Epic? Or sci-fi snoozer? Memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey

As Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's unsettling space voyage turns 50, CNET editors look back at seeing the film for the first time.

CNET.com staff
5 min read
On the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey
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2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those rare movies you recognize even if you've never seen it. Fifty years of parodies and homages might dull the impact of some films, but 2001 remains as powerful, strange and compelling as ever.

To celebrate the half-century of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's seminal space saga, CNET editors share memories of the film.

Nicholas Tufnell (London): 

I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was very young. My father gave me his VHS copy of the film, which he'd taped off the television.

He promised me if I liked Silent Running (I did) I'd love this.

And for the first hour and 45 minutes, I was bored to tears. It wasn't until Bowman's psychedelic trip through the slit-scan Star Gate that I started to pay attention. I was instantly captivated by the sudden change of pace, the neoclassical room, Dave Bowman's rapid aging and the inexplicable Star Child.

This was undoubtedly the first time I realized films could be so much more than just entertainment -- they could be great works of art, layered with meaning, ambiguity and open to interpretation.

Gary Lockwood In '2001: A Space Odyssey'

Actor Gary Lockwood in a scene from the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Getty Images

Laura Hautala (San Francisco): 

As many younger siblings know, sometimes you get to see things before you're ready when you have a big brother or sister. 2001: A Space Odyssey was no exception. I was about 11 years old when my brother got the VHS tape as a gift from our grandpa, and I was game to try to watch it. Right away, the monolith scene threw me. I walked out of the room only to return for the movie's bizarre conclusion, and my brother couldn't enlighten me as to whether something in between the two scenes explained what I'd just watched.

I watched the movie again in high school and those strange bookends are still all I remember. I walked away with a brand new understanding that movies didn't have to hit you over the head with their meaning. They could be really strange, and they could prompt the adults around you to come up with competing theories about what The Point was.

The way the characters interacted with the technology in the movie showed a similar ambiguity. Both the apes and humans embraced the advances brought to their societies by monolith or artificial intelligence, but neither group could fully understand the technology's power. And the film might not explain why Dave ends up at the mercy of HAL ("I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" is one of the creepiest lines ever given to a computer), but it seems that lack of certainty about the future was probably the point all along.

Sarah McDermott (London): 

I turned down countless opportunities to watch A Space Odyssey on telly when I was growing up. What, that famously slow-moving epic? No thanks. I had a pile of Star Trek reruns to get through and I'd already seen all the best bits on "The Simpsons." A monolith makes friends with some monkeys, there's an evil AI called HAL and something something giant space baby. It probably all makes sense if you actually watch it.

But when the BFI re-released A Space Odyssey in 2014, I decided it was time to knock it off my list of Films I Really Do Intend To See One Day. And seeing it on the big screen seemed to be my best hope of offsetting my internet-damaged attention span and making it through the whole film. Big dark room, massive screen, no distractions from my phone. Do your worst, Kubrick.

And to my surprise, I was compelled and unsettled. The film was somehow exactly what I'd expected and nothing like I thought it would be. Yes, I saw the monolith and the evil AI and the giant space baby. But none of them came with the simple explanations I'd expected. I walked in with a lot of superficial certainties and walked out with nothing but questions.

One thing I know for certain? Going to the toilet is complicated in space.

Patricia Puentes (San Francisco): 

I saw it in college, as part of a class on the history of cinema. I didn't like it. I wasn't even impressed by its giant chronological ellipsis at the beginning of the movie and I will admit to being bored by the running time of two and a half hours.

That said, the 50th anniversary could be the perfect occasion to give it another chance. I might have grown as a viewer. And now that I've developed my own fraught relationship with HAL/Siri I might find a different appreciation for it...

2001: A Space Odyssey

The definitive evil computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Getty Images

Dan Dziedzic (Louisville, Kentucky):

The first time I watched 2001, I was in high school (late 1990s) and thought it was interesting, as I was just learning about Stanley Kubrick. The movie was futuristic and cool, but not necessarily one I could watch over and over again. I appreciated what it meant to sci-fi cinema history, though. 

What made the movie part of my go-to collection is really the end. In college (of course), someone told me that the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite scene (last 20 minutes or so of the film) synced up nicely with the song Echoes from Pink Floyd's Meddle album. They were practically the exact same amount of time, so I tested it out (using a DVD and CD). It was quite the experience. Pink Floyd must have written that song with 2001 in mind. I've watched it countless times since and recommend that everyone watch "Echoes Odyssey" at least once. It leaves you with a different feeling once the movie is over. I'm sure you can find it pre-synced up on YouTube (you can!). 

Mark Serrels (Sydney, Australia): 

I tried to watch this movie when I was 17 and I fell asleep because I'm a terrible person with terrible taste. I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. I'm an intellectual lightweight with no brains and my brain is stupid and...


Stephen Shankland (San Francisco): 

I'm happy to suspend disbelief for a good story, but 2001: A Space Odyssey will forever have my admiration for its willingness to embrace a bit of reality. Namely, that there's no sound in space.

Of course science-light productions like Star Trek and Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica are going to offer whooshing sounds as spaceships zoom past and pew-pew noises as lasers, phasers and photon torpedoes clash. But even supposedly "hard" sci-fi shows like SyFy's The Expanse can't resist chattering railguns and noisy fusion engines. In case you didn't get the memo, there's no air in space, which means there's no medium of molecules bumping into each other to transmit sound waves.

The silence that 2001's characters experience in space, though, is superbly handled. The utter quiet during Frank's death throes makes you realize just how hostile and alien a place space is. The return of sound as air fills the airlock during Dave's emergency return to the ship shows how precious our little bubbles of atmosphere are. I'm not sure I'd call it courage or artistry to banish sound effects for those space scenes in 2001, but the older I get, the more I appreciate it.

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