Classic Intel: 2001: A Space Odyssey - DVD Review

'towards the end, on his final journey, it was quite clear to me that Bowman's mind couldn't cope with what it was seeing and perhaps, neither could mine'

The debate surrounding 2001: A Space Odyssey and whether it is a brilliant film or a pretentious post-modern artwork is broached on screen in the very opening moments of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction opus. A plain black screen plays. In fact it plays for about two minutes and forty seconds, accompanied only by high-pitched, wailing strings in the background. They fade and the film begins. To its many champions this is a brave, esoteric, start: a discordant, musical introduction to what is to come. To the naysayers this is 2001's preposterousness at its very height; who wants to watch a blank screen and listen to some classical music on full volume, where's the science fiction film I was promised?

I'm potentially in the minority here because although I can't claim to have enjoyed 2001, I didn't hate it either. I can completely see its worth as a film and its heady influence over such modern greats as last year's Moon but equally I struggled with it on several levels. Towards the end, on his final journey, it was quite clear to me that Dave Bowman's (Keir Dullea) mind couldn't cope with what it was seeing and perhaps, neither could mine.

As a narrative piece of cinema, 2001 is slow going. The opening, moving on from bare strings to examine the origin of ape-like man, is dialogue free and very sparse of story - it's nearly an hour before anything approaching a yarn starts up. Once it does there is enough here to hold your interest. A buried structure on our Moon has emitted a signal to Jupiter. A group of scientists (led by William Sylvester's Dr. Floyd) are trying to keep this a secret for the moment and five astronauts (only two of whom are conscious, Dullea and Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole) are dispatched to the large planet to investigate. As a story on its own this works and both Floyd's introduction and Poole and Bowman's journey hold various levels of interest and intrigue for the viewer.

However, 2001 isn't intended as a mere story and director Stanley Kubrick is as interested in the visuals and sound as he is in taking us from A to B, some would argue, to his detriment. Many have discussed whether film represents art and in my mind, there's no argument here. Hang 2001 on a wall in a gallery and let it play with just its music and you do have a fully functioning, moving, art installation. Film can be orchestral but this is operatic and Kubrick's long ponderances on floating space stations or turning planets are intriguing without being inherently attention grabbing.

In the end, whether you appreciate the film or not will come down to the battle between the above two paragraphs: can you cope with a film more interested in being art than in telling a story? I personally found there was enough of both to keep me interested but never enough to make me feel like I was watching something approaching genius. Despite Kubrick's wonderful visual dalliances, I would have preferred a story and for all its scatter shot beauty, in over two hours I merely got a twenty-second sketch of what that story was.

Kubrick's ambiguous artistry means he was guaranteed a cult classic but for me, this is where that film should remain: rooted in the cult or in a gallery. Personally 'film', perhaps more specifically 'cinema', inherently means narrative and there just wasn't enough of that here for me to call 2001 'great' on every level.

Look further...

'This is arguably Kubrick’s most famous film, a masterpiece of dehumanisation, but what it is really about I don’t think even Kubrick can answer satisfactorily' - Wonders In The Dark (Allan Fish)


  1. The first time I watched this I was so incredibly bored and annoyed I promised myself never to watch it again.

    Years later after much nagging a friend got me to revisit it, and I was surprised how much I was captivated by all the little things Kubrick did. The fact that it blends art, story, and, well, whatever else Kubrick wants, to create something interpretational, and visually stunning. It's something I admire, but I don't think it could ever work twice (as 2010 proved with a much more straight forward plot).

  2. As I say, there's a struggle for me here in what really constitutes a work of narrative cinema and what is simply a 'film' and how close this gets to either. I agree there's a lot to be admired in 2001, I'm just not sure that those things add up to make a great movie experience. I can imagine and understand people being captivated by it (and in that case the above sentence is almost irrelevant) but it just so happens that I wasn't.

  3. this is on of the most boring films I have ever seen, I would recommend it to anyone who has a hard time trying to sleep.