(Tired of seemingly all discussion of movies in this country anymore sliding towards poop fests and other kiddie fare? Me too, which is why I decided to dedicate my Netflix account to nothing but "grown-up" movies, and to write reviews here of each one I see. For a master list of all reviews, as well as the next movies on my "queue" list, click here.)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Written by Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Not too long ago, I ended up reviewing the 1981 Terry Gilliam flick Time Bandits here at the CCLaP site; and while I ended up enjoying it just as much as the other hundred times I saw it in my youth, I also admitted in that essay that that was probably the last time in a long, long time that I would be watching the movie again, precisely because I had seen it just so many damn times when younger. It's always the danger of being a passionate fan of the arts, and especially a film buff; that you will end up so emotionally attached to a particular project, watch it over and over and over so many times, that by a certain point in your adult years you simply realize, "Jeez, I literally cannot sit through one more screening of this film. Not. Ever. Again." And how do you know when you've gotten to this point? Well, if you have the entirety of the movie memorized, scene for scene and literally line for line, that's a pretty good sign that you've had your fill of that movie; if you can actually recite the dialogue with the original actors in real time, even better/worse.
And thus do we come to what many consider the best science-fiction movie of all time, the historic 1968 Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C Clarke collaboration 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I came across by accident last week at my neighborhood library and decided on a whim to check out; ah, but then a mere half-hour or so into the film, realized that like Time Bandits is a movie that I've simply seen too many times at this point in my life, a couple of hundred to be sure since my first screening of it on cable television in the early '80s. In fact, it's gotten me thinking recently about something for the first time in my life, of whether I'm reaching the age where it'd be appropriate for me to simply "retire" some films from my particular life; to acknowledge their classic qualities, to acknowledge the effect they had on my life, but to adopt a strict policy of simply never watching them again. If I were to institute such a policy in my life, 2001 would surely go on the list; and in that spirit, I thought it only appropriate to write one last essay on the subject here at the end of my last screening of it, before finally putting it in the vault of "Movies Jason Seriously Never Needs To See Again, Because Seriously He Has The Entire Freaking Thing Memorized At This Point."
To understand why 2001 ended up having the impact that it did, it's important to understand the backgrounds of the people responsible for its creation: filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, that is, and writer Arthur C Clarke, both of whom by the mid-1960s were well-known and highly respected within their respective fields, but neither of whom had quite broken into the general consciousness yet. It was the beginning of the Countercultural Era, and both men were in the mood to flex their creative muscles a bit: Kubrick, for example, had just come off the three-hit wonder of Spartacus, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, with a studio system that was feeling very generous towards him and his growing sense of experimentation, while Clarke had already established himself not only as a Modernist master of the '50s and early '60s but also a guru in the eyes of the psychedelic next generation. It was a unique moment in history where two brilliant artists were both at the top of their games, with a fawning public that adored every project the two put out, at a time when film studios were pumping billions of dollars into wildly experimental and cutting-edge projects. Sigh. Will we ever see those kinds of days again?
Of course, the good news is that those times actually did occur in the past, and that we still have the records and projects that were created, which like I've said here before is a major reason to go back and regularly revisit films from the '60s and '70s even as so many of them start for the first time to become wildly irrelevant to contemporary times. Basically envisioned as a full partnership from the start, Kubrick and Clarke came together in those years to co-create both a full-length novel and full-length movie at the same time, with each man ultimately in charge of the half they most specialized in but otherwise sharing credit for the simultaneously released projects. And man, what a story it was to be -- based on a half-baked older story of Clarke's called "The Sentinel," 2001 was to follow the fate of mankind from the dawn of humanity up to the age of space travel, showing in small and confusing ways how it's actually been the invisible hand of a slightly meddling but benevolent alien race that has allowed humanity to survive and thrive all these millions of years, a fact that we humans are never aware of until the actual year 2001, when we accidentally discover undeniable evidence of it during a Moon mining expedition.
Huh? Wha? Yeah, that's the way a lot of audience members reacted to this movie when it first came out, which let's face it, is not only an infinitely confusing and complex story on its own, but that literally requires the reading of the book version to understand the plot of the movie version. And this is in fact an important thing to know about 2001, if you're one of the blessed who have never actually seen it before; that you do yourself a big favor by reading the novel first, or at least stopping by Wikipedia and reading up on the plot beforehand. Because this was the '60s, damnit, and that's what artists did in the '60s, was confuse and shock and upset their audiences; if you weren't freaking out the Establishment back then, in many people's eyes you really had nothing of worth to say in the first place, and you could go join all the squares handing out Oscars to The Sound of Freaking Music in those same exact years.
What it means is that you need to have a sense of patience with films from the '60s and '70s, a kind of patience I don't think you need anymore with modern movies, which makes me wonder sometimes if the youngest generation of filmgoers even have what it takes to be fans of these older movies. 2001 in particular needs a lot of patience, in fact, in that this is one of those fabled "artsy for the sake of being artsy" films from that period on top of everything else, a mainstream Hollywood movie that features no dialogue in the first 20 minutes and no dialogue in the last 20 either, a project that helped bridge the gap between the clean and sharp Modernism of the '50s and the Pop Art excesses of the '70s. Like a lot of films from this period, you need to give 2001 some breathing room while watching it; you need to let it unfold at its own pace, not your own, need to forgive its most egregious stylistic crimes as simple signs of its particular times.
If you're able to do this, though, you'll find an infinitely rewarding tale that can be enjoyed in a whole variety of ways; as a straight-ahead sci-fi actioner, as a psychological thriller about an artificially intelligent computer that goes crazy, as one of the most delightful "retro-future" documents ever created of the Cold War period, even as a visually sumptuous pure cinematic experience. That's one of the things that gives a movie staying power, after all, is when it can be enjoyed for a variety of different reasons by a variety of different people in different stations in life; it ensures that the film stays relevant even as it ages, and even as an entirely new generation of fans get hooked for entirely different reasons. When 2001 first came out, it was seen by many as a ultra-sleek look at what the real future has in store; we now enjoy it as an amazingly sharp yet still ultimately humorous rose-colored look at a future that was never meant to be, even with the movie still containing pretty much the same exact content. And neither audience is wrong, either, that's my point; that it's entirely appropriate for this film to be appreciated for different reasons at different points in history, a sure sign that a film is a classic and worth revisiting over and over.
Anyway, I'm glad that CCLaP is now up and running, so that I have the chance sometimes to do things like today, to publicly acknowledge a movie that's had a big influence on my life but that it's time for me in particular to finally shelve for good; I admit, I would be tickled to death to know of someone who ended up watching 2001 for the first time because of today's essay, thus restarting the Nerdy Film Fan Circle Of Life. You can undoubtedly expect more final odes to retired films here over the coming months and years.
Out of 10:
Oh, and just one more screenshot, 'cause I just can't help it...
Next on my queue list: Zardoz! Zardoz Zardoz Zardoz! "The Gun is Good! The Penis is Bad!!!" ZARDOZ! Can you tell I'm a little excited about finally seeing this 1974 cult classic for the very first time?