Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain, William Sylvester, and Star Child (who looks at us from the cosmos and judges us with his big, second-hand Dullea eyes)
Have I Seen it Before: Can one truly see this movie? Is it more important to experience it…? These are the questions I have now. The answer is, yes, it must be experienced. So there. One less question.
Did I Like It: Over the years, I have to come to appreciate the movie, but until now I don’t think I ever truly got it.
We are all Star Child.
Wait, wait. Come back. I’m going somewhere with this.
I’ve often felt that my own movie-watching experience has been wildly warped by never seeing a vast majority of films in the way they were intended to be viewed—on the largest screen possible, and with a crowd engaged in a shared experience. Indeed, until the wide availability of DVDs in the mid-90s, VHS probably ruined most movies before they had a chance to breathe. I first saw Blade Runner (1982) on a Blockbuster-rental cassette that had already lived past its usefulness before I pressed play, and I don’t think I’ve yet to properly appreciate the movie for what it is. Movies like Independence Day (1996) or Armageddon (1998) are especially vulnerable to showing their flaws when stripped down for presentation on a TV. Even Star Wars (1977) was a wildly different movie seeing it in the theater in its 1997 special edition than it was over dozens of times on tape.
When I first saw 2001 as a kid, I similarly didn’t get it. In fact, I kinda hated it. Nothing happens for long stretches of time, and that intermission? Give me a break. In those intervening years, I read the concurrently-developed novel by Arthur C. Clarke and gain at least a semblance of understanding as to what Kubrick was showing us. As I grow older still, I can appreciate that an array of special effects—that were then still in very much a beta-version back then—still hold up today.
But until the planets appeared to align in the opening titles, I became a believer. This movie was never meant to be merely watched, it was meant to be experienced. Everything has been a lame pretender to the intent of Kubrick and co.
The movie is far from boring, as is often the case of criticism leveled at it. It just hasn’t been experienced correctly. Even the intermission—maddening on spec for a not quite 2 1/2 hours in length—the glowing ethereal quality of the black screen didn’t indicate the absence of material, but instead (I shit you not) almost resembled a monolith.
Kubrick knew exactly what he was doing. That being said, he is a filmmaker in every sense of the word. He’s never been terribly interested in working as a dramatist; if he had, he would have eschewed movies for the stage. Thus, the few and far between scenes that involve people talking to one another are probably the least interesting. That’s okay, because there’s a good forty-five minutes (I think, I didn’t actually time the thing) before any human as we understand them speaks. By the time Dave Bowman (Kier Dullea approaches Jupiter and takes his trip beyond the infinite, I nearly had a panic attack form the breathtaking images presented to me in such a new fashion.
I’m a believer in this movie now, but it must be seen in the proper context.
If you happen to read this while the movie is still in its limited re-release, or if by some miracle you have the opportunity to see it in 70MM in one of the few venues equipped for such an exhibition, please go. Honestly, I don’t think you’ve really seen this movie yet, even if you’ve watched it a dozen times.
My only complaint? To this day, I don’t understand why Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester)—a reportedly experienced space traveller stares at the instructions for the zero-gravity toilet for what seems like an entire reel of film?Minor quibble. Do with it what you will.