2001: A Space Monstrosity

Is the Stanley Kubrick epic really a masterpiece?

2001: A Space Monstrosity
2001: A Space Odyssey - © MGM

“It’s a masterpiece!” My film buff friend exclaimed with a face of pure indignation. “How can you not like it?” he asked utterly perplexed.

I sat back almost as confused: “How can you like it?”

Our conversation carried on like this for a while, until we both respectfully agreed to disagree. Yet just to make sure, to determine that I hadn’t been too judgmental, I sat down and began to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for a second time. With a run-time just short of three hours, the mammoth sci-fi epic has been lauded with compliments from every corner of the movie world.

Keir Dullea as Dr David Bowman - © MGM

Consistently deemed one of the ‘greatest movies of all time’, never has a title been more misleading. Take the word ‘greatest’ and replace it with ‘boring’ and I may be on your wavelength.

A synopsis for 2001 states that the movie’s plot is centered around “an imposing black structure which provides a connection between the past and the future.” Sounds interesting, right? “When Dr Dave Bowman and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship's computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behaviour, leading to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.”

As the movie begins, opening up with a prolonged sequence of cavemen surrounding a tall metal rectangle, which teaches these Neanderthals to create tools and weapons; it fast-forwards to a base on the Moon where the same monolith appears once again. Upon inspection by a group of astronauts, the monolith emits a high-powered radio signal and once again we fast-forward into the future. It is 18 months later where we meet Dr David Bowman, Dr Frank Poole and their computer “Hal”, and thus their endeavour to discover the answers to this alien monolith begins. I wish I could provide more detail, but it was here where my attention quickly evaporated.

Opening sequence from the movie - © MGM

Whilst a visual marvel, and there is no denying of 2001’s astonishingly real-life interpretation of space, the movie navigates a pointless and overtly complex plot that lacks heart, excitement or substance. It is simply style through and through, and whilst it may look good on screen, its aftertaste is bitter and yawn-inducing.

Stanley Kubrick is legendary in the field of moviemaking and he bagged an Oscar for his sci-fi epic for its special effects. But besides the visuals, the sycophantic fawning over 2001: A Space Odyssey is bizarre to say the least.

Within the movie critic community, and I include my friend here, my unpopular opinion may be rare. Thankfully amongst my own family, it isn’t so much. My grandfather took my mother and uncle to see the film when it was first released in 1968. They walked out after 10 minutes.

The final fetus scene - © MGM

What is most profoundly disappointing about 2001 is its ambition. Normally we celebrate this sentiment with movies, but can a movie become too bold? In the case of Kubrick’s Space odyssey, yes they can. What becomes instantly apparent is that the legendary director focused too much on the visual spectacle and therefore neglected the emotional impact of his limitless plot. Kubrick’s ideas quickly become too complex for even cinema to interpret. A prime example is towards the end of the film when the camera pans out revealing a foetus in the middle of space.

For those who are perhaps more cinematically intelligent in understanding the meaning behind this visual metaphor, I can guarantee that the vast majority watched that sequence with a frown of utter confusion. And this becomes a constant problem with 2001.

The synopsis you read earlier is barely recognizable as the credits begin to roll, and worse still, you are left with the regret that you wasted almost three hours of your life watching such a confusing and obtuse movie.

It is far from a ‘masterpiece’, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a monstrosity, a juggernaut of visual feats but devoid of any substantial emotion or excitement. Its confusing narrative and patch-worked time-frame verges on nonsense – quite simply, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Besides its iconic film score, visuals and special effects, Stanley Kubrick’s epic remains a vacuum reminiscent of space itself.

So, I ask again, “How can you like it?”

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Jonathan Reed
Jonathan Reed
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Jonathan Reed

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