Everyone knows that 2001: A Space Odyssey
is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. However, I don't think people are able to articulate why
, me included. The plot is not particularly complex. The characters, with the obvious exception of the HAL 9000 supercomputer, aren't anything to write home about. The film is glacially paced, with some scenes serving no purpose but to waste time; the board meeting establishes nothing new and gives barely any characterization to the people present. Yes, the special effects are amazing, but as any science fiction purist can tell you, "special effects can't make a film". Apparently, the long scene of a ship docking into a space station with no importance beyond eye-candy doesn't count.
Yet despite these flaws, when 2001
works, it works
. I believe the incredible special effects immerse the viewer; there is no tongue-in-cheek feeling of fakeness in 2001
, and it all feels very real. The pacing, when it is not just showing off special effects, can allow for some of the most tense atmospheric buildup in movie history; the scene where the men approach the Monolith on the Moon is more terrifying than any horror movie I've watched. It is no wonder, then, that the chapter on the Jupiter expedition ship is the most famous out of all the movie's sections. It has the incredible special effects, the atmospheric buildup, and the setup of the previous scenes, yet it adds one key element: An interesting character.
HAL is brilliant. It's very hard to describe why it works so well; maybe it's the machine's unrelenting pride, a flaw that we all can sometimes face. Maybe it's the character's desperation as we see this all-powerful supercomputer reduced to pleading for its life. Maybe it's the way that HAL is so blunt and methodical, killing the hibernating explorers with the ease of swatting a gnat.
That is why I love the film. For all its flaws, the creators had a vision, and they were going to make it happen. And when this film does reach its vision, up until the unfortunately obtuse final chapter, it works perfectly.
"Yeah. I'd like to hear it Hal. Sing it for me."