I don't know about you, but if I were to write out the films I supposedly "have to see" on my hand, it would go down to my elbow. One of the films I have been putting off the longest was 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was, however, recommended by one of my professors, and fortunately, once I got started on this film, I was pleasantly surprised.
To start with, this film took me back to my teenage years, when I used to pour over the Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, short stories by Isaac Asimov, and films like Soylent Green and Logan's Run. You could tell this dated flick fit in with the likes of other 1970s sci-fi because of the simple special effects, which now gives the film a wonderful nostalgic quality. The pacing also indicated the time of the film, which I find is a common problem with older films and films that "try to make you think", but there were some advantages to this.
For one thing, the slow pace pointed out the smallness and the isolated nature of human beings. It gave you time to muse on the lifestyle of the future, with such questions as, "How come we have colonized space, but America and Russia, which still exist as countries, still have tense political relations?" Or, "If we can phone people with video, how come people still use telephone booths?" Or, "Why is it that we can develop a computer with consciousness but people still need to run around hard copies of data?" Or, "No matter how convenient technology becomes, even if we can change the direction of gravity, will we ever have time to be with our friends and family?" Some of the questions that arose were much more philosophical, but I encourage you to seek out these questions on your own, as there is a wealth of them. I was also very impressed by the plot twists that took place.
From a cinematic perspective, a lot of the shots framed in this film were really intense, and the music was awesome. The use of sound was really creative in this film (for example, the use of sudden silence in whichever shots were taken from outer space). One of the best uses of sound was for the super-intelligent computer, likely the most memorable character of the film, Hal. Some interesting synthesized harmonies made Hal's voice very peaceful and disturbing all at once. Like I said before, the use of silence and timing was brilliant as it set the mood, certainly one of suspense, perhaps one of emptiness for certain space scenes. You felt the vastness of space and humanity's smallness in it. Some of the transitions, specifically between the dawn of hominids and the future were brilliant, and the juxtaposition of humanity at the dawn of technology and humanity at a stage of technological development we have yet to realize was fantastic and thought-provoking.
What disappointed me about this movie, however, is that just when it has you completely enwrapped in its mystery, carefully parsing through clues and developing hypotheses, it reaches the very apex of the story where you can finally uncover the secret of the Black Monolith, and it lets you down with a bunch of psychedelic garble that makes no sense. Perhaps Kubrick did mean something by it all, but I felt as though he had taken all my hard sleuthing, threw it in the garbage, and took me on a bad dug trip. After a carefully crafted cinematic experience building up to this point, he simply lets us drop into some tie-dye chaos. But I suppose he has won after all this, because even though I felt betrayed by the film, I am very tempted to read the book and find out it if gets any better.
Do I recommend watching 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yes, but hit pause at the climax of the film and write your own conclusion. I am sure with all the material that has been carefully relayed, you can come to a much better conclusion than this film did.