A big space monolith urges human evolution along every so often and HAL opens the pod bay doors.
Stanley Kubrick, 1968
Oh, goodie, I get to try to write about the plot of 2001. Okay. So there’s some monkeys, and they’re living their monkey lives, and then a giant black space monolith just suddenly appears one day and the monkeys get violent. Then it’s the future, and there’s this secretive space expedition to the moon which, I’ve read, is because they want to discover the secret of the monolith. This is something I didn’t know from actually watching the movie, but the internet says it’s true, so it must be so. Then even further in the future there are some very similar-looking brown-haired dudes on a spaceship heading for Jupiter, with the assistance-slash-hindrance of the computer AI, H.A.L 9000 (AKA the best, most animated character in the movie, a red lightbulb). As H.A.L becomes more self-aware he becomes more dangerous to the mission in general and astronaut Dave (Keir Dullea) in particular. Soon Dave must face off against H.A.L in order to continue their mission and figure out what the heck the space monoliths are all about.
As a lifelong film fan, I am very familiar with 2001 and its effect on the film landscape. There were quite a few things in this movie that I was familiar with, and not only because I’ve watched the first 15 minutes before (and then quit, because why would you watch more than that unless you absolutely had to?). All the iconic moments in this movie have been referenced, paid homage to, and just plain copied in other films. It is a classic and a trendsetter and all that jazz and I really can’t STAND it. It is, I think, the single most boring film that has ever been made. It has a bizarre soporific effect on my mind. Every time someone spoke I tried to pay attention and listen to the plot, but my mind started wandering within fifteen seconds. It’s two and a half hours long. Twenty minutes are spent with the monkeys. Twenty-six minutes in, the first dialogue occurs. With the exception of HAL, every character speaks his lines (and make no mistake, they are almost entirely hims speaking lines – if you want to read about the Russian woman who went into space FIVE YEARS before the music came out, Valentina Vereshkova, you can do sohere) as if he’s sleepwalking. Then the final half hour is mostly taken up by a light show in space while spooky music plays. I knew about some basics of the plot – space monolith, evolution, evil AI, giant space baby – and for some foolish reason I thought seeing the movie would tie these things together into a cohesive narrative and make me understand more. This did not happen. In fact, had I not know those things going in, I probably would have understood even less of this movie than I actually did.
Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t a worthwhile movie somewhere in here. There are some really stunning shots, and the composition and mise-en-scene (what the scenes look like, for non-nerds) are gorgeous. There are some very cool concepts in here, and the fact that it was all made with practical effects is very impressive. The soundtrack is also really cool. If every shot was, at minimum, a minute shorter, the film would be more watchable. Then there’s the meandering, confusing plot, which is only really established a good two hours into the film. If the whole first hour was a five-minute montage, then I would have been more awake and receptive to the really good stuff. The introduction of H.A.L and Dave and their spaceship certainly helps the movie improve. Sure, there are still very long scenes that are composed almost entirely of heavy breathing in space, but once that other astronaut whose name neither I nor Dave seem to care much about dies in spite of his physical resemblance to Dave, it becomes easy to follow the plot. H.A.L is evil and determined to follow through on the mission no matter the cost, and Dave wants to survive. This creates actual tension for a little while, and H.A.L has some dialogue that’s – gasp – enjoyable. And then the light show happens and there’s some arthouse deep thought stuff that I really didn’t care about and a giant space baby and I’m lost again. So. I watched it because I had to for the podcast, and the best thing I can say about it is that I’ve now done my duty, and will never have to watch this movie again.
2001: A Space Odyssey on IMDb