don’t like it. I’m partially kidding. But not completely. Trust me, it’s a character flaw.

      I’ve got Stalag 17 coming my way very soon and I’m excited to get to it. I’ve been on a huge Wilder kick and that’s the next target.

    • Stu

      “2001” played a large role in my full-on conversion as well.

  2. I’ve seen this film at least half a dozen times, each time trying to convince myself that I like it. I completely agree that it’s fantastically made, and contains some of the most impressive and iconic imagery in any film, ever. But it’s just too slow and ponderous for my liking – the central “Jupiter Mission” is the only thing that really holds my interest. It’s playing here in Melbourne on the big screen in a couple of weeks, and I’m tempting to go check it out again to either reassess or confirm my feelings towards it. As of right now however, I respect the movie, but simply can’t stand it.

    • Having held that same opinion for half of a decade, I really can’t say I blame you, especially if you’ve given it multiple viewings. I will say that I waited several years before a re-viewing for a reason. Namely, I wanted to let my initial reaction (which was basically hatred) cool off. I don’t think I could pass up a chance to see a movie like that on a big screen. I think that’s going to be my 2012 New Year’s Resolution- to see as many “great” movies as I can when they’re available on big screens in my area. There are just enough chances in St. Louis that I’ve missed out on and kicked myself over that I need an official decree to not let it happen again.

  3. Tony

    Seen it once and that’s 2 hours (or whatever) of my life I will never get back. Technically, it is a great film. But take in to account everything else and it’s awful.

    I also hate the film for its part in causing people to pronounce the current years as “two-thousand-and” instead of the more appropriate “twenty-oh”. It should be “Twenty-oh-one”, etc.

  4. First time I saw 2001 I liked it, but that was after being subject to all the culture around it, documentaries, Wikipedia thematic summaries, so on, so maybe it wasn’t fair. However, my close friend recently watched it for the first time without knowing much (because I always tell him he has to see it to consider himself a SciFi fan), and his opinion was the same as yours. There’s little to argue that it is one of the most imaginative, well made films of all time, especially with special effects. Like Blade Runner, it is timeless. He did not like the story, though. He came out of it with a headache, wondering what exactly had just happened. I’m very understanding of this. The only reason I understand it is because Wikipedia is amazing.

    Do I like 2001? Yeah, but I’m biased as a SciFi fan and filmophile. I do understand the “casual viewer” objections, and 2001 isn’t a film I just sit down to watch. I have to make an effort to sit down, watch, and really pay attention.

  5. I was praying you might change your opinion, and thankfully you have, though I doubt you like it anywhere near as much as I do. Now maybe it’s time to re-watch Annie Hall. Hint-hint.

    • Heh… I re-tried Annie Hall not very long ago, actually, in the fall. I softened a little on it, I laughed a little bit more than I had the first time. But my opinion really didn’t change a whole lot.

  6. nimorphi

    This past week i had decided to watch every Kubrick film from Spartacus and beyond. I had seen 2001 and A clockwork orange about 10 years ago and Full Metal Jacket on a very drunken night a few years back. I wanted to rank them but after watching them they are all completely different and almost equally brilliant and they are some of the best ever made. But 2001 seemed to be head and shoulders above the rest. The story is really ambiguous, and Kubrick meant it to be that way. He actually wrote the script along side Arthur c Clarke who was writing the novel and the novel explains pretty much what goes on.
    But based on the movie alone, I can see where it takes multiple viewing and a good workout of the imagination to figure out what is going on. Even then, I don’t think you could ever really understand the movie since you are not suppose too. Sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the epicness of a piece of art.

    • Interestingly enough, Cracked took a stab at explaining this very thing in a recent article, and they mention the Clarke source material.

      Watching all of those Kubrick films over one week is quite an undertaking. I’m gradually making my way through Kubrick but I still have a long, long way to go. I doubt I’ve seen half.

      • nimorphi

        I looked up that article and it pretty much hits it on the head, and it gave away the sequals that i will never get around to reading.
        There is only 12 or 13 Kubrick films depending if you count the one he disowned and tried to track down and some how ended up on youtube. of those I only watched the later 9. For some reason they didn’t bother me that much. I tried watched a bunch of Godard films in a few days and had to stop after 4.

  7. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I still think 2001 is wildly inaccessible. Give me Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, and the Shining any day. Coincidentally, all three were adapted from novels. I actually think A Clockwork Orange (the movie) was far better than the book; and the book is considered to be a classic. I never saw Lolita but I read the book. I would only guess that Kubrick’s Lolita is probably the best film version of the book. I think he did his best when he was interpreting an existing novel rather than coming up with his own screenplay (i.e. 2001 Space Odyssey).

    • The 2001 screenplay was a collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick, and Clarke’s version was a novelization released in conjunction with the film. I guess it was a lot like Puzo’s “The Godfather” and Coppola’s on-screen version. I’m not sure how much was Kubrick and how much was Clarke.

      I did the re-watch thing on “A Clockwork Orange” back in the fall and still sort of struggled with it. I guess it was a lot like 2001- I gained an appreciation for the technical aspects, but my initial reaction was still there. The best version of that, though, was “A Clockwork Orgy”.

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