At the request of my brother-in-law, let's call him Mr. Pink, I have taken as second look at the lauded Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey When I first saw it I hated it. I thought it was long and boring and pointless. Since my first viewing I have learned a lot about cinematography and experimental film. Kubrick is renowned for his ability to manipulate the image with the camera and tell a story with the visuals. With all of this in mind I sat down and re-watched it again. My conclusion:
The film is actually much worse than I remember.
Let me run you through the sequence. (notice I did not say “story” because there really isn't one). It is divided into 4 segments.
There is a 3 minute musical prologue. Actually, it isn't so much music as it is strange audio tones.
We then see the sun, earth, and moon with the title sequence. After this we get 20 minutes of apes. Wait, let me say that we get about a minute and half of empty African landscapes and then we get 20 minutes of apes. A black monolith appears and the apes learn to use tools from bones.
After that we get another 20-30 minutes in the year 2001. Literally half of this is watching the actors silently float through space. This monotony is interrupted as the main character of this, Dr. Floyd, video chats with his little girl for 2 minutes.
Floyd goes to the moon where they found another monolith buried 40 feet below the lunar surface 4 million years earlier. When they get to the monolith they pose in front of it like hillbillies who ran over an elk. But the monolith's batteries must need changing, because it lets out a high pitched squeal
Then we shoot ahead 18 months to a space ship heading toward Jupiter. 2 astronauts are manning the ship with the other 3 in hibernation. There is also a super computer named HAL 9000 that runs everything. HAL has never made a mistake. Then HAL makes a minor mistake. So the 2 astronauts decide to unplug HAL's mind. I'm not sure I understand that logic. If my iMac sets my clock to Greenwich Mean Time, I don't take a hatchet to it. But regardless, lets move on.
HAL finds out. By the way, at this point we have slowly limped to the 1 hour 27 minute mark. At this point in order to destroy any possible remaining interest, there is a 30 second intermission. Now think about that for a moment. This would be like giving you a moment to catch your breath from all the excitement of brushing your teeth. And 30 seconds is barely enough time to use the bathroom, make a sandwich, or contemplate what else you could have been doing with the last 1 hour and 27 minutes while contemplating going on.
Also, if you've noticed I've barely used any character names because they are so one-dimensional and forgettable that I can't even care enough to dislike them. But let us continue on:
Hal kills four of the crew members except Dave (okay, fine, I'll give you one of their names).
Dave then unplugs HAL's brain. It is then that a message from Dr. Floyd appears telling Dave that the monolith on the moon (last seen or mentioned an hour earlier) is sending a signal to Jupiter. So here at last, nearly 2 hours into the movie, Houston, we have a plot. And just then this sequence ends.
Then the final sequence begins (a final sequence, by the way, that has NO dialogue. That is not bad in and of itself, but no one has any idea what is going on). Dave, instead of returning to Earth to bring home the remains of his dead colleagues and kick HAL's programer in the crotch, continues on to Jupiter. He gets in a pod and finds another floating monolith, which I guess acts like a cosmic garage door opener, because Dave travels through what I guess is hyper space but looks like something I once saw at Laser Floyd.
Now follow me here... his pod ends up in a white room with 17th century french furniture. He sees himself standing outside the pod. The Dave outside the pod sees an older Dave in a dressing gown eating a gourmet meal. The implication is that he's been living by himself in this cosmic prison for years. Then the eating Dave sees a dying Dave on a bed. Dying Dave sees another monolith (the cosmos must be lousy with them). Then Dying Dave is replaced by a floating glowing space-fetus. The space fetus flies to the monolith and floats above Earth.
I have a particular aversion to movies that are supposed to be deep and sophisticated but are really trash. And 2001 is trash. I know that I may be in the minority of the film-loving culture, but this movie is irredeemably awful. It commits the greatest sin a movie can make: it is BORING!
I used to say to myself that Kubrick couldn't tell a story but his visuals were good. I take that back. His visuals are awful. They are amateur hour. I honestly sat there thinking, “I wish Michael Bay had directed this.” Bay at least knows how to make visuals come to life. Kubrick is so in love with his own shots that he thinks that you should be too. His use of 1968 special effects may have made audiences go “Ooohhhh.” But they do nothing for me now.
Kubrick wanted to make an experimental film, where story doesn't matter. Sorry, but 2001 is supposed to be a story. And at this he failed miserably. As I said before, I couldn't care about anyone or anything that was going on. A lot has been made about the story elements that are implied and are in the novelization. But as Rick O once pointed out, you should never have to go to extra-movie material to understand a film. After watching this I can see the influence it had on movies like Prometheus, more's the pity.
Peter Jackson said of his 3-hour Fellowship of the Ring, that they had so much story to tell in that limited amount of time. So each scene, especially in the beginning, had to accomplish multiple goals, like introduce characters, plot points, themes, etc. 2001 doesn't care about any of that. It's like Kubrick has taken you on a ride and every time you ask him to explain what was going on, he says, “Shh... look at that cool looking thing.” It would almost be forgivable if what he was pointing too was interesting.
I don't mind that most of the movie is mysterious, but you have to have a good payoff. And I'm sorry but unexplainable floating giant space-fetuses don't cut it.
If this movie was just another piece of sci-fi schlock, I wouldn't care. But because it is held up as some kind of pinnacle of science fiction film, I hate this movie. I hate it more than HAL hates humans who turn into space babies.