Kubrick: “2001” at 2001

As year ends, a look back at Kubrick’s “2001”



“Mind-blowing.” “Visionary.” “Blasphemous.” “The ultimate acid trip.” “Sci-fi elevated to high art.” “Boring and pretentious — like watching paint dry.”

Yes, everyone — from critics to theologians — had an opinion about Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” when it premiered in April, 1968. That debate has been rekindled now that the calendar has caught up to Kubrick and his sci-fi epic is enjoying big-screen revivals.

The 1968 Kubrick-Arthur C. Clarke collaboration — known for, among other things, its sensuous deep-space waltzes and rebellious HAL 9000 computer — is one of those either/or experiences: Some people worship it, find it exhilarating, transporting, a deeply religious experience. Others loathe it, as much for its mystifying imagery (what’s with those recurring black slabs?) as for its deliberate pacing and hallucinogenic ride through Jupiter’s Stargate.Dullea

Where were you when you first saw this landmark movie. And what was your immediate reaction? We put these questions to a handful of entertainment luminaries:

• Ray Bradbury, 81, author of “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451”: “I saw it on the MGM back lot, when it ran 45 minutes longer. I saw it with cartoonist Chuck Jones and Clarke, who had flown in from Sri Lanka. It broke new ground; it came at a time when nobody was paying attention to fantasy or science-fiction films. Even with all its flaws, ‘2001’ was the first film to fling us into space and exhilarate us with the music of the two Strausses. Like teen-agers back then, I wanted to head to the nearest bar, drink six beers and try to figure out what it was about. It’s a six-beer film.”

• John Carpenter, 52, director of “Starman” and “The Thing”: “I saw it in a theater in Nashville, Tenn. My reaction? Pure amazement!”

• Guillermo del Toro, 37, director of “Cronos” and “Mimic”: “I saw it with my uncle in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was blown away by it. My uncle asked me what I thought the monoliths meant, and I said, ‘Evolution.’”

• Peter Fonda, 62, star-producer of “Easy Rider”: “I’m a freak for science fiction. I saw it in a theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I went with David Crosby and Thomas McGuane. We were absolutely straight. But Crosby did say, ‘Hey, we ought to see this again after a joint.’ I was totally involved until HAL, then I was mystified in the best of ways when the baby comes back toward Earth, in a little bubble.”

• Charlton Heston, 77, star of “Planet of the Apes” and “The Omega Man”: “I only saw it once, when it came out. I thought it was very good. I could have done it; it’s the kind of part I could have played. It’s obviously a major film. Was it a religious experience? Ah, no, not like ‘The 10 Commandments’ or ‘Ben-Hur.’”

• Philip Kaufman, 65, director “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Right Stuff”: “My wife, son and I saw it when it opened on Hollywood Boulevard. It was packed and we were up in the balcony. I remember being awed by it. It set my mind to wandering. It wasn’t just a thriller about bad guys coming from outer space. It had an adult sense of mystery. It was a landmark in that way. I remember when George Lucas was preparing ‘Star Wars,’ he couldn’t stop talking about ‘2001.’ It was really the film that inspired him.”

• Steve Kloves, 41, screenwriter “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”: “I remember exactly when I saw it: at the Century Theaters, San Jose, when I was 8 years old. I remember being slightly disturbed by it, slightly frightened by it, but also oddly compelled by it. I liked the feeling. It was oddly transporting, even for a young boy.”

• Steven Lisberger, 50, director-writer “TRON”: “I saw it in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and then I went back and saw it another six times in a period of two weeks. I kept grabbing friends to experience it with me. I was blown away. It was beyond anything anyone else was doing in film. It was, in a sense, the original space opera: It seemed like the galaxy was orchestrated by Strauss.”

• David Peoples, 61, co-screenwriter : “Blade Runner” and “12 Monkeys”: “I think I was in Vancouver. I know it was on a big screen. I was kind of confused. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It didn’t really engage me, but it was impressive-looking. I’ve always meant to look at it again because it’s not a movie I really understand.”

• Frank Robinson, 76, author of “The Power” and Hugo Award-winning “Science Fiction of the 20th Century”: “I saw it in Los Angeles on a very wide screen. I was overawed, knocked out of my shoes. It was totally unique. It had no plot. The apes all seemed very real to me. But what really got me was when the ape throws the bone into the air and it turns into the spaceship going to the space station. I was moving in a hippie community at the time and there were endless discussions about what the hell the light-show ending meant. It was totally unique. It had no plot!”

• John Waters, 55, director “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester”: “I never saw it.”

Published: Friday, December 21, 2001

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