Going into this weekly film-challenge, I knew I wanted to catch some films on my list in an actual theater. So you can imagine how pleased I was when, last week, I was clicking through reddit and saw the poster announcing the 50th anniversary re-release of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (incidentally, reddit took a collective shit on the poster's design, but it got me in the theater, so ¯_(ツ)_/¯). I (correctly) assumed this was the PERFECT film to see in theaters (in 70mm film, no less!) and found it was screening just 10 minutes away from me. I moved my film schedule around, invited my sci-fi loving father, and bought tickets for a Saturday showing. But, in a moment of theater-operations bad luck, the screening was cancelled 15 minutes after its scheduled start due to technical difficulties with the audio system. How weird!
The theater compensated us and sure enough I was back the following day, this time with my wife (who knew the film wasn't her cup of tea, but felt bad for me or something). By the time the overture began, I was overcome with excitement and anxiety. It’s a weird thing to describe, but more than most films on this year’s list, I felt it was somehow important that I liked this one.
It is strange to be such a fan and consumer of science fiction and yet go into this film relatively blind; it’s as if I’ve experienced the whole genre backwards. I kept seeing scenes, sequences, and edits that were tremendously familiar to me. It felt like a love-letter to sci-fi, featuring nods to everything from Star Wars to Wall·E, except, I had to keep reminding myself that this film came first! Everything I knew paid homage to this, most significantly (to me) being Interstellar, which seemed to borrow from the entire narrative.
If Interstellar is something of “exposition the movie” (not a full slight; I do love Interstellar), “2001” is the opposite. By design, it is enormously non-verbal and expanse, leading to moments of torturous slowness. I found myself tolerating dull scenes under the auspices of promised genius, which I found in moments: I enjoyed the humor and beauty of the docking sequence and the eerie captivation of the lunar dig-site. HAL’s murderous mutiny and Dave’s desperate dismantling (forgive the unnecessary alliteration) was incredibly calculated, tense, and emotional.
I concluded the screening very much intrigued, but undecided on the film. After assuming I had a grasp on some of the film’s early symbols, and enjoying the tangibility of the second act(s), my interpretation of the film fell apart by the end. My wife and I turned to each other with a collective “WTF” and left the theater in silence, daring not offend the film buffs around us. Despite struggling with this ending, the film sat on my mind and I spent portions of the afternoon digging through Wikipedia, tribute articles, forums, and vlogs looking for interpretation. I found proposed answers to be cathartic, insightful, and somewhat ironic.
At the end of the day, I think I could safely say that I liked the film—but I didn’t love it. I appreciate all of its influence. I am awestruck by its visuals (+ music choice). And I am impressed by the audacity of its scope. I know I want to watch it again but I am in no hurry to get to another viewing. I appreciate the film like a tourist in the Louvre, or young man sipping his first glass of Scotch—I recognize there’s complexity there that I'm probably not seeing. Complexity provides layers to explore and details to love but it can also veil defects and alienate. But for whatever distaste I had for moments that were slow or intellectually opaque, there was plenty of leftover brilliance to go around. And for that, I liked this film after all.