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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 10.06%
Average: 9.47%
Pretty Bad: 2.37%
Total Crap: 10.65%

3 reviews, 151 user ratings

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2001: A Space Odyssey
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by Rob Gonsalves

"The greatest boring movie ever made."
5 stars

In "2001: A Space Odyssey," we can feel Stanley Kubrick straining mightily to push cinema forward a step or three. After a decade or so spent telling cracking good tales without a whiff of pretension, he approached the Monolith and touched it, and came away with new tools and a new style drawn-out, static-symmetrical, stately and pompous in a way that inspires awe and giggles in roughly equal measure. This was the Kubrick that would persist for the 31-year (and five-film) remainder of his career.

There is something alien and stressful in the very fabric or emulsion of 2001, starting with the often-dissonant classical music on the soundtrack (lots of teeth-grinding Ligeti as well as the two Strausses), joined now and then by dismaying machine noise, harsh breathing, the epileptic-unfriendly wail of the Monolith on the moon when astronauts get near it. 2001 is a workout. The "plot," having to do with a government cover-up of the Monolith and a malfunctioning computer's efforts to preserve the integrity of the mission, is completely beside the point. Kubrick, here, was after nothing less than a grand statement on the evolution of mankind and "evolution" is an arguable term, given what we see.

The ape-men in the prologue, already somewhat humanoid and probably just a few rungs down from us on the evolutionary ladder, content themselves with bugs and plant life, and gesticulating loudly at a rival tribe, before the Monolith appears to them and pushes them forward a step or three. Or does it? One ape goes off by himself and discovers that a bone can be used to break, bludgeon, kill. The apes become meat-eaters, then murderers. It's a short step to Alex in A Clockwork Orange wielding his cane, Jack Torrance in The Shining swinging his ax, the Marines in Full Metal Jacket grabbing their balls and their rifles with equal gusto. For Kubrick, data programmed into the human animal produces violence. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

Famously, the bone thrown into the sky becomes a satellite, skipping forward millions of years all the advances of the centuries have meant nothing, it's all about the stages of enlightenment, and here comes the next one. A second Monolith has been discovered on the moon; under a cloud of secrecy, Earthlings investigate it. Before that, though, we get endless dialogue scenes that say nothing in particular. (Kubrick, primarily visual, enjoyed what one critic called "phatic dialogue" talk with little or no information content.) There are a great deal of rote pleasantries between Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) and various colleagues aboard Space Station 5, much gladhanding, and a beautifully pointless conference in which various men get up, walk around the big room to the podium while other men return from the podium and take a seat Kubrick is tweaking us a bit here. We came for a transcendent experience and he's giving us monkeys and meetings.

We spend so much time with Floyd that it's a bit odd when, after the moon sequence, he's never seen again and our identification such as it is shifts to two other space jockeys, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood). They're on a mission to Jupiter, for reasons to be revealed to Dave and us only much later. Running things aboard the ship is HAL 9000 (the lethally placid voice of Douglas Rain), who has been programmed with a semblance of emotion "to make him easier to talk to." Computers in this particular HAL series are supposed to be infallible, and perhaps this one is, too, and is driven mad by the conflicts in his directive to stay the course even if it means sacrificing the humans on board. HAL has been given emotions without empathy.

In long stretches, 2001 gets sublimely dull, near-trancelike. Everything slows down in space, and we get to watch as an allegedly faulty communications unit is painstakingly investigated not once but twice. There's no adventure in space exploration; it's all button-pushing and chores that take ten times as long as they would on Earth. The men on the ship seem to have regressed from the apes: rather than feasting on meat that they hunted and killed themselves, they sip nutrients through straws and pick at paste-like space meals while watching themselves on TV. Experience is less brutal and desperate now, but also less authentic and more plasticized. The men communicate with their families via videophone or prerecorded messages, again not saying much (Floyd tells his daughter to tell her mother he called; that's the extent of his statement to his wife). Technology may have enabled long-distance communication, but hasn't improved its human quality at all. We're essentially still apes grunting at each other, albeit with fancier enunciation. 2001 is funnier and more satirical than a lot of people give it credit for.

The literal-minded will point and laugh at the stuff in 2001 that least resembles what we know of the actual 2001 and thereafter: the foxy stewardesses with bulbous headgear who seem to have stepped out of a '60s issue of Vogue; the furniture aboard the space station, also very late-'60s. Kubrick, I think, never meant to predict, in so many words (or images), "This is what it'll be like 33 years from now." He meant 2001 the way Orwell meant 1984: it's a number, that's all (neither work originally had a date as its title anyway), and it's more about when the book/movie came out than when the story is supposedly set. Despite Kubrick's marshalling an army of consultants to make this "futuristic" vision as accurate as possible, the film's concerns are a good deal more timeless than mere speculative conjecture.

After Dave passes through "the infinite," he winds up in a holding place furnished with items from the 17th century maybe from his imagination, maybe just his mind trying to process alien territory and coming up with these surroundings as an approximation to keep him from going insane. Once again we see eating an older Dave sitting at the table but his wizened hand knocks over his glass. Soon he will evolve beyond the need for food. 2001 is an experimental film about an experiment conducted by a superior alien race on mankind over the course of millennia. The glacial pace thus makes sense. Kubrick never includes anything inessential the movie trains us how to watch it, how to process it. Each prolonged scene, particularly the dialogue between humans, leaves us with one idea or one bit of information surrounded by immense dead air. But this is what it's been like for the aliens who have been monitoring us, waiting for us to move up to the next level until finally they get frustrated and drop a Monolith somewhere to speed things along. The dawdling, detail-fixated pace of 2001 isn't just its style it's its point. The camera eye Kubrick we are godlike aliens staring at the dawn and twilight of man through transfixed, sometimes impatient eyes.

The "trip" promised by the ads is not the physical journey from planet to planet, or even the light-spattered bath of special effects meant to suggest "the infinite." It's seeing through an inhuman consciousness in a buzzy trance of tedium that passes over, if we let it, into fascination, the way humans respond to an anthill or an aquarium. We humans are boring and our machines are boring. But both can always be counted on to fail entertainingly, and out of failure come revelation and evolution. Kubrick set out to make "the proverbial good science-fiction film," but he came out the other side with something far more ornery and profound an epic that says we're babies cocooned in plastic and metal. 2001, the metaphorical date of the movie, hasn't rolled around yet. Maybe it won't, and maybe we won't know it when and if it does.

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originally posted: 09/29/08 14:29:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/07/20 dupadoit downright awful 1 stars
9/03/17 Langano Simply the best. 5 stars
2/23/17 morris campbell just ok the book is AWESOME THOUGH 3 stars
10/28/15 Billy34 Overrated, pretentious, empty, and cold. 1 stars
4/11/15 stanley welles extraordinary filmmaking, creating intellectual arguments mostly through image and music 5 stars
6/06/13 Marty Just let go and let this movie run your life for 180 minutes. Work of art. 4 stars
7/06/12 will one of those movies film teachers try shove down your throat. give me the killing any day. 3 stars
5/27/12 Mike Fitzpatrick Hypnotic and brilliant filmaking. A lot of people don't get Kubrick; too bad for them. 5 stars
4/04/12 David Hollingsworth A scifi masterpiece, unlike any other 5 stars
4/28/11 Quigley There will never be another film like it ever again as far as I'm concerned 4 stars
3/23/11 Jeff Wilder Effective on an intellectual level, less so on an emotional one. 4 stars
9/24/10 Flathead King An overrated film that is purely pie in the sky sci-fi 3 stars
7/23/10 Rudy This movie is not ahead of it's time. It's visually appealing but is horribly written. 1 stars
6/01/10 User Name The genius of 2001 is not how much Kubrick does, but how little. 5 stars
3/05/10 TravisN I loved it. It's one of the best films I've ever seen. 5 stars
12/01/09 Silkworm Mind blowing & Waaaaaaaay ahead of it's time 5 stars
11/20/09 Russ This film only appeals to those with higher thinking, longer attention spans. Masterpiece 5 stars
11/16/09 Juha One of the most important movies ever made... 5 stars
8/29/09 Julian Way way way ahead of it's time 5 stars
8/03/09 thatoneguy Am I the only person that thinks this movie worse than "Close Encounters" 1 stars
7/19/09 Mr. Pink hmmm 5 stars
7/02/09 Peter What can i say? The best film ever made about the mankind 5 stars
6/25/09 Miguel I love this film. Kubrick tests cinema possibilites and cratfs a classic. Unique! 5 stars
6/07/09 joe i think its about the pointless hypothesis of evolution,the endless circle of stupidty 1 stars
5/31/09 MP Bartley Baffling, boring and beguiling in equal parts. 4 stars
1/19/09 Simon Complete waste of 3 hours of my life!!!!!! 1 stars
10/01/08 Danny This movie freaking rocks! 5 stars
7/19/08 sebastian The top SF film ever made!! End of story. 5 stars
7/03/08 Reza Tayebi One of Kubrik`s bests. 5 stars
2/04/08 Pamela White A Classic for it's time but is rather slow for modern times 4 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Truly one of the greatest movies ever made. outstanding 5 stars
12/29/07 action movie fan good f/x but very slow and boring-no story 2 stars
4/13/07 Mik Not for stupid lazy minded people with short attention spans 5 stars
1/16/07 David Pollastrini Found it to be quite dull 1 stars
11/19/06 Jonathan Cox Oh my god who do i see about getting the last 2 and a half hours of my life back pure shite 1 stars
11/06/06 Me Terrible, Borring, Pointless, Borring, Painful, Borring, Meaningless, and ohh so Borring 1 stars
9/18/06 JM Synth A Slow burner, but a uniquely compelling film 4 stars
5/22/06 jpp an audio-visual experience; should only be seen in a cinema 5 stars
1/22/06 Eden Somewhere between utterly mesmerizing and completly boring 3 stars
11/20/05 John Dog Mesmerizing. 5 stars
10/16/05 Moctezuma The grandest of all sci-fi films? Not exactly 2 stars
8/23/05 Isaac Baranoff Masterpiece. 5 stars
8/08/05 Jake visual effects makes up for unfocused (but still interesting) narrative. 4 stars
8/06/05 Brandy Harrington Overrated! 3 stars
8/06/05 Pierre Terrific! 5 stars
4/15/05 Veronika Boyd The best film ever made. 5 stars
3/18/05 indrid cold The ultimate sci fi movie; awe-inspiring, beautiful, frightening, mind-blowing. 5 stars
3/16/05 Ronin A classic although let's be honest, some visuals are outdated and boring 5 stars
2/06/05 dbx the most visually incredible film you will ever see. 5 stars
10/14/04 lewis My favorite film- I was stunned after the film ended, contemporary sci-fi flicks suck ass 5 stars
8/16/04 anne this movie is beautiful and realistic 4 stars
6/22/04 Sean Scanlan Wow! 5 stars
5/30/04 Daveman One of the greatest films of all time. 5 stars
4/13/04 Nate Green NYC 1 stars
4/04/04 jbmcb Fantastic, plot plays like a song 5 stars
3/28/04 Derek Carlson Great visuals, but for understanding read the book 5 stars
1/14/04 Cizada Kureck 2001 an awesome odyssey 5 stars
12/23/03 Stanley Kubrick Holiest piece of crap from the 60s 1 stars
12/05/03 john stunning - Kubrick's best - simply an astonishing emotional (and intellectual) achievement 5 stars
11/28/03 Arex Only boring to those with narrow minds and short attention spans. 5 stars
10/21/03 Dean Rapp Fantastic, until "what the hell was the end about" 4 stars
9/27/03 Ingo The ultimate "scifi" film- and much more. 5 stars
9/07/03 MDR Total Crap 1 stars
8/21/03 Hakan Thought provoking, irritating! 5 stars
7/12/03 Indrid Cold THE sci-fi masterpiece. Beautiful, though-provoking, unsettling, awe-inspiring. 5 stars
7/06/03 Paul S. The anti-grav FX were utterly amazing - man hadn`t even landed on the moon yet ... 5 stars
5/21/03 Ryan F. I'd like to think there is some deep meaning here...but i cannot find any. 4 stars
5/17/03 Mo A visual masterpiece about the limits of technology and the future potential of mankind. 5 stars
4/19/03 Ubu the Ripper A classic. A must have for any sci-fi collector's DVD library. 5 stars
4/05/03 Jack Sommersby Big-budget pretentious bore. 1 stars
3/23/03 Dave Lacks the deep humanity of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, but still a classic. 5 stars
3/19/03 ElevatorT.M. *Interpret* it how you'd like, I'd rather be entertained. 1 stars
12/30/02 John Aster Habig I thought I was Planet Of The Apes could it be any slower where's the character development 1 stars
11/01/02 H.A.G If you think 2001 is meaningless, it's because you didn't understand it. 5 stars
9/29/02 Morally Sound In a weird way, this movie is about life and redemption if you look closely at it. 5 stars
8/12/02 The Truth Most accurate and visionary science fiction ever, predicted flat display screenes 5 stars
6/25/02 Charles Tatum Oooh...aaah...but what the hell does it mean? 3 stars
3/14/02 Terrence Rowe I thought this was the most meaningless peice of crap I have ever seen 1 stars
3/05/02 I love movies indescribable beauty. a perfect masterpiece. see it now, it'll make your life better 5 stars
2/20/02 Xaver Classic. Love the Strauss and evil HAL. 4 stars
2/20/02 MoovEE WatchR Hated the pacing, but 12 hours later I'm still thinking about it. 4 stars
2/05/02 Matteus Nova Some of Kubrick's best moments on the screen... 5 stars
1/22/02 Andrew Carden Nothing To Brag About. Overrated, but Watchable. 3 stars
1/18/02 Jim Shertzer One of the great films - a beauty that remains forever fresh, fascinating and absorbing 5 stars
1/11/02 Travis R. Sorensen cold, slow-cooked perfection. music amplifies the visual greatness. kubrick's best 5 stars
1/01/02 weel deejal beautiful but dumb, like a supermodel. 4 stars
12/12/01 slappy jacks CANT PRAISE IT ENOUGH 5 stars
10/09/01 Lourdes Din It,s great & terrifying 5 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith "Open the space pod doors, HAL! I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that" 5 stars
9/15/01 Monster W. Kung A unique, visionary masterpiece of sci-fi. 5 stars
9/06/01 Goldhammer Kubrick made no compromises. 5 stars
8/24/01 I love movies I'll have to watch it again... 5 stars
8/20/01 bobby boy if this film was a girl id fuck her hard 5 stars
8/19/01 Kirk Goodman I need to see this again...with hopes of grasping it! 4 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Trippy...Trippier...Trippiest! Kubrick is the master of film. 5 stars
7/29/01 Owen Spencer Those who don't like this movie don't recognize genius when they see it. 5 stars
6/12/01 Crisis Management Chef ADogg pull your head outta your ass, you pathetic idiot. 5 stars
5/31/01 Erik North Any movie that gets people talking like this is a masterpiece. 5 stars
4/22/01 dimoc as good as Agelopoulos! 5 stars
4/20/01 Derek Heatly read Len Wheat,s Kubrick,s Triple Allegory; it explains the movie! 5 stars
4/18/01 Derek Heatly An awesome triple allegory,read Len Wheat,s book. 5 stars
4/14/01 Toktela A Visual Delight..A Genuine Classic but not for the ignorant & Impatient 5 stars
3/23/01 TNT-6 An unforgettable metaphysical experience. 5 stars
3/11/01 matthew smith It's hard to beat the big screen for the big experience. unforgettable 5 stars
2/27/01 Michael Nicholls still the great sci-fi Star Wars on impact... 5 stars
2/04/01 Arvind Sivakumaran Absorbing in Bits,Middle Section with HAL brilliant, end too vague 4 stars
2/04/01 Invader The great movie stills astounds today, a true Kubrick masterpiece 5 stars
1/29/01 paracranium One of the greatest most visually unforgettable films ever. 5 stars
1/27/01 Axe Murderer slow 3 stars
1/17/01 Marduk Chef, you don't know what you are talking about... get some ritalin and watch it again bub. 5 stars
1/15/01 Skip More of an experience than a movie, but only because you forget you're watching a movie. 5 stars
1/11/01 Walter A real mind-blower. Turn the lights out, make some microwave popcorn and PAY ATTENTION. 5 stars
1/09/01 tom F. This is THE space movie 5 stars
12/06/00 Cristopher Revilla The "true" pioneer in all space movies, a must see!!!!! 5 stars
11/25/00 Andrew More than just Sci-Fi. It's an experience and a journey through the infinite. 5 stars
11/25/00 The Evil Penguin minimasterab is the DEVIL!! Don't listen to him. 5 stars
11/21/00 The Bill Head The Best Sci-fi film ever made..Masterpiece!just because you don't get it, don't hate it 5 stars
10/21/00 Barry Jenkinson An artistic protrayal of science and our future. 5 stars
10/11/00 Dan Cooper If it didn't blow your skirt up, you musta' been horribly preoccupied. Or brainless. 5 stars
10/07/00 Viking Unforgettable special effects, but Arthur C. Clarke's novel makes more sense 5 stars
10/07/00 Viking Some spectacular special effects, but the related novel sheds a lot light on the matter 5 stars
9/14/00 Jed Good-intentioned but overall horrible & overrated. 2 stars
8/25/00 Maclay01 A Kubrick masterpiece. Painstakingly realistic depiction of space life. And done in the 60s 5 stars
7/23/00 Tyler Peterson A great visual experience, telling the story of spaceflight in relation to the evolution. 4 stars
6/28/00 malcolm riveting until last 1/2 hour. HAL steals the show. 3 stars
6/24/00 Jed Semi-promising start goes down with a mind-numbingly slow end. 2 stars
6/10/00 Mike Farwell Wicked special effects, quite the questioning ending, probally the best film I've seen! 5 stars
5/19/00 shawkin Perfect. 5 stars
4/12/00 Rear DeFrost An epic beyond the infinity. 5 stars
4/02/00 perverted pixie Mind meltingly slow, but undeniably a work of Genius. Hal is so freaky! 5 stars
3/26/00 Skye Chapman watch it on a big screen 5 stars
3/23/00 David Neumann Some of the most impactful, moving scenes ever devised 5 stars
2/23/00 Inti Don't get what they're trying to say 3 stars
1/09/00 John Markham If Kubrick was so good, why are his movies shit? THIS WILL SEND YOU TO SLEEP, DO NOT WATCH. 1 stars
12/18/99 Matthew Smith one of the most rivetting sci-fi films of all time. Kubrick is such a master filmmaker. 5 stars
11/19/99 Tyson Stewart It is a piece of art. It's a great experience that leaves you mixed up every time. 5 stars
10/03/99 Mark Cooper A movie whose narrative structure is more based around sound than vision. 5 stars
9/21/99 Fajar Adiwidodo I used to hate Sci-Fi, but this one is astounding. Religious, mystifying, yet logical 5 stars
8/10/99 Ted Wetzel Easily one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg Haven't finished watching this, but AMAZING, ahead of time, great to look at. 5 stars
6/07/99 Elizaveta Ohhh DO you do it? 5 stars
4/19/99 jimmy jam Sci-fi greatness. 5 stars
4/17/99 Ah Dooey Amazing sci-fi classic, narf! 5 stars
4/15/99 Jon Jackson Super movie. 4 stars
4/13/99 Meepos There is no substitute. Nigh perfect filmmaking. 5 stars
4/11/99 Michael Grimm nothing to say but WOW!!! 5 stars
4/08/99 little jerry I first saw 2001 in 1969 when I was 9 yrs old.It was from that day I became a filmlover. 5 stars
4/07/99 Cool Thing The stuff of legends. 5 stars
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  08-Mar-2001 (G)

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