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2001: A Space Odyssey
1968 - G - 139 Mins.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter
Review by: John Ulmer
   

The start of the infamous Pointless Super Big Spaceship Dials, Buttons and Lights
As a critic, a lot of times it's hard to successfully evaluate a movie of classic stature. It's always a bit daunting and intimidating sitting down to watch a milestone classic for the first time. If you don't like it, does that make you a movie idiot? Do you have to like every classic film ever made to be a so-called "movie buff"?

If you talk to people, you'll find that a lot of them probably don't personally like "2001: A Space Odyssey." I can name a few friends and relations of mine who don't like it at all. Some hate it. But no people deny its greatness. Whether it affects you in the way it does to some other people doesn't really matter. It's not a great movie like "The Third Man" or "Citizen Kane" that is somewhat graded on how the film affects you emotionally. To be honest, I don't find how "2001" could do this. It's not a character-driven film. It's a showcase picture, and one of the greatest. But there's a fine line between being a great film and a favorite film. Just because I find "2001: A Space Odyssey" to be great, it doesn't necessarily mean it's one of my favorite movies. (Which it certainly isn't.)

My favorite movies are those that affect me, or those that move me, or those that stick with me over the years. I may not rate them as highly as I do "great" movies, since they aren't quite on the same level. The films that occupy my humble list of favorites include "The Godfather," "Scarface," "Goodfellas," "The Third Man," "Casablanca," "Lethal Weapon," "Toy Story 1 and 2," and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." (To name a few.) I don't necessarily feel the need to rate all of these films as highly as I would a film such as "2001." I might give "2001" a full-star rating, but it doesn't necessarily mean I enjoy watching it more than other films.

Judging movies is a tricky thing, because a lot of people look at the rating of the film by itself, ignoring the actual text within that review. Sometimes I get the rare nasty letter from a reader who says, "I can't believe you gave [movie title] so little/high a rating!" Did that reader take the time to read my review and see why I did what I did? I've found that most of the time, the answer to that question is no.

Sometimes when you review a movie -- especially classics -- you have to grade the film on what it is trying to accomplish and if it succeeds or not. "2001" does. It is one of the most famous films of all time, often shown at film lectures and study groups for people willing to devote hours of their life to the film in order to break down every single element of it, frame-by-frame. (I'm not one of those people.)

I myself am not quite so sure what everything means. It opens at the dawn of time, millions of years ago, with a pack of cheesy monkeys that eventually learn to use the bone of a dead animal as a weapon. This scene has little effect on me since I am not an evolutionist, but it may to those who are.

In what is often considered the farthest fast-forward in history (perhaps equalled only by the opening of "Adaptation," which leaps from millions of years ago to the present), we are shown a spaceship floating majestically through space. This is the showcase of the film, and from here on it's all for show.

Without "2001" there would be no space films as we know them today, and almost certainly no "Star Wars." It is the king of the genre -- the granddaddy of all modern-day space exploration films. "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars," as bad as they may be, take direct styles from this film. It's incredibly dated by today's standards, which may explain its rapid decrease in popularity in the past decade. With the special effects extravaganzas coming out nowadays, "2001" seems like a boring, silly film. Not to disrespect its reputation, but in a way, it is, and always has been exactly that.

"2001" has been called a silent film before, and that is probably a correct assessment. There's some dialogue, but very little -- from the opening scene to the last, almost every frame is occupied with a classical music track. It would be interesting to see this film without its soundtrack. It would undoubtedly be a painful viewing.

The movie is about the exploration of a space ship crew in the year 2001, but the plot is introduced late and sticks around very little. This angered me the first time I saw the film -- it seemed like a mess of a bunch of different ideas joined together by Stanley Kubrick -- but on a second viewing I realized that the point of the film was not really its story, but its deeper intracicies. The late plot is just a way of getting them across.

Modern-day audiences continue to shrug off this film and ignore it. They're too busy with the newest Vin Diesel space movie to realize that their precious actioners wouldn't exist in the first place without this film. Stanley Kubrick is not a household name anymore. Films like "Dr. Strangelove" continue his legacy through the years, but as new generations of moviegoers flock to the theaters, his name is forgotten.

That's ignorant because all space movies -- as we know them -- rely on "2001." I don't find this better than "Star Wars" or even a lesser space film such as "Total Recall" (which I gave a lesser rating), but they wouldn't exist without "2001," and I make sure to acknowledge that whenever possible.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" isn't a movie I'd like to watch over and over again. It's certainly not one of my favorite movies. It doesn't move or affect me like some of my other favorite films. But it's a great movie, in the true sense of the meaning, and I grade it on what it is and what it accomplishes and how it does these things. For that reason alone it deserves the full-star rating. To give it anything else, I fear, would be a sin.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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