April 2, 1968. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released to a polarizing critical response. Roger Ebert, widely regarded as one of the greatest film critics of all time, immediately took a liking to the movie, which in Roger Ebert’s Journal, he described as “a beautiful parable about the nature of man.” Ebert would later regard it to be one of his favorite films of all time. Pauline Kael, another widely revered film critic, on the other hand, couldn’t stand the film and went as far to describe it as “a monumentally unimaginative movie.”
Time has been much kinder to Kubrick’s eighth feature film, which is now widely regarded as Kubrick’s magnum opus. In 2018, it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those rare films that has an axiomatic influence on its genre several years after its release. An array of science fiction films released since 1968 — Alien, Blade Runner, WALL-E, Interstellar, Ex Machina, and countless others — are all endowed to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is also a favorite film for several established filmmakers and actors around the globe, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Leonardo DiCaprio, amongst several others.
Imitated (and parodied) frequently over fifty years, the film’s greatest achievement, in my eyes, isn’t its unceasing influence on popular culture but the emotional response it still manages to evoke.
2001: A Space Odyssey hasn’t just had an influence on the film industry. Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects supervisor of the film, confessed that he meets “scientists, engineer, and astrophysicists almost every week who say they went into their line of work because they watched the film when they were young.” He further stated that “it has profoundly affected that community to believe that certain things were going to be real and possible and spectacular.” In 2001, NASA launched a robotic spacecraft to orbit Mars and named it 2001 Mars Odyssey to pay tribute to the film. 2001 influenced David Bowie’s Space Oddity, his first single to chart in the United Kingdom.
The best way I could describe [the experience] is that, for the entirety of my life, I’ve been 150% sure that I was born just for the movies. Seeing 2001 in IMAX made me 250% sure of my passion for film.
Imitated and parodied widely for fifty years, its greatest achievement, in my eyes, isn’t its unceasing influence on popular culture, but the emotional response it still manages to evoke. I had the great privilege of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey recently in IMAX (it was screened for a week in one IMAX theatre in Singapore in honor of its fiftieth anniversary) and I’m not hyperbolizing when I say the experience was not just the best I have ever had at a movie theatre, but amongst the best experiences of my life thus far. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a fan of 2001 when I first saw it. Though I have a strong resistance to slow-paced films, 2001 bored me and ultimately left me cold. I would liken the experience of first seeing 2001 to having medicine — though necessary, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. This, however, was hardly the case the second time around in IMAX. Though a fifty-year-old film, its technical achievements hold up magnificently today. In spite of the colossal advancements in computer-generated imagery and the plethora of films that have utilized them since ‘68, the immensity of the film’s hypnotic setpieces remain unparalleled and inspire the same awe today as they did fifty years ago.
Words cannot begin to explain the surplus of emotion that hit me like a freight train throughout the film, especially in the film’s psychedelic Star-Gate ending. It’s an emotion unto itself, one I’ve never quite experienced ever before. The best way I could describe it is that, for the entirety of my life, I’ve been 150% sure that I was born just for the movies. Seeing 2001 in IMAX made me 250% sure of my passion for film. As a budding filmmaker, if I am able to provide a filmgoer even half of the gargantuan experience 2001 offers, that would be a job well-done.
To quote George Lucas, “Stanley Kubrick made the ultimate science fiction movie. It is going to be very hard for someone to come along and make a better movie, as far as I’m concerned.” I agree with Lucas, except I’m firm in my belief that topping 2001: A Space Odyssey is hardly a wild goose chase, but an impossible task.