Film review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

People either love or hate this film, with very few falling into the lukewarm category. I personally love it. I was blown away when I saw it when it first came out 50 years ago and watched it again a few days ago, perhaps for the third or maybe the fourth time, It as always risky to watch a film or read a book that one loved a long time ago when one was much younger because of concerns as to how well it would stand up. I watched it this time with a more critical eye and found that it stands up incredibly well and is as engrossing as ever. I enjoyed it so much that the next day I watched it all over again, this time with a commentary by actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood who play the laconic astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, who discuss what it was like working with legendary director Stanley Kubrick and how some of the effects were produced. They say that he was meticulous in his preparation for filming but gave very little direction on how they should play the scenes.

This film is in four acts. The first is the dawn of humankind that lasts for 20 minutes before one of the most famous jump cuts in film history, going four million years into the future, straight into the space age. The next act lasts 35 minutes and deals with the trip of space administrator Heywood Floyd to the space station, followed by his trip to the moon base and the discovery of the monolith there. Then begins the central third act of the mission to Jupiter lasting 65 minutes and the interactions between the two astronauts and the computer HAL. This is where most of the dramatic tension is centered. The last act lasting 20 minutes begins of course with the psychedelic trip by astronaut Bowman through some space-time warp followed by the emergence of the star child. The last part is where many people (myself included) were utterly mystified by what it all meant.

What struck me on the latest viewing is how well the special effects held up. There was nothing at all cheesy about it, even though this made was well-before the advent of CGI technology. The only thing that might be done differently today is that the computer would not be as huge. (The other thing is that the Pan Am flight that Floyd takes to the space station has comfortable reclining seats and plenty of legroom and he is the only passenger, something that seems unthinkable now.)

The film is very much a mood piece that depends on visual storytelling with very little dialogue. In that sense, it resembles recent films like Phantom Thread and Roma. So why do I like 2001 so much and dislike the other two? Although I am not particularly a science fiction fan, I am a science nerd. But that is not everything. I think the fact is that in 2001 you always get a sense of a story progressing that was deep and meaningful that transcended the characters. There was a mystery to be uncovered and we were taken along.

I suspect that every reader has seen this film but here’s the trailer anyway, as a nostalgia trip.


  1. jrkrideau says

    Ah that voice. Just as laptops were becoming common, I bought a used Mac SE from a teacher. Somewhat to my intial shock, every time it should have given me a beep or error message, I would get “I’m sorry I cannot do that”. It took a bit of getting used to.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about the movie. Maybe I’ll elaborate later.

    Note that Floyds’s trip is for the purpose of examining the monolith, which had already been discovered. That explains him being the only passenger on the shuttles; top secret mission!

    There were some nice little touches. Like the complicated instructions for the toilet on the Moon shuttle; not ideal for someone who has to go urgently.

  3. DonDueed says

    I was a huge fan of 2001 from my very first viewing in its first run (in Cinerama!). I rode my bike back to the theater the next day to see it again, hoping my teenage brain would get a better handle on it the second time around. It didn’t help much. I have watched it countless times since.

    In 1970, two years after the film was released, the book The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (by Jerome Agel) was published, and it’s fascinating in its own right. It’s as ambiguous in some ways as the movie itself. The best part is that it prints a number of the countless letters Kubrick received about the film. One in particular, written by a very smart 15-year-old girl, got a response from the director himself, calling hers the best analysis of the movie he’d seen. The book is well worth a read if you can find it — it’s out of print but used copies can be had:

  4. Mano Singham says


    The Pan Am flight was from Earth to the space station which was used by many nations collaboratively, including the Soviets. The top secret flight was the next leg, from the space station to the American base Clavius whose people had found the buried monolith.

  5. fentex says

    They say that he was meticulous in his preparation for filming but gave very little direction on how they should play the scenes.

    Kubrick has said he picked those actors and didn’t encourage them to express themselves purposefully, because he wanted a reduced affect in his astronauts.

  6. raym says

    One of my favourite movies, too. I still have the LP of the soundtrack. I was also mystified by the Star Child, until I read the book some years later, at which time it became somewhat clearer. Time to watch it again!

  7. Holms says

    The probable reason for the special effects holding up so well is that most effects before the advent of cg were practical effects, i.e. real objects with forced perspective to produce many vehicles.

  8. Mano Singham says


    In the commentary by Dullea and Lockwood, they say they were both stunned to hear that the director they both idolized had picked them just based on their past work and did not even audition them, even though they were not big name stars. Lockwood said that well into the filming, he asked Kubrick why he had chosen him and Kubrick replied that Lockwood could do a lot without doing much. Kubrick wanted understated acting.

  9. Mano Singham says


    You may recall the scene on the Pan Am flight when Floyd is asleep and his pen floats gently in the air until a flight attendant comes along and takes it and puts it in his pocket. I learned that how it was done was to affix the pen with a tiny piece of adhesive onto a clear sheet of plexiglas. Then someone lay on the ground and gently moved the plexiglass around to simulate random floating until the pen was ‘plucked’ out of the air. I thought that was so simple and yet so clever.

    I also learned that the usual way that films showed spaceship models moving was to keep them fixed and slowly move the camera. But Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that then the background stars would also appear to move. So they moved the background stars along with the camera to get the proper effect.

    Such attention to detail is what makes the film so magnificent.

  10. ridana says

    I was a pretty sheltered and naive teenager, so when I saw this the first time it really unnerved me for days. Especially the violence of the ape discovering the joy of weaponized bones (were tapirs harmed in the making of this motion picture?), and the starfetus with Keir Dullea’s eyes. Unfortunately I can no longer watch the wormhole trip without thinking of ABC’s Movie of the Week. :/

    The trip to the moon still blows me away though. And the computer console still holds up, somehow looking futuristic even today. Marvelous design.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    The film looks great*, with a superbly chosen soundtrack. But it’s really a good short story stretched into a pseudo-epic. There’s really nothing to chew on, just some ooh-aah moments separated by bland humans doing nothing very interesting. Floyd is a cipher who speaks in cliches, Bowman barely registers as human, and the most interesting character is a computer**. The aliens? We know nothing about them, except that they affected our evolution, and wanted to know when we go to the moon. That’s it. So what is the meat of the film? Just saying “Ah, it’s a Mystery” doesn’t quite cut it for me.

    In the genre, a lot of films are much better, IMO. Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 50s film), Them!, Solaris (Tarkovsky), Alien

    And the less said about the hokey pseudo-religious crap that was 2010, the better.

    /crabby old bastard

    *Duh, it’s Kubrick.
    **These are often presented as features, not bugs, but I’ve never seen a good explanation of this.

  12. springa73 says

    Oddly, as a kid I liked 2010, which is generally considered inferior, much better. (Not sure what Rob means about it being pseudo-religious?) Then again, that was quite a few years ago, if I watched both again I might have a different opinion.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    springa73 @13: Plot summary: Resurrected Bowman keeps saying “Something wonderful is going to happen“, and the ending is the Garden of Eden all over again, except with “stay out” instead of “get out”. And that’s really the whole story. Mystery!

  14. John Morales says


    So what is the meat of the film?

    The aliens encourage nascent intelligences and uplift them; as the apes were lifted, so are now men via the starchild. Next step after mere sapience.

  15. John Morales says

    PS redolent of Childhood’s End. Entertainment, but with mythopoeic elements. On the harder side of SF.

    (Tropes: lonely enlightened progenitor races, galactic gardeners; necessarily incorporates the concept of deep time. Definitely not in the grimdark spectrum.
    Also, Pratchett’s Dark Side of the Sun, which is not pabulum, and works as SF to boot)

    Also, I have read both the original and subsequent novelisations. And the commentary, ans noted by DonDueed above. FWTW.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @15: Right. Not much meat at all. And zero human interest. It’s all about Kubrick’s cinematic chops, which are admittedly formidable.

    In contrast, the recent miniseries based on Childhood’s End was actually an interesting story (better than the novel, IMO). You know, with relationships, motivations, etc involving humans and aliens.

  17. mnb0 says

    “with very few falling into the lukewarm category”
    I’m one of them. The first act is excellent (make sure to check the spoof in History of the World as well) but the rest okayish. There are many examples of story telling without dialogues that work much better, but granted, no one lasts as long as A Space Odyssey.

  18. Mano Singham says


    In the commentary, either Dullea or Lockwood said that Kubrick wanted to avoid showing the aliens, feeling that all such portrayals made the films inferior.

  19. tenine says

    I saw 2001 in the IMAX theater when it was briefly rereleased this past summer. I was surprised at how few were there. I could anyone not want to see 2001 in the theater? I was just as blown away as I was when I first saw it 50 years ago. It took my a bit aback that I have memories going back half a century. It may be part of the reason I went into anthropology.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano @19: Showing them really isn’t an issue for me. We know absolutely nothing about them or their motives. We are just lab rats in whatever experiment they are running.

    Contrast that with a truly compelling story like Solaris. In common with 2001, we have no idea about the real nature of the intelligence (if there is one), whether “it” is trying to communicate with us, or is just toying with us. So it is also a mystery, but it is one in which we are active participants, trying to engage, and make sense of the universe.

    The intelligence in 2001 is one that doesn’t engage, it simply dictates. And (in 2010) it ends with a “thou shalt not” from on high, with no explanation. Remind you of anyone?

  21. Mano Singham says


    I did see Solaris but it did not move me as much as 2001, which just shows that tastes differ!

  22. John Morales says


    We know absolutely nothing about them [the aliens] or their motives. We are just lab rats in whatever experiment they are running.

    Such self-refuting certitude! … and such insouciant lack of self-awareness!

    So, we simultaneously know absolutely nothing about them or their motives, and we know we are just lab rats in whatever experiment they are running. Gotcha.

    Anyway, informative that you dismiss the meatiness of some artistic work on the basis that there’s not enough character or plot stuff. I gather that because it’s about ideas, instead, it is rather insubstantial to you. But nice to know you appreciate the artistry, nonetheless.

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @23: Backatcha, I guess. If you’ve never known you were being manipulated without knowing why, or by whom, I congratulate you on your good fortune. Or your cluelessness.

    And immensely interesting what you consider “informative”, and “ideas”. There are no ideas in 2001. Just gosh-golly-no-idea-whats-happening-or-why.

  24. Mobius says

    I was about 13 when I first saw 2001. I hadn’t yet read the book and so the last part of the movie was “What the ****?” Visually impressive, but at the time seemed to dazzle without advancing the plot. After reading the book and re-watching the movie, it made some sense.

    I, personally, like 2010, but agree it is not the cinematic masterpiece 2001 is. Both though have good special effects, though 2001’s are especially impressive given the time it was made. And 2010 has character development, which is pretty much lacking in 2001.

    You said, “…dislike the other two…” What is the other movie? I don’t recall a third movie. There was a third (2061) and even a fourth (3001) book. I don’t recall much about 2061 other than I wasn’t very impressed by it, and don’t think I ever read 3001.

  25. Art says

    In the context of the times ‘2001’ was either a terrible betrayal or a trip through the looking glass.

    1967 had a whole lot of world rattling events including the ‘six day war’, Vietnam and culture shock in the US.
    In 1968 The opening of the months long process known as the Tet Offensive was in January and more protests and violence over Vietnam as the blood spilled out of the TV screens. Then the 2001 release was on April 3rd while MLK was assassinated on the 4th with massive protests following. For many their world was coming apart.

    People did what they always did. They went to the movies to get away. They wanted escapism. What they got was a profound commentary on modern life, progress, technology, the human condition and both what we can/can’t know. This was either am unwanted and unneeded lecture for the beleaguered or a breath of fresh air.

    Either way it was/is beautiful. The shuttle docking with the space station took our breaths away. The whole film was so beautifully framed and shot many scenes became iconic.

  26. eht--%/%--eht says

    ALLL directors are SPOOKs. Hollywood --is-- and always was INTEL directed and run.

    Kubrick’s work, from the early days, is in line and on page with INTEL’s ‘Men are Pigs’ project.

    ‘Men are Pigs’ kicked off in 1950 -- -- -year one of USURY’s fave creation across the Pacific
    — — -- RED CHINA.

    Further -- -in 2019, we can also look at just about ALLLL of Kubrick’s major work
    and recognize the ‘male’ casts read, and are surely meant to be read -- --as FTM.

    TAKE another LOOK -- -- -with what you NOW know.

    BEHOLD ! ! !

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