It was not only a great experience and everything you might imagine, it was DOUBLY so.
Because until that day (the sixties, last century) science fiction movies, with few exceptions, were sorry jokes.
C-grade actors running around in silver diving suits inside what looked like old navy ships, shooting rifles and revolvers painted silver with what seemed like little cardboard fluting on the barrels (like I had at home in my toy box… hang on, mine’s missing!), and sad models of improbable space ships exploding in large puffs of white flour with a little gun powder, before the string caught alight and they fell to the staging floor.
My previous great moment in sci-fi movies was around 1956 (yes, I’m that old and still alive to tell) when, as a wide-eyed young boy, I was ‘blown away’ by the incredible silver screen magic of “Killer Girl from Mars.” Throsby was screaming his little tits off. Blown-away, as in an eight y/o kid seeing a really weird movie about something called ‘science fiction’ that he’d never heard of, or seen (like, what’s Mars?). The film itself was atrocious, but not so for the era – something like the movies made by Johnny Depp’s character ‘Ed Wood’ in that film of the same name.
Anyway, back in ’68 in the world of science-fiction fans, with their hunger for good sci-fi and the realization it didn’t exist in Hollywood, the appearance of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey had the same impact that Jesus’ second arrival on Earth would have in Utah, USA, or the discovery of a REAL asteroid plummeting directly at New York would have in the U.S. media.
As in 159 minutes of scraping my jaw off the Royal Theatre’s plush carpeted floor. Nearly three hours of an unfolding cinematic marvel directed – like all his work – at Kubrick’s imperturbable pace.
The Royal Theatre (now somewhat ironically an evangelical venue with a standing box-office invite for Jesus) was in a provincial city in Australia, and the city-dwellers were as parochial as you get. So those who didn’t leave in disgust when their 80-minute attention spans were exhausted were seen shuffling out during the credits shaking heads and muttering disapprovals in confusion.
Kubrick wouldn’t have been upset by such an audience reaction; he had already encountered it with the studio moguls.
Lapping it up, however, what did I care what the droogs and moorlocks thought?
I was already primed, having reading Clarke’s sci-fi novels for years (and today still recalling them the most crisply and acutely scientific of fiction) while dreaming of a film as good as the stories that played in imagination whilst reading.
Suddenly, from nowhere, that movie’s arrival stamped on the world that science fiction was to be taken seriously from now on. As was science. In fact, from that day all other fiction was now merely ‘fiction.’
What went through my mind as 2001 unfolded (again, from absolutely ‘out of left field’)? Not much, which is pretty much me.
I remember thinking the space modeling was totally perfect. Watching it again, over the decades, and again this year, still reveals nothing to change my mind. Maybe it’s too clear, unlike the once poor images we got from space in those days on the news. Remembering what terrible portrayals of space preceded it, those scenes will always be perfect (forget the ’27 mistakes’).
The idea of a sentient computer called ‘HAL’ was so new, so futuristic, so ‘AI’ – whatever AI was in 1968 in our dim grasp of computer science. The human vs HAL battle of wits, and consequent shutting down of HAL was so stunningly ingenious and tense, still a half century later, hairs on the neck raise when recalled.
The apes and that monolith. Ok, guys in suits – but really really well done. Oh, that’s when their brains turned nasty like humans. Gee, it’s a bit slow. Then the airborne bone rotates into a space ship and I know the treat has begun.
What seems interminably boring to average viewers today should be seen in context as the first film of its type, the first to be done faithful to a concept – perfect first attempt at bringing space to Earth.
Roasting magnificent ideas slowly over Kubrick and Clarke’s huge intellects, 2001 represents a leisurely privilege of entertainment’s past.