Editors Note: I have watched this film many times since I wrote this review in December of 2004 and I no longer find it boring at all. It is one of my all-time favorite films. I might have to watch it again this weekend 😉
I will not attempt to discuss the meaning of this film or to answer most of the questions it poses. There are plenty of places on the internet that try to do that.
2001 is one of the few films I find absolutely amazing, and that I dread to watch. Like Citizen Kane I find this movie to be technically brilliant, but mostly boring. It was the first or second DVD that I purchased when I bought my player back in 1999. Yet in the interim 5 odd years, I have watched 2001 in its entirety only once or twice. Several times I have started to sit and watch it, but I just can’t get through it all at once. Even for this review, I watched it in sections.
It doesn’t help that the section I enjoy the most (the section involving the mission to Jupiter with HAL) is a good hour into the movie. It’s not that the other sections do not have meaning to me, it’s just that I find them very difficult to get through. The opening sequence “The Dawn of Man” is very well filmed, is vital to understanding the whole movie, and begins to ask some very good questions (does the advent of technology bring us closer to destruction as it also furthers our race?) Yet, I find this section mind-numbingly dull. Upon first viewing it was interesting, but now I know that the monolith is coming, I know that the ape-men discover the use of the bones as tools and this leads to their use as weapons. My knowledge of the action now bores me. I am the type of person who enjoys watching a movie repeatedly. I have a pretty large collection of DVDs and watch many of them often. So knowing the outcome of a scene does not always necessitate my boredom. It is just so with this particular film.
Likewise the next section of the film leading to the discovery of the monolith on the moon I find to be quite boring. It is only when we get to the middle chapter of the movie dealing with the journey to Jupiter and the madness of HAL that I remain interested as a film watcher. This section also happens to be the one I find most technically interesting. I must also admit this is the section with the most dialogue and most action. But I am not ready to say that this is the cause of my enjoyment. Because by most standards there is still not a lot of action or dialogue going on in the film. What I do enjoy is the use of sets to create the space station atmosphere. For example, I love trying to determine how they created the scenes where the astronauts appear to walk upside down or ‘turn’ with the ship? The atmosphere created by the use of the silence of space, the loneliness of the ship, and the remoteness of the all-seeing HAL eye is pitch-perfect. Kubrick builds the tension between the two conscience astronauts and HAL brilliantly. The scene in which HAL reads the astronaut’s lips is still one of my favorites in any film, ever. HAL, though a computer, has been rated as one of the greatest screen villains of all time, and rightly so. He is as calculating as he is cold.
Once this section ends, though we slip back into the brilliant but boring mode of the film. When Dave slips into the wormhole (did anyone call it a wormhole back then?) we are treated to a psychedelic ride of crazy colors and trippy music. But it goes on so long that I wish I did acid or smoked pot to keep me interested. It’s like the whale chapters of Moby Dick, where I have to agree that they are important for the sake of the novel, but I’d rather just skip past them and get on with the story. I believe the parts I find boring in the movie are essential to the film, and in many ways they make it the masterpiece of cinema that it is. This being so doesn’t make me watch it more than once every few years.