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‘I’m sorry, Stanley.’ Critics missed on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

An astronaut looks at his reflection in a camera in a scene from the film '2001: A Space Odyssey', 1968.  (Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)
An astronaut looks at his reflection in a camera in a scene from the film '2001: A Space Odyssey', 1968. (Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)
By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes when art is ahead of its time, there is misunderstanding.

Queue up “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Somehow many critics failed to grasp when the adventurous film was released 55-years ago.

New York Times film critic Renata Adler panned Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork. “(The movie was) so completely absorbed in its own problems – its use of colour and space, its fanatical devotion to science-fiction detail – that it’s somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring.”

Adler loathed what most contemporary film fans loved. But she was not alone.

“A small sphere of intellectuals will feel that Kubrick has said something simply because one expected him to say something,” wrote New York Daily News critic Kathleen Carroll. “Most moviegoers will only wish that Mr. Kubrick would come back down to earth.”

Ouch. The New Republic’s Stanley Kaufmann wasn’t interested in space travel. “ (Kubrick’s) film has one special effect, which certainly he did not intend. He has clarified for me why I dislike the idea of space exploration.

“The interior of Kubrick’s spaceship is not greatly different from that of a jetliner, but at least planes go from one human environment to another. No argument that I have read for the existence of life elsewhere has maintained that other planets would be suitable for men.”

Kubrick paid attention to reviews and detailed his disgust to the New York Times in 1976.

“The reviews that distinguish most critics, unfortunately, are those slambang pans, which are easy to write and fun to write and are absolutely useless,” Kubrick said. “To see a film once and write a review is an absurdity.”

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for critics to misjudge extraordinary talent during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath’s debut albums were savaged by a number of arbiters of taste.

Both bands are among the most seminal in rock history. The same goes for Kubrick’s “2001” in the world of cinema. A number of films were certainly influenced by Kubrick’s groundbreaking work.

1997’s “Contact” is about a scientist, a fine performance by Jodie Foster, who believes there is life beyond Earth and she connects with extraterrestrials.

The most intelligent form of life details how to build a transportation device, which propels Foster forward in a search for a civilization beyond earth.

“Interstellar,” which was released in 2014, is an adventurous and optimistic film that was clearly impacted by “2001.” “Interstellar” is a compelling work fueled by curiosity and bravado.

2016’s “Arrival” finds extra-terrestrials landing on Earth. Much like “2001,” there is no resolution and refreshingly a lack of a Hollywood ending.

2000’s “Mission to Mars” is reminiscent of “2001” since the extraterrestrials are not the bad guys. Most films about intelligent life coming to Earth are about conquering our world. “Mission to Mars” is clever and surprising.

There’s a debt owed to Kubrick, who has had the last laugh. “2001” ranks 47th on the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest films list. AFI named “2001” as the greatest science-fiction film of all time.

The unwashed masses love the movie as well as it received a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The debate that remains is whether “2001” is greater than Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining” or “Full Metal Jacket?”

Kubrick, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 70, was a visual artist and brilliant director. The New York native, who was a huge Yankees fan, even though he spent much of his life in England, knocked it out of the park with “2001.” It’s nearly impossible to debate otherwise, especially after glancing at those early reviews, which were so off the mark.

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