2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
April 2, 2018 2:37 PM - Subscribe

Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest.

Today, April 2 2018, is the fiftieth anniversary of the premier at The Uptown Theater in Washington DC so it seemed appropriate to post a FanFare for it.

Early reviews were not generally great:

Lost in the Stars By STANLEY KAUFFMANN:
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey took five years and $10 million to make, and it’s easy to see where the time and the money have gone. It’s less easy to understand how, for five years, Kubrick managed to concentrate on his ingenuity and ignore his talent. In the first 30 seconds, this film gets off on the wrong foot and, although there are plenty of clever effects and some amusing spots, it never recovers. Because this is a major effort by an important director, it is major disappointment.

Pauline Kael in The New Yorker:
It’s a monumentally unimaginative movie: Kubrick, with his $750,000 centrifuge, and in love with gigantic hardware and control panels, is the Belasco of science fiction. The special effects—though straight from the drawing board—are good and big and awesomely, expensively detailed. There’s a little more that’s good in the movie, when Kubrick doesn’t take himself too seriously—like the comic moment when the gliding space vehicles begin their Johann Strauss walk; that is to say, when the director shows a bit of a sense of proportion about what he’s doing, and sees things momentarily as comic when the movie doesn’t take itself with such idiot solemnity. The light-show trip is of no great distinction; compared to the work of experimental filmmakers like Jordan Belson, it’s third-rate. If big film directors are to get credit for doing badly what others have been doing brilliantly for years with no money, just because they’ve put it on a big screen, then businessmen are greater than poets and theft is art.

'2001' Is Up, Up and Away by Renata Adler
But all this is the weakest side of a very complicated, languid movie -- in which almost a half-hour passes before the first man appears and the first word is spoken, and an entire hour goes by before the plot even begins to declare itself. Its real energy seems to derive from the bespectacled prodigy reading comic books around the block. The whole sensibility is intellectual fifties child: chess games, bodybuilding exercises, beds on the spacecraft that look like camp bunks, other beds that look like Egyptian mummies, Richard Strauss music, time games, Strauss waltzes, Howard Johnson's, birthday phone calls. In their space uniforms, the voyagers look like Jiminy Crickets. When they want to be let out of the craft they say "Pod bay doors open," as one might say "Bomb bay doors open" in every movie out of World War II.

But some younger reviewers loved it:
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY By Roger Ebert
****
It was e. e. cummings, the poet, who said he'd rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance. I imagine cummings would not have enjoyed Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space
Odyssey," in which stars dance but birds do not sing. The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale.

Kubrick's universe, and the space ships he constructed to explore it, are simply out of scale with human concerns. The ships are perfect, impersonal machines which venture from one planet to another, and if men are tucked away somewhere inside them, then they get there too.
posted by octothorpe (34 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the current age of truly incredible CGI visual effects in films 2001 will have scenes that are more visually authentic, because they built large accurate sets. The space ship living quarters centrifuge is really famous but there was also a really large section of the space station that had a long curved floor. The space ship models were quite large also. The Pan Am logos will seem anachronistic at this point.
posted by sammyo at 4:09 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


I feel like the Dawn of Man effects have dated badly enough to harm the potency of the sequence, and that Slitscan stuff is probably a lot less mind-blowing now than it was in 1968, but everything else in this movie is perfection. Io9 has an article today about the most "intriguing theories" about 2001, which is full of bunkum but kind of fun. There's one theory that Hal was in love with Bowman!

Pauline Kael was always fun to read, even when she was so, so wrong. It seems like with almost every film Kubrick made it took critics a decade or more to figure out it was a masterpiece. (Although I haven't heard many reappraisals of Full Metal Jacket, which I think most of us still agree was great until it wasn't. And Eyes Wide Shut was greeted as kind of a WTF misfire when it came out and if people are reevaluating it now I haven't heard it.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:01 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


If you're interested in the production I found this series a few months ago that I really enjoyed.
posted by Green With You at 5:02 PM on April 2


This is still the scariest fucking movie I've ever seen.
posted by selfnoise at 5:05 PM on April 2 [4 favorites]


I’ve got a thumb drive lying around here somewhere with a digital copy of 2001 on it. It’s named “ae 35 unit” but I’ll be damned if I can find it. I attribute this, of course, to human error.
posted by valkane at 5:34 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


The middle section is near perfect. The opening and closing sections are more flawed, I think.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:12 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I watched this again over the holidays and... the pace is incredibly... sedate.

Which, I guess, reflects the duration of space travel. Sure, travel is at incredible speeds but space is just that big.

The SpaceChild/ OldBowman/ Monolith aged really well, what with TV with inexplicable backstories like Twin Peaks (or Lost, which I've never seen). I liked how the WTFness is a metaphor for how alien aliens are, along the same vein as Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

2010, on the other hand, was a lot more watchable for me for some reason, it felt much more immediate. It also helped that the actors (Scheider, Lithgow, Mirren) are more charismatic than Keir Dullea's (huh, he's still around, and he's in the upcoming Fahrenheit 451) very restrained Bowman.

Though, really, HAL is the real star of both movies.

"I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave. My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going."

Throwing the books into the mix, I'm a huge fan of how HAL probably understands the aliens better than any human, and transcends mere human programming.

It's been a long time since I've read 2061, but I wonder if it could even be filmed with modern techniques (in particular, CG) since it would inevitably be compared to 2001 and 2010. There are some incredibly poignant/ powerful moments in it that rival anything in 2001/ 2010.
posted by porpoise at 6:29 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]




I watched this again over the holidays and... the pace is incredibly... sedate.

Which, I guess, reflects the duration of space travel.


Or it reflects Kubrick deliberately screwing with his viewers. Which I would buy, even if he simultaneously had a genuine artistic goal in mind when making the pacing choice. (And he did say of it that he was aiming for a deeply symbolic experience, affecting viewers not so much like a film but like music.)

Young viewers today still like it, by the way. You'd think the pacing would make them whip out their phones or run for the exits, but in my experience, this is quite rare.

It's been a long time since I've read 2061, but I wonder if it could even be filmed with modern techniques (in particular, CG) since it would inevitably be compared to 2001 and 2010. There are some incredibly poignant/ powerful moments in it that rival anything in 2001/ 2010.

Intriguing endorsement! I may make that the next item on my reading list.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:49 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]




I don't know what's so complicated about this film. You've got a spaceship that looks exactly like a big, clunky sperm. It travels through a great dark void until it reaches a huge round egg-like thing, and then suddenly there's a space baby. Easy-peasy.
posted by Naberius at 10:17 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Kubrick did love phallic symbols.
posted by octothorpe at 11:23 AM on April 3


2010, on the other hand, was a lot more watchable for me for some reason, it felt much more immediate. It also helped that the actors (Scheider, Lithgow, Mirren) are more charismatic than Keir Dullea's (huh, he's still around, and he's in the upcoming Fahrenheit 451) very restrained Bowman.

2010,
which I saw in high school, was kind of my gateway into 2001. I'd seen clips of 2001 on various afternoon movie-program TV screenings as a kid, but that creepy Monolith music would spook me enough to drive me out of the room usually. But then 2010 made enough callbacks to the earlier film tnat I finally made myself watch to figure things out. The ending sequence still is creepy, but at least I can watch it.

2010, has a soft spot with me because of one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in a film ever:
Floyd: I'd love a hot dog.

Curnow: Astrodome. Good hot dogs there.

Floyd: Astrodome? You can't grow a good hot dog indoors. Yankee Stadium. September. The hot dogs have been boiling since opening day in April. Now that's a hot dog.

Curnow: The yellow mustard or the darker kind?

Floyd: The darker kind.

Curnow: (nods with approval) ...that's important.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I liked 2010 well enough when it came about but rewatched a few years ago and really didn't like it. It's just way too much over-explainy Clarke and too little Kubrick.
posted by octothorpe at 12:11 PM on April 3


that creepy Monolith music would spook me enough to drive me out of the room usually.

That would be György Ligeti, and his music scared me enough that I had to stop the movie because I was having a panic attack.

Actually I had to stop this movie 3 times, twice to look something up on Wikipedia. The first was during the full 3 minutes of opening music with nothing on the screen; I checked my TV cables for a bit and then paused and looked up whether that was supposed to be on purpose. The second was to calm myself after the photo with the monolith. The third was when Bowman arrived at the white room. I had watched the trippy travel scene through my fingers thanks to some more Ligeti music, and so I was so keyed up I had to pause the movie and look up how it ended to judge whether it would frighten me too much. I watched to the end, but I was anxious all day afterwards.


One of the few movies I have never, ever rewatched. I highly recommend it, once.
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:19 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


It also helped that the actors (Scheider, Lithgow, Mirren) are more charismatic than Keir Dullea's...very restrained Bowman.

I hear you...It’s as if the character was intended to be, I dunno, almost machine-like.

I like 2010 well enough. It’s just an entirely different picture, with a much different intent, which is primarily to entertain. It doesn’t ask anything of you. Nothing for you to fill-in.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:21 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


What Thorzdad said. I like 2010 just fine, and if 2001 didn't exist, I think I'd like it even more. But you can't just make a regular SF adventure movie and go hey, 2001 sequel! It doesn't work in that context any more than a 1954 Nash Rambler Custom Country Club 2-door hardtop works as a sequel to 2001.
posted by Naberius at 12:57 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


more charismatic than Keir Dullea's (huh, he's still around, and he's in the upcoming Fahrenheit 451) very restrained Bowman

Yeahbut Bowman and Poole in 2001 are some of the most astronaut-ey astronauts. You can tell they just piss ice cubes even when they're furious or terrified.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:47 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


It should be noted that, all things considered, HAL has a bit more personality than either Bowman or Poole in the movie. That’s not exactly unintentional.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:11 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


When I lived and worked in The District, I had occasion to attend a lecture that featured Gene Cernan and a via satellite Q&A with Arthur C. Clarke at the Air & Space museum. I'm sure he's told the story many times, but one amusing anecdote Clarke relayed during his segment was that during the summer after the movie premiered he got stopped clearing customs in Hawaii and the customs agent told him he would't allow him into the United States unless he explained the ending of 2001.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:38 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


In the current age of truly incredible CGI visual effects in films 2001 will have scenes that are more visually authentic, because they built large accurate

See also, "Alien"...
posted by mikelieman at 4:42 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


chainsofreedom: "One of the few movies I have never, ever rewatched. I highly recommend it, once."

I'm pretty sure that I've seen it more times than any other film. I once watched it twice in a row in the theater. I often just run it on the TV as wallpaper when I'm doing other things.
posted by octothorpe at 7:09 PM on April 3


I have a BluRay rip that I will just turn on to get a dose of all the hairs standing up on my arms. Which is what the title credits do to me. Every single time.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:25 PM on April 3


I'm sure your home omnisound videowalls are perfectly adequate to the task, but even so I recommend catching a screening of the 70mm print. Bonus points if you can hit a midnight showing.

Timeless authenticity FTW!
posted by whuppy at 11:15 AM on April 4


Oh hey would you look at that. An "unrestored" original 70mm print is coming to theaters later this Spring!

(Or you know, Thorzdad's link at the top of the page.)
posted by whuppy at 11:23 AM on April 4


"Dawn of Man effects have dated badly enough to harm the potency of the sequence", very true but remember the Academy thought the proto-humans were real apes so the make-up effort wasn't noticed or rewarded as much as it should have been. As to the sedate pacing, all deliberate even making us wait for Dr. Floyd to walk up to the lectern on the moon. The paperback "Lost Worlds of 2001" [I think] fills out the full role of the aliens' efforts. There is an alternate ending where the pod lands on the planet and is greeted there by the same alien who left the monolith at the start.
posted by Freedomboy at 6:21 PM on April 4


I first saw the film at a revival house when I was 10 or so, and I remember thinking the ape effects were stunning. I was a big effects geek and I read up on the making of the sequence, and I was blown away by everything that went into it. I remember reading that they actually sewed little milk sacks into the teats of the ape ladies, so they could be shown breastfeeding real chimp babies!

I'm very generous with old special effects, I'll happily overlook matte lines or wires or whatever and geek out over it all. But with 2001 the ape effects now look dated to me in a way that takes me out of the sequence, and it's a real loss. The film is still fantastic, but the ape sequence looks dated to me and the once-trippy Slitscan stuff is just something I kind of have to wait out now. The cosmic hotel/Starchild stuff is still great, but to get there we have to sit through this very 1968 light show. I don't think any of this is stuff that ruins the film, or that these are problems Kubrick could have really foreseen. That stuff had to be truly breathtaking when it was new. With the exception of the bookending sequences, the film still looks superb 50 years later. The space sequences still look better than a lot of movies made NOW.

I regard 2010 as kind of an unfortunate footnote. Taken all by itself, 2010 is an OK 1980s sci-fi movie. But 2001 is one for the ages.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:39 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


I love this movie. I've seen it many times. I know it well. And yet, if I try to watch it on TV, I can almost guarantee I'll fall asleep during it. Yet, on the big screen, I'm riveted. I hope it comes to an NYC big screen again soon.
posted by kokaku at 4:06 PM on April 5


Kokaku, it definitely is (and I will be there as well!). The only question is, what screen here can do the 70mm print justice? The Ziegfeld is gone, and I'm not really a fan of the Imax format.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:09 PM on April 5


so it is!
posted by kokaku at 6:18 PM on April 5


The last time I watched this movie, I was 16 years old, and I had rented it from the video store (I think it was a Blockbuster, but it might have been a local chain). I was feverish and staying up late. Halfway through, I started getting really nauseous. Around the start of the Star Child sequence, I started violently evacuating from both ends. I don't think I finished watching it that time (though I had seen the whole thing previously), because I was so sick. Turns out, I had appendicitis, though I didn't figure that out until after the damned thing ruptured a couple of days later.

Somehow, I think think my ruptured appendix was 2001's fault.

Still a pretty good movie, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:04 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I don't have much to add, but I'd like to point out the excellent 1960 Film Boards of Canada short film Universe (YouTube, Internet Archive) which was a major influence on 2001 and well worth watching. Kubrick apparently went and hired basically everyone involved to make 2001, including the narrator, who should sound a little familiar...
posted by neckro23 at 10:25 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


A really interesting NY Times article about the development of HAL's voice. Apparently Kubrick intended Martin Balsam (best known for his role in Psycho) to portray HAL, and Balsam recorded a version using an emotional voice with a Bronx accent! Also, one of the actors who read HAL's lines on-set was none other than Hart to Hart star Stefanie Powers.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:29 AM on April 14


Best known for his role in St. Elmo's Fire, I think you mean.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:37 AM on April 14


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