Thursday, October 4, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) *1/2

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No, I don’t like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  I’m sure I have offended countless sci-fi fans and cinephiles, but I don’t care because I find the film beyond boring. Yes, there are several interesting visual images, and for 1968, at the height of the Space Race, it was ahead of its time, but that doesn’t mean I have to revere it or recognize its perceived “greatness”.  The only thing I do like about it is the music—and even that contributes to the overall tedious effect the movie has on me.  If you fall asleep every time you watch something I think that sends a clear message. 

Based on sci-fi author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001-04short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a plodding look at humankind’s relationship with the universe.  There is a monolith that keeps popping up: on Earth at the dawn of man, on the moon, and on Jupiter.  I expect all of these “sightings” are supposed to be tied together, but having not read Clarke’s series I have no idea how, as the film gave me no conclusive answer. I’m a historian by trade, but I minored in philosophy, so I kept asking myself if Kubrick chose to open and close his movie with Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” because he was trying to make some sort of nihilistic statement about Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence and the Übermensch. I suspect this is the case.  Okay, I somewhat understand what he was doing, but what about the average person on the street who never read Nietzsche or Clarke, do they get it?  Probably not, but I don’t think Kubrick cared, either. 

I have been told that people liked to drop LSD and then go watch this—I can see that.  There is an abundance of vast spatial dissonance and towards the end there is a plethora of psychedelic images, so I understand how this might appeal to Dead Heads.  For me, 2001-space-odysseythese images did one of two things: made me sleepy and/or gave me a headache. I’m not a special effects geek, and so while it is obvious that Kubrick and his crew were way ahead of their time, it does nothing for me.  Maybe I lack the ability to be awed by these endeavors because so much has been seen and discovered since this film was released.  Still, I can’t see how Pauline Kael wrote in 1968 that 2001: A Space Odyssey was "a monumentally unimaginative movie.” There is plenty of imagination, but, for me, that’s not enough to make me like it. 

Minimalism has its place, but too much of it in a film can leave viewers feeling completely detached.  That is the effect that 2001: A Space Odyssey has on me.  Sparse, minimal dialogue; sterile set designs; and, a complete denial of human pathos makes for bad cinema in my book.  To makes things worse, when Kubrick HAL9000does attempt to make an emotional appeal he does so with the supercomputer HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is represented as both creepy and evil.  Is Kubrick making a statement about emotions?  Is there no room in his future world-view for feelings, and if you do have them does that make you deficient and/or deviant?  For a humanist like myself, that is an unbearable bitter pill to swallow.

The one element of the film that I liked was the music. Kubrick wanted to create a non-verbal experience, and you will notice that he uses music throughout the film except in the rare cases where there is actual dialogue.  While he bookends his movie with Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he also creatively uses Johann Strauss’ “On the Blue Danube” and imagesGyörgy Ligeti’s Requiem.  Still, even though I found Kubrick’s musical choices inspired, I also think they contribute to my desire to fall asleep every time I watch his movie. 

Overall, I don’t dig this film.  To me, it is boring and lacks any emotional appeal.  Yes, there are a number of enticing visuals, but that just isn’t enough for me. Plus, the creepy baby at the end gives me nightmares.

 

18 comments:

  1. Anthony Daniels (C3P0) tells the story of not wanting to go to the "Star Wars" audition when his agent told him it was a sci-fi film. Daniels was down on the genre having asked for his money back when he went to see "2001: A Space Odyssey".

    If I have to keep reminding myself to "appreciate" the movie or that Douglas Rain is a Canadian (hooray!) to help me through a screening then it's time to give up and admit that it's just not the classic for me.

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    1. Ah, nice to know I'm not the only one. Interesting story about Daniels...did he say if he got his money back?

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  2. Believe me, Kim, you're not alone. For me, 2001: A Space Odyssey is easily the single most overrated motion picture since Fred Ott's Sneeze. Influential, it's true, but its influence has been almost entirely malign, inspiring a generation -- no, two generations now -- of filmmakers who are little more than photographers without a lick of story sense. I spent the entire summer of 1968 arguing with a parade of patronizing pseudo-intellectual pipe-suckers who told me the picture went over my head; when I wasn't doing that, I was coaxing others out of their inferiority complexes, telling them no, they weren't dumb for not getting it, there was nothing to get. One season of that was plenty; after that, people who agree with you and me just threw up our hands and let the Stanleyites have their way. Masterpiece? Yeah. Sure. Right. Whatever.

    Reading Jerome Agel's The Making of Kubrick's 2001 is a real eye-opener, if you can sift through the sycophancy dripping from every page. Shovel that aside and read with a dispassionate eye, and you'll see an account of a man stymied by an unlimited budget, with no idea where he's going with this project, simply (to quote Bogart in The Maltese Falcon) "fiddling around hoping it'll all work out in the end."

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    1. I haven't read Angel's book, but am quite familiar with the insanity that went on during the making of 2001. I really don't know how he got away with half of the stuff he did.

      As for the pseudo-intellectuals, I know many of them. Nihilism was really a big deal in the post-WWII era and carried over into the 1960s, and I suspect that is what attracted them to this. However, the average person had no idea where Kubrick was coming from, which created a huge comprehension gap for the overall viewing public.

      Glad to know you and I think alike on this one, Jim.

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  3. I read the book before I ever saw the movie. My first thought when the movie got done is "No one will possibly be able to really understand what is going on in this movie if they haven't read the book." And believe it or not, I think that's why so many critics like it. A standard movie that they've seen time and time again bores them; a movie that they don't understand, that they can play with in regards to metaphors and meanings, excites them.

    As a science fiction fan I liked the film, but didn't love it. I appreciated that Clarke insisted on the science being as real as possible. That's what led to the space sequences with all the classical music. There's no sound in space, but Kubrick knew that people wouldn't sit there for minutes as a time watching a completely silent sequence of a ship docking with a space station, so he overlaid the silence with classical music.

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    1. Well, I'm glad he did overlay the silence with music, otherwise this would have been a :((( rating. LOL!
      You know, the funny thing about the book is that it wasn't written until the film was finished, and then it was used as a companion piece.

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  4. Kim, I am not a fan either. Except for the subplot with Dave and HAL, there's nothing that grips me (not even the visuals). That said, it was interesting to read Carolyn Geduld's definitive analysis in her FILMGUIDE TO 2001.

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    1. Rick, I think this film is so overrated and that if a scientific poll were taken of people who have seen the film that it would rank quite lower than it currently does.

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    2. not even the visuals? ok. :))

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  5. Amen! I cannot stand this movie, although I do like the scenes where the creepy HAL starts talking. (The "Good morning, Dave" greeting always gives me the chills.) Thanks for the info on the philosophical aspects, which is interesting, but still doesn't change my view of the movie. However, having said that, I've heard a lot of fascinating discussions about the meaning of this movie, and it's not every movie that inspires this type of conversation.

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    1. I don't like HAL--perhaps it is because he is so creepy. I think this movie gets polar opposite responses from many people, and that is what adds to the buzz about it. I know many, many people who dislike it, but then I see so many others putting it on their top 10 lists.

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  6. William SommerwerckFebruary 5, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    I don't care whether you like or dislike this film -- but it's obvious you don't understand it. Your "I don't like this" and "I don't like that" says more about you than it does about the quality of "2001". You don't like HAL because he's "creepy"? Did it occur to you that that might have been Kubrick's intention? Is one supposed to "like" every character in every film?

    It's interesting that the author of the 1968 full-page review in "The Christian Science Monitor" absolutely "got" the film -- on all its multiple levels -- without having to have it explained to him. You might want to look it up.

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    1. You have a very interesting screen personality. As someone who is quite familiar with the study of philosophy, I am certain that I understand what Kubrick was attempting to do here. I just didn't like it (and, like you, I don't care if you care if I like or dislike something). As for "The Christian Science Monitor" article, I am not a fan of Eddy's interpretation of the Bible, so I don't subscribe to that particular periodical. Nice reading your comments--whether they are polite or belligerent. You remind me of a Hegelian.

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  7. Sorry for my english mistakes.
    I guees some fall asleep to this movie. The good part is that others cant stop watching it. ( not for endless times, but in that moment) When I watched the movie for the first time, I was spechless about what a movie can do and I didnt knew in 2010. It gave me so many sensations and so many ideas about humanity or about movies. At the end of the movie even if all the things were far from beeing clear to me the fact that I saw something in what other may call a nonsense it was more than enough.

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    1. I think this film appeals to some people in a visceral manner--I'm just not one of them.

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  8. You should dig through Angel's book and read the review from "The Christian Science Monitor". The reviewer "got" the film -- its intent, its symbolism, its plot (such as it is) -- without apparently having to have it explained. Kubrick knew what he was doing. You might not like the film, but it is not an exmpty exercise.

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    1. I think you and I have discussed this already. I don't like or enjoy watching this film. You obviously do. Not everyone can agree on everything.

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