Although this list of favorite sci-fi films is not in any sort of order, the fact that this was the first film to pop into my head says something. I’m not entirely sure what though. I love 2001, but mostly for the technical aspects and the manner of the story telling. It is a film that has always left me a little cold. It’s an emotionally flat film. The characters are hard to identify with emotionally. Maybe that is intentional. Kubrick was not a wildly emotional filmmaker. The most emotional scene is when Dave shuts HAL down. It feels like he’s taken the family dog out back and shot it for being rabid.
On the other hand, the film is one of the most intellectually stimulating sci-fi films ever made. It is a very original take on the “First Contact” storyline. It’s a contact that isn’t even quantifiable in human terms. We never see the aliens, never hear any words of communication. They are so vastly beyond our level of evolution as to be beyond normal rational thought – almost transcendent in nature.
I remember the first time I saw the film was when I was about fifteen. I had read the novel and somehow managed to convince my mother and 10 year old brother to watch it. Needless to say, they didn’t quite get it. I must confess, I doubt I would have really been able to follow the story if I hadn’t read the novel first. It is like the anti-Star Wars, which was my main frame of reference for sci-fi films at the point in life. Fortunately, my wife had a much better response when we watched it with me some 25 years later after my first viewing.
Technically the film is a marvel. Clarke and Kubrick’s script plays out like some dry cosmic puzzle, but the direction and ground breaking special effects keep me engaged at every moment not matter how many times I see the film. Kubrick spent years making the film, even teaching himself how to accomplish optical special effects himself. There is a great book about the making of the film called 2001: Filming The Future.
The first image that always pops into my mind when thinking of the film is the scene of the space ship docking at the space station. It holds so much promise for the future of humans in space that I get excited just thinking about it. Too bad it’s unlikely to be a reality until more like 2101.