Forum feature: 2001 – A Space Odyssey

Far beyond the stars.


Welcome to SciFiNow’s long-running feature that gives you the chance to vote for the greatest sci-fi film of all time. Every issue for the next ten months the industry’s best writers will campaign for their favourite film from a shortlist of ten, with our readers ultimately deciding which film deserves the accolade of Greatest Sci-Fi Film Of All Time.

Today, James Rundle argues the case for Fred M Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet.

It is 1968, and a crowd of movie stars, critics, and Hollywood elite are gathered in LA’s Pantages Theater. It was the culmination of four years of waiting for the most promising director in America to unveil his latest work. Stanley Kubrick had promised the world, “the proverbial good science-fiction movie”. For most people, that placed it in the company of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Fantastic Voyage. Let’s just say Kubrick’s film didn’t fit in with those expectations.

“Will someone tell me what this is all about,” cried Rock Hudson as he thundered down the aisle towards the door. He wasn’t alone. The walkouts were followed by a swathe of biting reviews, accusing the director of getting swept up in the technology, the process, and the effects, and neglecting to make an entertaining film. They were half right. 2001: A Space Odyssey couldn’t be accurately described as entertaining, but neglect had nothing to do with it. On the contrary, it is precisely what Stanley Kubrick intended.

We won’t dwell on the endlessly venerated moments: the jump cut from bone to orbiting satellite; HAL’s sinister rendition of Daisy Bell; Bowman’s psychedelic journey through the stargate; Strauss’s The Blue Danube and Thus Spake Zarathustra perfectly scoring the film’s most important scenes. Even the audience in 1968 could recognise these as flashes of brilliance, but the film’s technical daring distracted many from what had been accomplished.

The establishment believed it had spotted a master illusionist’s sleight of hand, and made damn sure everybody knew about it. In fact, the opposite was true: Kubrick wasn’t over-awed by technique; the audience was. 2001 was quite different to any film before it, and that unruly Pantages crowd was composed of the old guard. The entire world was changing, and the US film industry would soon be turned upside down by a new wave of filmmakers still high on the ideas that defined the youth culture of the Sixties. Stanley Kubrick was no flower child, but 2001 possessed that same iconoclastic spirit. It was the forerunner to what cinema would go on to become.