Over the last few months there's been quite a few people who have accused me of getting by with controversy. They have claimed that I possibly like the attention I get by being different, and so automatically bag every popular movie that get's released. This is usually after I've given a bad review for some dull action movie that everyone else loved, The Matrix Reloaded being a perfect example. However my own defense started to look pretty bad when I revealed that I also have a strong dislike for that Stanley Kubrick "masterpiece" that I am reviewing here. In fact why am I acting like I should be scared to reveal the film here when you already know what this review is for? The movie I dislike with a passion is Stanley Kubricks 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Actually it feels pretty good to get it out in a review like this, but alas, I can already here the clicking of keyboards as my in box prepares for a massive influx of hate mail. Nevertheless I believe I still have a few minutes to get this review finished before the first of it arrives so maybe I should use that time to best try and defend my stance. First of all then I'm going to be doing something unusual with this review, and yes I'm well aware of the irony of saying that I'm going to do something unusual in a bad review for 2001 so please keep the laughter quiet. What I'm going to be doing is that I'm not going to start out by criticizing the film like a film critic is supposed to, but instead I'll open by explaining the things in the film that I actually liked. Afterall the reviews here are allowed to get 0 stars, but I have granted this film that 1 extra star for a reason.
The reason it get's that one star is very simple really, but it builds up to a very complex level. The reason is for it's cinematography. Oh great now I've done it, even the 2001 haters are going to be writing me hate mail now. "Who gives a stuff about cinematography...movies should be fun...blah blah blah." Well I give a stuff about cinematography, that's who. It's one of the most important aspects in showing movies as an art form, which they definitely are, and as far as artistic movies go 2001 A Space Odyssey is among the top of the list. The cinematography is breathtaking, typical Kubrick camera work designed to up the films emotional impact among anyone paying attention. Not just that though, 2001's cinematography is more than just fancy camera work because it carries with itself a rich amount of meaning. Literally nothing happens in the film which isn't designed for developing the films themes and philosophies. Right from the beginning you can see it's philosophies in those apes, the apes that seemed so useless to me when I first saw the film 5 years ago. It's shown in the moment where the ape picks up the bone and proceeds to smash the rest of the skeleton, my particular favorite shot in the movie, or when it throws that bone that proceeds to melt out into a futuristic space ship. It's seen in the scenes with Hal 9000 right up until that fancy light show at the end, absolutely nothing in the film is meaningless. Find me a scene that doesn't have a meaning and I'll show you a scene you don't understand, it's that simple.
So then why would I hate a film this rich in symbolism? That I can tell you with much more ease than I could describe what I liked about a film I dislike so much. The reason is that even though the film has a lot to say, I didn't like 90% of what it was saying. Kubrick had 1 angle to the film which described the dehumanizing effects of technology, and I could have lived with that if it had been the films main theme. Seeing the way the film develops from the first invention of the tool to the ultimate invention in Hal 9000. Seeing the humans becoming totally dependant on Hal, and then seeing Hal then decide that the tool no longer needs the humans. Even seeing him taken down by a screw driver, one of the humans most basic inventions are all moments that could have held a high level of power if it wasn't for the fact that they weren't the films main theme. The technology angle was sadly a secondary ideology, fused into the films main philosophy. A philosophy that deals less with technology and more with evolution cheapens the effect for me. Suddenly it becomes, not a film about the dehumanizing effects of technology, and more a story about how the first technology caused mans evolution, but ultimately prevented man from evolving to anything other than a violent fleshly species. You see I am a very religious person, and while I wasn't offended by the films philosophies I couldn't relate to them at all. Opening by showing apes as the creatures that started the use of tools, and then showing the fade to describe years of evolution. Finishing on showing Dave destroy Hal, and after he stops relying on technology he is able to evolve to a higher, post death, state of existence. The evolution angle was there in every facet of the film and as a result it prevented me from attaching to any of the films idea's and rendered the power they could have had redundant.
Like I said though, the themes didn't offend me they just never moved me anywhere. I never attached to them, but they didn't directly prevent me from liking the rest of the film either. What did this was Kubrick himself when he decided that he had explored mans evolutionary path and so he didn't need more. The themes of technological evolution dehumanizing people meant that Kubrick intentionally downplayed the human characters. His satire meant that none of the human characters were developed beyond the terms of character A, B, C ECT..., and that Hal 9000, an emotionless computer, was the closest a character got to real emotion. I don't consider this to be a good thing. Kubrick may have intended it as satire, but it helped destroy the film for me. Now because it was dehumanized characters within the realms of evolutionary technological advancements, I was left with neither satisfying themes nor satisfying characters with which to grasp.
In the end though I was even denied that most basic of pleasures in the area of sound. I recognize the importance of silent movies on cinematic history, but we have moved beyond those now. Now cinematography can be combined with strong use of sound in order to build an emotional story, but sadly there are very few places where Kubrick considers a soundtrack to be useful to developing the evolutionary themes, and so he left it out. I did a test once and it was revealed that I do in fact react to sound before visuals, and while I can enjoy silent movies it's only when there's something other than sound for me to grasp, which I've already shown is extremely limited in 2001. Some films without a soundtrack though, use the background noises for tension building, but in space there is no background noise. In fact there were some parts of the film that were so silent I felt the need to check my speakers were still working. There were a few moments that used music, and it did use the best classical music you'll find including Blue Danube, my personal favorite. I actually have the soundtrack, but moments using these are few and far between. They're moments I don't understand at all, except that they had a slight refreshing effect from the silence, but that was all. Ultimately a few classic songs are not enough to warrant another viewing, especially since I can listen to the songs on CD.
What it comes down to is, with it's silent nature, shallow characters and evolutionary themes, 2001 A Space Odyssey remains one of the deepest movies I have seen, but also one of the most boring.