Happy 45th Anniversary, 2001: A Space Odyssey!

Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface, near the crater Tycho. Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose still a total mystery.

Hey! It’s time to salute 1968’s other enduring classic science fiction movie. You know…the one without the talking apes. It’s perhaps one of the most discussed, debated, analyzed, respected, reviled, misunderstood and even frustrating films ever committed to celluloid, made all the more fascinating by the fact that its director basically told all of us, “Have fun figuring out this shit, kids. I’m out.”

Is there really anybody who’s not at least familiar with 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s basic plot? In a nutshell, there’s some mysterious uber-peeps way out on Jupiter, who may well have muddled about here on Earth way back in the Good Old days, influencing the development of early humanity. These same peeps bury a benign booby trap of sorts on the Moon, and our finding and digging it up trips a switch that fires off a message back to Jupiter that–more or less–says, “The children are out of their crib and are snooping around.” We send a spaceship and some astronauts out to Jupiter to see what’s what, and…well…let’s just say things get weird from there, and that’s before the ship’s computer, HAL, loses its shit.

The film has been the subject and target of much scrutiny pretty much since the moment of its release. Countless theories abound as to its message(s) and meaning(s), and opinions are about as wide-ranging as the selections of beef jerky at a truck stop. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, 2001 has its genesis in a couple of short stories written by Arthur C. Clarke, most notably “The Sentinel.” Clarke and Kubrick developed the story behind the film, and Clarke also penned a novel which was released later in 1968. The novel does much to fill in some of the blanks Kubrick deliberately left in the movie, though it diverges from its onscreen sibling on one major point: in the book, the spaceship Discovery is sent to Saturn, rather than Jupiter. Saturn was the movie’s original destination, as well, but was changed when it became evident that special effects footage of the ringed planet would not measure up to the rest of the film’s opticals. The practical and visual effects–many of them employing techniques developed for 2001–still stand toe to toe with more recent and lavishly-budgeted FX-heavy films. Speaking of the production side of things, there are numerous books, magazine articles and essays, and documentaries devoted to that effort. If you can find them, I recommend these:

The Lost Worlds of 2001, by Arthur C. Clarke
The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, by Jerome Agel
2001: Filming the Future, by Piers Bizony

Clarke would revisit the setting he created with Kubrick with three more novels: 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), 2061: Odyssey Three (1987), and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). The first sequel, of course, was the basis for the 1984 film 2010, which actually works better on its own when/if you can set aside the fact that it’s supposed to be a follow-up to “the greatest science fiction film ever made.”


To this day, 2001 continues to inspire, befuddle, and annoy viewers and critics, which is pretty much the most you ever can ask of any story. If you’ve not seen it, then you owe it to yourself to give it a spin. Same goes for Clarke’s novel; it’s definitely worth the read.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

11 thoughts on “Happy 45th Anniversary, 2001: A Space Odyssey!

  1. People really hate this flick…but I still love it. And I actually agree with its status as “the greatest science fiction film ever made.” The Blu-ray edition looks nothing short of stunning, and is the gold standard for how older films should be remastered.


    1. I love it, myself, and I even like 2010, though it’s obviously a very different kind of film. I haven’t upgraded to BD on this one, but I’m thinking I need to correct that. Today. 🙂


  2. Oh, how I love this movie. Years ago when I finally got a DVD player this was the first movie I bought. I love how it tells the story almost purely through the imagery. Most of the dialogue (what little there is) is incidental, even irrelevant, to the larger story of the alien influence on human evolution through the monolith. You could watch it with the sound off and follow the story, but then you’d be robbed of the perfect marriage of music and motion that Kubrick achieved. Did I mention I love this movie?

    Now prepare to salivate and start saving money. Sometime late this year Piers is putting out an updated, expanded, holy shite fancypants edition of Filming the Future. It’s being published by Taschen, so I just hope I can afford a copy, because I really NEED this book. It’s going to be loaded with rare photos from the Kubrick Estate and Archives. You can read a bit about it in this interview with Piers : http://www.bis-space.com/2012/05/18/4747/odyssey-micro-interview-piers-bizony Did I mention I LOVE this movie?

    Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do . . .


  3. Try Leonard Wheat’s online essays,”Misconceptions about 2001” & ”Fresh insights into 2001”,if you don’t buy his 2000 book,”Kubrick’s 2001; A Triple Allegory”,showing how all events and characters come from Homer’s Odyssey& Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra”-which also opens at dawn,its hero having an interrupted last supper!


  4. Well.I managed to get Bizony’s MASSIVE slip-cased set of books,including earlier version of novel,some of which is in Clarke’s 1970 book,Lost Worlds of 2001.Taschen were sold out! there are dozens of hi-res publicity shots never seen before.Re Wheat’s ideas,he sees 2001 as an atheistic work,ie HAL=Nietszche’s idea of man creating God in his own image,”beyond the infinite”=beyond God,vis-a-vis ”The 2001 Principle”(online)which argues 2001 PROVES God’s existence!


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