The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey

From director Stanley Kubrick, 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey is generally regarded as one of the all-time great movies to ever come out of Hollywood. I point this out with my introductory sentence because I have no freaking idea what to write about. I watched Kubrick's film for the first time recently, and I don't even know what to say. I don't know what it was trying to achieve or show, and I came away vastly disappointed.

It is a film that to me seems to defy all description or plot synopsis. I apologize now before we get into the guts of the review because I've got a feeling this might get a little on the rambling side. There is no real plot to follow, just four extended divisions of a loosely linked narrative. Throughout time, we as viewers are shown immense black monoliths in different places and locations around the universe. Somehow and some way, it is all connected. What do these monoliths represent in the bigger scheme of things? Are they responsible for human evolution, both good and bad? Do they mean anything at all? Are we even supposed to find an answer?

I think that's what I found most disappointing about Kubrick's classic film. I resent so many reviews that state 'One has to be highly intelligent to comprehend and appreciate this movie.' Condescending and pretentious much? It is a film that requires the viewer to engage and watch everything, come up with your own conclusions. That's fine. I don't need a movie to spell out every little thing for me, but even a hint here and there would be nice. I'm not sure what Kubrick wants to say here. Is it something as simple as the circle of life, a progression of mankind over millenniums from an ape to a space-exploring human? Okay, that's fair and definitely interesting. The story though is anything but.

Kubrick's film is broken into four loosely tied together segments. The first follows a group of almost human-like gorillas living in a quasi-desert environment. One ape discovers an animal bone and realizes he can use it as a weapon. It's a profoundly cool moment, symbolically sending mankind down a path that cannot be reversed. The second segment follows a doctor (William Sylvester) as he prepares to visit a space station on the Moon where a black monolith has been discovered deep beneath the Moon's surface. Next up, fast forward 18 months later as astronauts Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are in deep space heading to Jupiter with the help of the HAL-9000, a brilliant, possibly free-thinking computer. The last segment takes Dr. Dave into some sort of deep space portal on the far side of Jupiter.

Of the four, the opening ape/gorilla segment is especially effective. The follow-up, the doctor's trip to the Moon lets the momentum get tripped up, ending on a mysterious note that leads into Dave, Frank and HAL's segment. This is the most iconic, memorable segment of the movie. HAL begins to think for himself, making decisions that the human doctors don't agree with. HAL's iconic, eternally memorable "I'm sorry, I can't do that, Dave' manages to send a chill right up my back. Then, the finale is the trippiest and most visual of all the segments.....and the most mysterious. There are moments that work on an epic scale; the transition from ape to space, a monolith screeching, the realization that HAL is reading lips and thinking for himself, but there aren't enough.

I just don't know what to say here. As a visual medium alone, this is an incredible movie. As an interesting story, not so much. The musical score, including the Blue Danube (listen HERE), is probably the best thing going here. But overall, the movie is so schizophrenic I have trouble deciphering it. The story is too slim with nothing more than the thinnest of connections. The visual is amazing to watch, but it gets lost in a sea of monotonous, tedious shots of space ships floating through space. The same for the people. Seeing Frank run around the ship? Not interesting to watch. I can't put my finger on why exactly this universally accepted classic didn't resonate with me in the least. At the same time, it's hard to pick one fault and really explain it. What I do know is simple. I didn't like all.

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


  1. you have to admit though that it was groundbreaking for its time and went on to become highly-influential.

  2. Without a doubt. I have trouble imagining a 2012 audience buying into a film like this on an initial viewing/theatrical run, much less a 1968 crowd. It's a movie I will most likely revisit at one point, but I've got to let it breath at least a little bit.

  3. There's a very fine line between ambiguity and emptiness. 2001 is so opaque that it gives the impression of profundity, yet I'm not so convinced it's as profound as its legions of admirers think. Don't feel bad for not "getting it."

    I enjoy 2001 more than you - I never found it boring or hard to follow - but it's more of a sensory experience than conventionally engaging. Picnic at Hanging Rock is the closest equivalent I can think of, though that movie at least had a narrative strand and human element to ground the viewer somewhat. It's unquestionably a master filmmaker at work but in service of what is a fair question.

  4. Glad to hear I'm not alone on this one, Chris. I don't need everything spelled out for me A-B-C, but some semblance of answers/explanation would have been nice.

    I completely agree on the sensory experience. As a visual film, it's something else.