← Back to Reviews

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast overview: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
Running time: 160 minutes

This is both dull and incredible at the same time. It's one of the strangest films I've seen - though not in the traditional sense - and it's almost certainly the hardest I've had to rate. Part of me thinks it's perfection, a mesmerising piece of genius, and the other half of me thinks it's tripe, a complete style-over-substance Kubrick mess. In light of that, I've gone smack-bang in the middle, as it seems the best place to put what is a divisive and difficult film. One of the words used in the film's tagline is "epic" - I think even the film's biggest detractors couldn't argue with that, as this is a film that must have required many man-hours and a great deal of effort for it to come to fruition, and it shows in the end product, which is huge in scope.

The music is excellent - Wagner's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was recognisable to me from the concerts of Elvis Presley, who I'm a big fan of, but you'll have almost certainly heard it anyway, along with "The Blue Danube". Epic in every way, particularly the former. The effects and cinematography are both uniformly excellent. They still look great to this day, which is astonishing considering the wealth of technological advances and improvements.

What does let this down for me is the lack of a coherent story and the pacing issues, not to mention the lack of three-dimensional characters. It can be very slow at times. It's sterile, clinical, cold. There's no warmth here, and I find that can be a feature of several Kubrick films. They're often clinical looks at a certain topic, leading to a complete lack of emotion.

Aside from the good things, however, it's rather self-indulgent. Not a bad film at all, but I certainly don't think it's one of Kubrick's best, or anywhere near as good as it's made out to be. I may come back to this - it seems a film that requires more than a single watch, but it probably won't be in the near future.

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave Bowman: What's the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
Dave Bowman: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?
HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
Dave Bowman: Alright, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock.
HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.
Dave Bowman: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

[HAL's shutdown]
HAL: I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Dave Bowman: Yes, I'd like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.
HAL: It's called "Daisy."
[sings while slowing down]
HAL: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

HAL: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

In the premier screening of the film, 241 people walked out of the theater, including Rock Hudson who said "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?" Arthur C. Clarke once said, "If you understand '2001' completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered."

Stanley Kubrick worked for several months with effects technicians to come up with a convincing effect for the floating pen in the shuttle sequence. After trying many different techniques, without success, Kubrick decided to simply use a pen that was taped to a sheet of glass and suspended in front of the camera. In fact, the shuttle attendant can be seen to "pull" the pen off the glass when she takes hold of it.

The last movie made about men on the moon before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked there in real life. 40 years later, conspiracy theorists insist that this is not a coincidence, claiming that all footage of Armstrong's voyage was a hoax film directed by Stanley Kubrick using leftover scenes and props from this movie.