I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I do have one huge regret about all those viewings, though. None has been in a movie theater on a big screen.
I was 11 when the movie came out in 1968. I asked my parents to let me go see it in a Cinerama (the era’s version of IMAX) theater in Minneapolis that summer. Neither one wanted to go so I was out of luck. It’s one of those minor deals that still sticks in my mind, particularly with the retrospective knowledge of what it would have been like on such a huge screen.
Of course, whether I saw the movie in that or any other theater probably wouldn’t have made any difference to my comprehension of the meaning(s) of the film. After all, despite all the viewings on VHS and DVD and years of reading science fiction and watching Stanley Kubrick movies, I still don’t know that I understand it. And I actually think anybody who claims to grasp the meaning of the film is full of crap (although Kubrick claimed a 15-year-old girl provided the “most intelligent” commentary on it).
Whether we understand it or not, there’s no doubt 2001 is both a cinematic classic and a cultural icon. Most Baby Boomers (and perhaps others) commonly refer to the Richard Strauss composition Also sprach Zarathustra as “the 2001 theme.” The wipe at the from the opening “Dawn of Man” segment to the next is undoubtedly one of the most classic transitions ever. HAL, the computer with artificial intelligence in the movie, itself became an icon, not only being elected to a hall of fame but sparking the urban legend that the name was an intentional one letter shift from IBM. Finally, there’s the five-minute or so fantastic, psychedelic journey in the penultimate part of the film. When contrasted with the final scenes, it is no wonder we are left wondering just what we saw.
In 1991, the movie was selected for the National Film Registry, which preserves up to 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” each year. The U.K.s Film4 channel ranked it number 6 on its list of 50 films to see before you die. It was 22nd on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 greatest American movies and actually rose to 15th place in the 10th anniversary edition. Filmsite‘s commentary on the movie in its discussion of those top 100 movies said, “Director Stanley Kubrick’s work is a profound, visionary and astounding film (a mysterious Rorschach film-blot) and a tremendous visual experience.”
Groundbreaking for its time, 2001‘s special effects show their age today. Yet I think the description of it as a “Rorschach film-blot” remains accurate after repeated viewings. And even though I’m living years after that then-distant future, I keep coming back to the film. Maybe one day I’ll understand it. Actually, I think finding it in an IMAX theater is far more probable — and that will help me erase 40 some years of disappointment.
I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.
HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey