"Dave. Stop. Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it…"
2001: A Space Odyssey. Of all the science fiction movies ever made, this one stands as the pinnacle of the genre. 2001 took the realm of special effects to an unsurpassed degree of realism, and even today this film is the standard by which many movies are measured. Before 2001, futuristic gadgets such as computers or spaceships were designed primarily for flashy, gaudy effect of the type displayed in such movies as This Island Earth or Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. They were obviously fake, aerodynamically impossible, and described in silly pseudo-scientific terms that had no meaning at all. 2001 paid such attention to detail that it has been said a more realistic movie could only be made if it were filmed on location in outer space.
This film shattered the juvenile notion that all alien beings in the movies were "invaders" with antannae on their heads, whose sole reason for existence was to conquer Earth. The Aliens of 2001 were neither menacing, nor were they actors in cheap foam-rubber costumes. After 2001, aliens in the movies became more realistic-looking and believable. Later science fiction films with extraterrestrials, including Star Wars and E.T., owe their existence to it.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 2001 was a box-office hit when it premiered in 1968. Hippies would go to the front row of the movie theatre and lie on the floor as its "cosmic light show" swept over them. Reaction to this film by the moviegoing masses was extreme: it was either loved or hated by critics and laymen alike. There was no middle ground.
The film's popularity has not waned over the years, although it is no longer used for "tripping". Today, 2001 stands as a triumph of science fiction on the silver screen. Other films have tried to imitate its style and its vision, such as Planet Of The Apes and Silent Running, but none have come close.
Yet for many people, the film remains a mystery. It has been called "slow-moving," "ponderous," and even "incomprehensible." Pauline Kael has called it "a monumentally unimaginative movie," while negative reactions to the film were emotional as the postive ones.
In 1984 the movie 2010 - The Year We Make Contact was released to theatres, and a large portion of the film was spent explaining "exactly what happened" in 2001. However, the explanations offered in 2010 did not even come close to the mark, and the mystery of 2001 remains. Exactly WHAT was the movie about? Where did the Monolith come from? Why did HAL go berserk? Just what happened to Dave Bowman anyways? And what was the meaning of the ending, with the hotel room and the Star Child? These are only a few of the questions asked by people, many of whom have been puzzling the meaning of the film for years.
Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the most obvious book to turn to for anyone looking for the answers to the movie - but the novel is not the final authority on the film. Clarke's novel is based upon an earlier version of the movie screenplay; he and Kubrick co-wrote the story while the movie was in production, and Kubrick made many changes to the film after the novel was finished and before the movie was released. Therefore, there are passages within the novel that do not take place in the movie at all, and likewise there are elements of the film that are not found in the book. For instance, in the novel the spaceship Discovery travels to the planet Saturn and its moon Japetus, while in the movie the destination is Jupiter. Hal (the computer) opens the airlock doors and lets all of the air out of the spaceship Discovery while Dave Bowman is still aboard in the novel; in the movie he lures Dave into outer space and refuses to let him back into the ship. The idea of letting the air out of Discovery had been included in the screenplay to the movie (which is why we see Dave wearing a spacesuit and helmet during his attack on Hal's memory banks), but it was later cut.
Clarke himself was confused by many elements of the movie. He tried to offer concrete, rational explanations of some of the questions raised by the film in his book, and in doing so he took many creative liberties. However, the answers offered in the novel are often contradictory and even inaccurate. They do offer clues and, in some cases, explanations to the symbolisms and behind-the-scenes action that takes place in the movie, but because of the differences between the novel and the film, the novel cannot be considered the last word on 2001. To discover the subtleties and concepts of the movie, the best course of action is to watch the film carefully and make your own conclusions.
The following essay is, therefore, merely my own opinion of 2001. Feel free to disagree with any of the arguments I put forth. I seek merely to enlighten those who claim not to understand 2001 at all, and to shed a little light on the mysteries of the film.