2001: A Space Odyssey: A Review

by Lester del Rey

Copyright ©1968 by Galaxy Publishing Corp.; reprinted in "The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 2" edited by Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss, by permission of the author and Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Inc.

Nobody slept at the New York press preview of 2001, but only because the raucous and silly noise from the sound track screamed painfully into our ears. Space was a tumult of din and the hero breathed in his spacesuit like a monstrous locomotive at 60 gasps a minute. It was the only evidence of excitement in the place. Almost half the audience had left by intermission, and most of us who stayed did so from curiosity and to complete our reviews.

The pictorial part was superb. The colour photography was generally excellent, and the special effects and technical tricks were the best ever done. Even the acting was unusually good. With all that, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke should have given us the superlative movie promised by a barrage of publicity. If they had put Clarke's Earthlight on the screen with equal genius, it would have been a great science-fiction movie. Unfortunately, they didn't. Instead they gave us dullness and confusion.

The whole affair dragged. Every trick had to be stretched interminably and then repeated over and over again. Nothing was explained or given coherent flow, but everything was run on to boredom. Further cutting might help; surely it couldn't hurt.

The story staggers through four vaguely related episodes. First we get the theme of man's humanoid ancestors being given intelligence by an alien slab only to become murderers. Next we go to the moon to find future men have dug up the same slab -- excellent background but no drama -- and no reason for it being there. Then we take a trip to Jupiter because -- men think the slab came from there.

This episode has a conflict between men and an articulate computer. It might have been good, except for the lack of rationality. No motivation is provided for the computer's going mad, and the hero acts like a fool. He knows the cmputer can't be trusted, and we've seen that the computer can at least operate a rescue craft to bring back his dead friend. But he goes out himself, leaving his companions in hibernation to be killed by the computer.

Finally, we get an endless run of obvious and empty symbols on the screen, followed by our hero in a strange room. Apparently he's undergone intergalactic transfer and now grows old and dies in the room, followed by a metaphysical symbol at the end. The alien contact we've been promised is no more than a brief shot of the slab again.

If possible wait to see it for the effects until you can buy the soft cover book. Book and movie don't entirely agree, but maybe the book will provide some relief to the confusion of the movie.

The real message, of course, is one Kubrick has used before: intelligence is perhaps evil and certainly useless. The humanoid reaction and pointless madness of the computer show this. Men can only be saved by some vague and unshown mystic experience by aliens.

This isn't a normal science-fiction movie at all, you see. It's the first of the New Wave-Thing movies, with the usual empty symbolism. The New Thing advocates were exulting over it as a mind-blowing experience. It takes very little to blow some minds. But for the rest of us, it's a disaster.

It will probably be a box-office disaster, too, and thus set major science-fiction movie making back another ten years.

It's a great pity.