I was really excited by my chance to see this on the big screen (which I had never done)… until I realized in the middle of the afternoon that I was really tired and wasn’t going to have time to nap before the show. Now, normally this wouldn’t be a big deal because I can stay awake during a film if it’s good, but I’ve fallen asleep during 2001 more than any other movie, hands down. The first three times I tried to watch it, the long scene where the astronaut goes out to work on the satellite and all you hear is his slow rhythmic breathing felt like a Mexican stand off between Kubrick, the Sandman and me. I’ve since grown to really respect this film, but being sleepy going in felt like a risky move.
The one upside is that when I was a teenager I didn’t drink coffee, so now I would have a secret weapon in my corner. Unfortunately… the movie theater was sold out of coffee, and I’d wasted so much time in the concession stand line that I didn’t have time to go anywhere and get a coffee. Which meant that when I was watching the movie my concern was less “what is Kubrick trying to say?” as much as it was “why did this make me so sleepy when I was a teenager?”
The pacing of the movie is slow if you aren’t really ready for it. Typically, when someone enters in a movie, they just walk in the front door; sometimes you’ll see them park their car first, but they always find a spot directly in front of the building. 2001 is a lot more methodical than that – it gives you a sense of the practical processes of space travel. Whenever a ship docks with another ship there is a long scene of precise calculation as they try to maneuver two moving things to be exactly on course to meet each other.
The lack of shortcuts extends to the way Kubrick handles exposition. In most movies someone would find a way to tell someone else “we found a monolith on the moon”. Instead of doing that, we see a man go to the moon, then meet a team of moon-base workers, then go out to see what they’ve found. His decision to show rather than to tell means that the space mission to Jupiter doesn’t even start until the first hour of the movie is already over; the rest of that has been prologue.
As an adult, however, I can appreciate that approach because it makes the movie more grounded. It puts the science in science-fiction. I don’t know that I want every film to be as thorough as 2001 is, but watching it makes you amazed that it was made at all, since it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something set in space that was clearly intended exclusively for grown-ups. We just don’t make movies like this anymore, sadly, which makes the experience of seeing 2001 even more special.