A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 530 – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey – August 12th, 2011

I do not want to review this movie. I’ve been staring at a blank page for days now, holding up my other reviews (because I might be a little obsessive about doing them in order) and drawing a complete and utter blank. Even writing about drawing a blank has had me drawing a blank. But what on Earth can I say about this movie? It feels somewhat pointless to even try to review it. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said? I don’t really have any personal reflections about the movie or its content. It didn’t move me or amaze me. It didn’t blow my mind (and I’m sure Kubrick would be sad to hear that) and it didn’t bore me.

This is the trouble with reviewing classics. I came up against it with my Neon Genesis review too. This is the sort of movie people write about. This is the sort of movie nerds and geeks much like myself have been talking about and discussing and debating for years and years. And I’m not so egotistical as to think that I have something revolutionary to say about it. It’s a good sci-fi suspense movie with a big enough dose of Meaning to keep people talking. And that’s great. I’d put it up there with stories like Solaris and Moon, the latter of which was certainly making allusions to it, and not subtle ones at that. But it’s been around long enough and been on enough lists and been seen by enough people – even people who profess to not like science fiction – that I admit I feel a little defeated by it. Anyone inclined to like it has seen it or will see it, and anyone disinclined to like it will avoid it or have it forced on them by well-meaning friends. What I say here isn’t going to change that.

I’ve mentioned my aversion to watching overhyped things before and I’m lucky that I watched this well before anyone had a chance to tell me it was the be all and end all of science fiction movies. Because the thing is, while I enjoy it and appreciate it, it’s not top on my list. It’s not even second. As a piece of art, well. That’s different. As something I’ll choose to put in randomly, just because I’ve got time to watch something? Not so much. It’s sort of an investment of a movie. It’s something that to appreciate you really should be spending some time and attention on. At least until the end. Go ahead and zone out for the end. I think that’s required.

It’s the story of an object. A black slab that appears and causes change by its existence. By some undefined quality or mechanism. The opening of the movie implies that early ape-like humans evolved some instincts and skills due to its influence. And I’m sure that there are all sorts of parallels to be drawn between the early human contact with the monolith and its later appearance and the deaths of the astronauts. I’m sure essays have been written on that. I’m not bothering. Anyhow, the monolith really is the centerpiece to the story. The trouble is that while it figures in quite largely early on, and it’s clearly a part of what happens later, I’ve always felt that it turns into a bit of a spectre for the majority of the movie before showing up at the end. We’re left to assume that its presence plays a role, without its presence being terribly apparent. While I’m not advocating for movies to spell everything out for viewers, I do feel that it could have been worked in just a bit more.

So, we evolve from apes (instead of the other way around) and skip over the development of the ancient world and modern world and what have you, zipping straight to The Future! And as is the case any time you date your Future, eventually your Future will be outdated. But it’s such a neat Future, I don’t really mind. There’s a very smooth feel to this movie that keeps it from feeling too spectacularly dated. Sure, the computer pops out punch cards as readouts for the astronauts, but it’s also a so-close-to-sentience computer that controls a huge space ship that’s flying to Jupiter. And besides, the ship itself, and the ship we see earlier in the movie, are so very cool. The movie’s look and feel make it a little timeless to me, and I consider that a true achievement for the movie. I’ll snicker at the punch cards, but I’ll snicker quietly.

Everything up until we get on board the Discovery feels like set-up to me. The movie is presented in chapters with fairly well defined borders but I’ve always felt like the section on the Discovery is where the heart of the movie is. Sure, people remember the apes and the bone in the air and the big black monolith. And people remember that the last section is super trippy. But what moments from the bit in transit to the moon do people remember? Blue Danube? Hardly essential to the plot. Really, what comes to mind for me, and what seems to get mentioned when I read about this movie, is HAL, the computer on board the Discovery, and the struggle between HAL and the astronauts, specifically Dave Bowman. And for good reason.

There are, again, implications that mysterious things are afoot. The core of this section, and in my opinion the movie, is HAL and his actions on the ship. Andy tells me that his reasoning (or difficulty with reasoning) has more obvious roots in the book, but I’ve never read it. What he told me seemed perfectly logical and fit what I’d always assumed, but why should I assign meaning to it? Make your own assumptions. Draw your own conclusions. It doesn’t change the outcome, which is that HAL deliberately sabotages the mission, at least to the point that he kills the three hibernating astronauts and attempts to kill the two who were awake. Ostensibly he succeeds with one (though Andy also tells me he shows up in a later story – whatever) and the other has to try and disable HAL in order to save himself. And then the movie drops some LSD and we all go on an electric kool-aid acid trip.

I’m not even going to try to dissect the last portion, with its rainbowy special effects and ornate bedroom and aged Dave Bowman. After all, Kubrick himself has said he didn’t intend for people to understand it, and to be honest? That kind of crap just makes me roll my eyes. Fine, you don’t want people to understand it. You want people to have questions. But it’s always struck me as a somewhat juvenile attitude. And it just invites pseudo-intellectual sci-fi snobs to prattle on about the true meaning of it all. I don’t care about that. I’m not writing academic articles about all of this. If I was, I’d do a critical viewing of this and the two I mentioned above, including the books and all the versions of Solaris and I’m not in college or grad school. So I’m not in this for academic critical viewing. I’m in it for fun, and like I said, while I enjoy this movie, it’s not something I pop in for fun.

August 12, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. You have to remember two things about this movie:
    1. In 1968 the special effects were beyond spectacular. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Stunning. Wondrous. Amazing. Today we are sated with such effects and they seem ordinary. But not back then.
    2. In 1968 many viewers saw it through a haze of pot. There was even an intermission when you could recharge, to enhance the second half. I am sure this colors some people’s recollections of the film.

    Comment by Doc | August 18, 2011 | Reply

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