2001: A Space Odyssey 50th Anniversary

By Gilbert Huey Thursday, Apr 05, 2018

 See Gilbert Huey's incredible collection of rare materials related to 2001: A Space Odyssey in our glass case at Underground Books!

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM, released 1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

Starring Kier Dullea & Gary Lockwood

Novel by Arthur C. Clarke

I consider 2001: A Space Odyssey to be one of the twentieth century’s crowning artistic achievements, both the film and the novel. In the years since its release friends have asked me to “explain” the movie to them. I don’t think it is possible for one person to explain an existential movie to another. Interpretations of 2001 are a personal thing.  

2001 is universally considered by Hollywood critics and academics to be one of the ten best movies of all time. The positive reception it received back in 1968 played a large part in securing its place in the American cultural consciousness.  Widely differing interpretations by film reviewers of the day highlighted the generation gap. Younger audiences and critics seemed to connect with and respond to the film much better than older viewers. Many people who first saw 2001 in 1968, say that it was a major and permanent influence on their lives.  As members of a generation searching for meaning and identity, the film’s cosmic questions resonated deeply. I felt an intense personal connection to the film.  After seeing 2001 three consecutive times in one day I could not sleep that night. I realized then I would never look at the world and the universe in the same way.  Fifty years later this remains true.

Filmmakers, artists, astronauts, engineers, and early computer technicians all have credited 2001 for inspiring them. Actor-director Tom Hanks said his first viewing of the film was an experience that caused him to appreciate the power of movies. Director James Cameron said 2001 meant a great deal to him when he was seventeen and it sparked his interest in filmmaking.  Other people found inspiration in the film’s portrayal of futuristic technology. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that 2001 inspired his vision of the potential of computers. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both cite 2001 as a major influence.

2001: A Space Odyssey expanded the mental vistas of its viewers. This fact alone is a huge compliment to the film’s legacy.  As a prediction of what the future would be like it doesn’t succeed very well. The technology depicted in the film has obviously not yet developed. However, 2001 is arguably the most influential and significant movie made in the artistically creative sixties. After fifty years 2001: A Space Odyssey should be dated, but it is not. One reason it holds up so well is because Kubrick chose not to portray 21st century life using futuristic cars and model cities, props that would quickly become dated. The spacecraft depicted in the film were all designed by aerospace engineers and scientists and remain realistic and convincing in every detail.

Gary Lockwood, Gilbert Huey, and Kier Dullea

Modern viewers complain that 2001 is painfully slow and has very little dialogue. Compared to movies like Star Wars and The Matrix it is slow, but Kubrick’s masterpiece belongs to a more sophisticated genre. Every scene, every word of dialogue, every minute of the film is meticulously crafted. 2001 employs three distinctive metaphors: Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Homer’s The Odyssey, and Arthur C. Clarke’s man and machine symbiosis. Zarathustra opens with sunrise and ends with the hero's interrupted last supper just like the movie. The artificial intelligence HAL-9000 represents God who man made in his own image and then has to kill in order to reach the next stage of evolution. Discovery’s alleged antenna failure represents the bag of winds that Aeolus gave Odysseus to help him get home. The bag was opened by the mutinous crew and disaster soon follows, just like in the film. Another Odyssey parallel is the gods disguise Odysseus as an old man upon his return home, similar to the transformation Astronaut Dave Bowman undergoes near the end of the film. The comparisons are many and deliberate. Clarke’s man versus machine theme permeates every scene in the film.

The basic plot concerns humans encountering an advanced interstellar intelligence. Kubrick and Clarke knew this encounter would likely be incomprehensible within present day earthbound frames of reference so they chose not to portray the aliens except through their enigmatic monoliths. Rather than confrontation the story explores elements of philosophy and metaphysics which is much more interesting than laser battles and aerial dogfights. The alien monoliths are among the most ominous and mysterious objects to ever appear in film.


About Gilbert Huey: 

Gilbert Huey is a dear friend of Underground Books and a very accomplished collector of science-fiction and fantasy. You can read more about Gilbert's out of this world collection here. Gilbert says: "I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Martin Theater in Roanoke, Alabama half a dozen times during its original release in the summer of 1968. When the novel came out I quickly devoured it. I was already a fan of Arthur C. Clarke and 2001 proved to be one of his best books. To me the movie and the book provided actual glimpses into the future. The events in 2001 are as real to me now 50 years later as many things that happened to me in “real” life. I’ve been a fan since day one and the film/novel had a huge impact on the way I see the world."

2001: A Space Odyssey is in a class by itself. Stanley Kubrick said, “There isn't a single word of dialogue or image in any frame of 2001 that wasn't put there deliberately.” It is thought provoking, open ended, and remains a great visual experience half a century after release. This cannot be said about any other film.

Gilbert is the author of The Free State of Carroll, available now at Underground Books!