2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Exasperating Masterpiece

Posting this mostly to prove that I can remain rational even when I encounter criticism of classic Star Trek, which certainly had its silly moments, but which offered many, many serious adult treatments of social issues. If you like your science fiction overlong and overserious, may I recommend Star Trek: The Motion Picture? 2001 is a completely different genre of science fiction. The docking waltz sequence is still striking and the centrifuge jogging sequence is still otherworldly, in a way that “sitting in the captain’s chair and having diplomatic and philosophical conversations via the forward viewscreen” — which was new 50 years ago — seems dated.

As awe-inspiring as 2001 is in its own terms, it’s only when you measure it against its peers that you can appreciate how much Kubrick achieved. Space-travel TV series such as Lost in Space and Star Trek, and films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and Planet of the Apes, occasionally dabbled in weighty themes (The Day the Earth Stood Still is a Christ allegory). But in form these shows were schlock, bedeviled by shoddy visual effects, corny sets, silly costumes, and stiff acting. All of this stamped the sci-fi genre as essentially juvenile and unserious. Kubrick’s determination to create a plausible documentary-tinged simulacrum of space exploration — the only Oscar he ever won was for the visual effects he helped create for the film — was the predicate for the film’s thematic depth. The word “breakthrough” feels insufficient. 2001 was more of a leap — as if from the stagecoach to the Tesla. —National Review

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