Combined Rating: 1.5/5
The film gods have spoken: If one wants to be taken seriously as a cinephile, one must at least watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think that is etched on a stone tablet somewhere in the Hollywood hills. I’m proud to say after my third viewing attempt, I have finally achieved total completion, after my first two attempts resulted in premature termination brought on by acute boredom. There is only so much primeval bone-chucking I can handle. But this time, on re-entry, I had a plan. I would invite a science fiction scholar to accompany my viewing and provide real-time expert commentary explaining the film’s significance. Anyone can appreciate its groundbreaking technical and visual achievements, even while lucid. But what the hell does it all mean? My expert (let’s call him…”Jim”, because that’s his actual name) was determined to help me understand.
Unfortunately, as minutes turned into long stretches with no dialogue, our original plan was marginalized by spontaneous conversations about the merits of Matt Damon’s existence, among other things. Heady stuff, but this got us no closer to discovering the infamous shipboard robot “HAL’s” motivations for subverting the crucial Jupiter mission, or what the true mission really even was…critical plot points essential for maintaining viewer interest. I never quite accepted that Kubrick was more interested in creating a meditation for his own self-amusement than fulfilling basic audience requirements. This is one mark of an “elitist,” although the film gods prefer the term “auteur.” It must be my problem, after all.
But basically, as my questions compounded, I was directed to Arthur C. Clarke’s book of the same name, which serves as the movie’s inspiration and template, despite being published after the film’s release. Apparently in the book, all is explained. Jim eventually summarized the happenings well, as involving ancient aliens, embedded monoliths, distant signals, evolutionary experiments on humans, and post-op re-implantation on Earth for the purposes of maintaining consistent “progress” of our species (as if we couldn’t have gotten there on our own…another “elitist” insinuation). The majority of screen time is dedicated to snarky HAL pestering polite astronaut Dave, until Dave finally shuts him down. But by then, it’s too late, and the final act unfolds like the end of a project that unexpectedly ran out of money. Except, it was intentional. If there’s any consolation, I’m told it may be found in the sequel 2010 (1984) featuring Roy Scheider. I’m guessing it entails Scheider at some point uttering “We’re gonna need a bigger bolt.” I actually look forward to watching it, because one of my biggest flaws as a human being is my completest nature, bringing me full circle to why, along with earning my cinephile street cred, I had to force 2001 down to begin with. Moral of the story: don’t feel you need to view something JUST because the film Gods demand it. Turns out, most of them were on Stanley Kubrick’s payroll.
I’m told that according to some critics, this is the best movie ever made. I’m not terribly surprised, given my general impression of the taste of most critics in both film and literature—largely they seem to favor stories that the general public will abhor for one reason or another, either because it’s dull as dishwater, too obtuse to understand, or dreadfully depressing. I suspect this gives them the chance to look down their noses at the common man for not “getting it.” Whatever. I never claimed to be cultured.
That said, I’ve intended to watch “2001 Space Odyssey” ever since my last YA fiction series involving a superintelligent robot. This was apparently the original version of such a tale, before the idea of such a being acquiring self-interest and becoming dangerous to humans had become cliche. I was expecting an actual story along these lines, involving characters I could identify with and root for, and a slow progression of their understanding that HAL (which apparently is one letter off from IBM, on purpose—thanks for that tidbit, Jim!), was not actually on their side. What I got instead was a 2 hr 44 min film, with no dialogue whatsoever for the first 25 minutes, and precious little thereafter. During the first 25 minutes, men in monkey suits attack each other before an enormous monolithic rock reminiscent of Stonehenge. Somehow the stone imparts to them knowledge for tools that allow them to take the next evolutionary leap—and then suddenly it’s 2001, and we’re aboard a space ship. An identical monolith is on the moon. Astronauts investigate. Skip ahead again. At last we meet Hal. A disagreement between Hal and the astronauts leads them to power him down, and that’s the end of that interlude. Then there’s another of the same monoliths on Jupiter. One of the astronauts ends up in a bedroom that transforms him into himself at various different life stages, and then back to an enormous pulsating fetus. The end.
No, really. That was it. I guess we’re left to draw our own conclusions, although it really struck me as the film equivalent of one of those pieces of modern art where the artist combines ordinary household items, sticks them under glass, and names them something pretentious and completely unrelated—like, say, a bunch of grapes sitting on top of a roll of toilet paper, entitled ‘Infinity’ or whatever. (In the right gallery, I’m sure that display would go for several grand.) I’m told that the novel version of the film by Arthur C. Clarke makes perfect sense. Why he chose not to translate that to the screen when he co-wrote the screenplay, though, I haven’t a clue.
Meal pairing: freeze-dried chicken and rice with Tang—to keep it authentic.