Why 2001: A Space Odyssey is NOT the best sci-fi movie ever

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) GARY LOCKWOOD TTO 016FOH

Time Out magazine has voted on its choices for the Top 100 Science Fiction Films of All Time. It is a fine list chosen by a distinguished panel with most if not all of the best movies from the genre from Star Wars, Blade Runner and Matrix to Planet of the Apes, Gravity and Starship Troopers recognised and included. For me, however, it contains one gaping flaw: 2001: A Space Odyssey is at the top.
My criticism here may not be popular, I appreciate. Many of us have fond memories of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic. Who could forget the awesome power of the opening Abach Spach Zarathustra music (altogether now: “Dur…dur..dur…DUR DUR!”)? Or the amazing moment when the prehistoric man throws a stray animal bone into the air only for it to be replaced by a 21st century space craft in the very next shot? Or the chilling sequence in which the homicidal dysfunctional ship’s computer HAL is slowly dismantled, his mind active throughout (“Dave? Dave? What are you doing Dave?”) horrifically aware of what’s happening to him.
Great moments, yes. Indeed, I am in danger of talking myself out of the entire argument. But great moments alone do not make a great film. The fact is that taken in its entirety, 2001: A Space Odyssey is often a colossal bore.
Disagree? I suggest you watch it again before condemning me too harshly. Have you ever watched it more than once? I doubt it. It is frankly a must see, a film everyone should see once. But it is undoubtedly very hard work. And I would defy anyone not to be bored while watching it.
The prehistoric bit at the start is, for one thing, mostly quite silly. It is easy to forget that these silly men jumping around in ape costumes appeared a full year after the original and somehow more convincing simians of Planet of the Apes. The special effects are still good during the spaceship sequences, yes. But this was an age when special effects were still relentlessly shown off, taking centre stage rather than being incorporated seamlessly into the background. There are, after all, only so many minutes of spaceships moving along to classical music that most viewers can take.
And the end. If you didn’t understand the end, don’t worry! Nobody else does either. It’s a load of Sixties psychedelic bollocks. You would have to be stoned to think you understood it. And, in 1968, many viewers were.
Perhaps I am a man of lowbrow tastes but surely the primary concern of cinema is to be entertaining? And 2001 while often awe inspiring falls down when compared to Blade Runner, Aliens or Star Wars, on these grounds alone. It is impossible to be entertained when for most of the film you are bored.
Should 2001: A Space Odyssey be on this list of the 100 greatest science fiction films? Undoubtedly. Should it be at the top? Definitely not.

Advertisements

The Gandalf Factor

Image

It isn’t just The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. No science fiction or fantasy saga is complete without a wise old bearded God-like figure often played by a theatrical knight who occasionally fights, usually dies but like E.T himself (or the MP John Stonehouse) comes back later.

Spoiler alert but you really should keep up you know. John Stonehouse came back ages ago (look it up)…

Name: Gandalf

First appeared: 1937 (in print in The Hobbit), 2001 (on screen).

Does he die? Yes. Gandalf the Grey falls down the crack thanks to the big fiery Balrog thing in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Does he come back? Yes. As Gandalf the White in The Two Towers.

Who played him? SIR Ian McKellen

Fun to play? McKellen seems to have enjoyed it and apart from the “insane laughter” scene in Frodo’s bedroom in the third film has done a great job of it.

Is he Jesus/God?: No. JRR Tolkien was keen to emphasise the books were not supposed to be allegorical.

Name: Obi Wan Kenobi/Old Ben Kenobi

First appeared: 1977 Star Wars, later rechristened Episode IV:  A New Hope

Does he die? Yes. Darth Vader turns him into a dressing gown towards the end of the first (or fourth) film.

Does he come back? Only as a badly animated and well paid ghost. Bet Marlon Brando wished he’d thought of that for the Superman sequels? Although he’d have been too fat anyway.

Who played him? SIR Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor as the younger sometimes unbearded Obi Wan in the inferior prequels.

Fun to play? Not at all. “…new rubbish dialogue reaches me every day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable,” Guinness complained. He also resented being nicknamed “Mother Superior” by a young Harrison Ford. Understandably. Sir Alec made a small fortune, however, having claimed a 2 ½ % share of the profits on the three films although thanks to the exorbitant tax rates in the 1970s, not as much as is commonly thought. MacGregor’s complaints about filming against blue screen, meanwhile, were amongst the first bits of negative publicity to break around The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Is he Jesus/God?: Perhaps. But then, a similar case could be made for Han Solo. And Harrison Ford was a carpenter. See? It all makes sense.

Name: Albus Dumbledore

First appeared: (in print) 1997 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and on screen in the 2001 film.

In the US this was called Harry Potter Can’t Believe Americans Don’t Know What A Philosopher Is and Apparently Think A Sorcerer is Basically the Same Thing.

Does he die? Yes. Snape (Alan Rickman) chucks him off Hogwarts at the end of the penultimate volume The Half Blood Prince. In the film, his death is reminiscent of Alan Rickman’s own character’s death in Die Hard. Except Bruce Willis wasn’t involved.

Does he come back? Only in a dream sequence.

Who played him? Richard Harris until his death after the second film. Succeeded by SIR Michael Gambon thereafter.

Fun to play? Ignoring the fact the Irish Harris didn’t actually have an Irish accent when playing Dumbledore (who isn’t, as far as we know, supposed to be Irish), the usually excellent Gambon for some reason initially put on a somewhat half arsed Irish accent when he took on the role. Happily, this soon went and he was great from then on.

Is he God/Jesus?: Probably not, although like Jesus he is gay. JOKE. No, in reality, Dumbledore was not really gay.

Nearly there but not quite:

Aslan in the Narnia books: He does die, come back, is wise, bigoted, bearded and is very clearly supposed to be God. He is not a man though. HE IS A LION.

Jaga (from Thundercats): Wise counsel to feline Skywalker-type Lion-o, Jaga dispenses important nuggets of wisdom such as encouraging him to enter his litter tray regularly but dies en route from the Thundercats’ home planet of Thundera to Third Earth. He does come back as a ghost though and fits the bill very well. However, he is rather transparently (literally) “heavily influenced” by the character of Obi Wan Kenobi. Unlike everyone else Jaga isn’t feline at all. This isn’t explained.

His Dark Materials: A big fantasy saga, yes but with NO bearded wise God-like grandfather figure. Perhaps reflecting the atheistic nature of the plot.

Optimus Prime: A robot, yes. But he was wise and dies (in 1986’s Transformers The Movie) and later comes back. He may die in the new films too. Who knows? I was asleep.