‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Is the Most Overrated Film of All Time
The Stanley Kubrick-directed science fiction classic turned 50 this year; it's a perfect time to point out how boring it actually is
After 50 years of influencing major filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar,” “The Dark Knight,” “Memento”) and James Cameron (“Avatar,” “Titanic,” “The Terminator”) and being endlessly dissected by movie buffs around the globe, one thing is clear about Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” — it’s an overrated mess.
There’s no arguing its popularity among many who consider themselves students and lovers of film. “2001” even made its way back to theaters this year and was released on 4K blu-ray high definition in honor of its 50th anniversary — it was originally released in 1968. Some of the showings were even a restored original version that “Dunkirk” and “Inception” director Christopher Nolan toured around the world.
It’s easy to spot now, watching the movie, how much of it has visually influenced modern works. You can find shots lifted almost directly from the movie into projects like Nolan’s “Interstellar” and Seth MacFarlane’s Fox television series “The Orville.”
With all of that being said, this is a mess of a flick and there’s so little to actually enjoy here.
Former Washington Post movie critic Stephen Hunter — one of only a handful in his profession to win a Pulitzer Prize for his criticism — was right when he said the movie was “crackpot Looney Tune, pretentious, abysmally slow, amateurishly acted and, above all, wrong” in a controversial 2001 review.
One of Hunter’s primary points when reviewing “2001” in 2001 was to point out that the movie’s predictions about space travel ended up being flat-out wrong. This seems redundant pointing out here since any casual viewer can see the difference between the actual world we live in and the one Kubrick predicted.
Beyond that point, Hunter shined a light on a lot of glaring flaws and completely boring sections of film contained in the so-called masterpiece that its obsessive and high-minded fans seem to gloss over when talking in depth about the movie.
“The monkey stuff is okay,” Hunter wrote, referring to a mind-boggling first third of film dedicated to people in bad ape costumes just simply doing what apes do until a mysterious monolith shows up and they lose their minds and evolve — or something like that, “if you buy the premise, which I don’t, and if you like seeing people in hair suits jump around going uck-uck and, yes, that wondrous moment when a million years of human history is summed up in the nanosecond transfiguration of a thrown bone into a spacecraft.”
The film’s middle section moves into space where stiff actors deal with some mysterious discovery on the moon and an artificial intelligence that is growing a bit dangerous. It’s the only section of the movie with any real tension, but it’s mostly still a drag thanks to a confusing story and not enough commitment on anyone’s part save for the production design team.
“The second stage of the story – in which stiffs who would never act professionally again pretend to deal with the emergency of the discovery of a new sentinel on the moon – is endlessly dreary, with its obsession for showing what were then spectacular special effects and today seem only cheesy,” Hunter wrote.
The critic and novelist continued, “Kubrick overdosed on people walking upside down, which isn’t that interesting after the first two steps. At least when Fred Astaire went upside down, he danced.”
The last section of the film is by far the most confusing and the one most studied by fans. It’s basically a whole bunch of random imagery as an astronaut we have spent almost no time with and know next to nothing about ages and discovers the meaning of life in the universe … or the beginnings of life …or something or other — it’s just nonsense and it’s hard not to be dozing off at that point anyway.
In what seems like the most stunning example of trolling in film history, the movie ends with (spoiler alert) a giant baby hurtling towards Earth.
“Evidently astronaut Dullea finds, beyond a Jovian moon, a stargate, by which he short-circuits the universe and discovers an unknowable and superior alien life form,” Hunter wrote. “So, er, Stanley, are you sure you want to stand on this one? The space beings, having listened to too much German music by too many composers who had themselves read too much Nietzsche, send him back to Earth, born again, as a planet-size embryo. What’s he going to do when he reaches 15th and K: drip amniotic fluid on everyone? If he’s that big, how’s he going to get into Morton’s?”
The reason Stephen Hunter’s review is so important to point out when discussing “2001” is because it is one of the few out there that dares to break free from the film critic pack and speak about this revered classic in an honest and down-the-middle way.
Throw a rock and you can find people talking about “2001” as if it were the secret map to the fountain of youth waiting to be unlocked. It’s much harder to find someone willing to take on the movie’s obvious flaws.
Stanley Kubrick was one of the most important filmmakers of all time. He gifted us with masterpieces like “The Shining” and “Dr. Strangelove,” but “2001” is his most ridiculous work. People seem to forgive so much in the movie because it’s got cool visuals and BIG IDEAS about, you know, life and the universe and stuff, man.
“2001” is just one of the many movies it feels like people praise and celebrate because they are told to.
This is the most overrated movie of all time. Its head-scratching giant baby final moments are just dumb and the rest of the film is near torturous to get through. And those monkey suits. Holy moly. We get that it was 1968, Stanley, but you couldn’t get your actors to look more convincing? You’d think they would have tried just a bit harder since it’s somehow the entire first act of this ridiculous movie.
Happy 50th anniversary, “2001.” You aren’t worth revisiting, but you have at least inspired some very cool filmmakers. That’s something.
Check out the trailer for “2001” below: