Jack Beltane's Reviews > 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 by Arthur C. Clarke
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's review
Mar 23, 2008

it was amazing
Read in March, 2008

The book is always better than the film, but I'd never read 2001 before. What I didn't know, until reading the foreword, is that this novel was literally written in tandem with the film, with Clarke and Kubrick feeding each other ideas. At some points, however, filming overtook writing, or vice versa, and the two stories, though similar, split along two different paths.

After reading the book, the film becomes little more than a very well crafted container: It's pretty and neat to look at it, but open it up, and it's empty. There is none of Clarke's vision of how a being we'd call God would communicate with us across unfathomable time spans, or teach us, or lead us into higher consciousness. Stripped away by Kubrick is the sense that this being truly wants us to be in its image, and that the whole breadcrumb trail of monoliths was designed to do just that. And completely erased is the notion that David Bowman, as Star Child, is now one with the Universe, in some Zen-like way, and also much more like something we'd called a god.

Don't get me wrong, 2001 is still one of my favorite films, but to get the full meaning and understand the full weight of why 2001 has been called "the perfect science fiction story," you must read the book. Clarke marries science, mysticism, theory, and fantasy in ways like no other. Unfortunately, Kubrick stripped away the mysticism and theory and left us what is, in comparison to the book, only a glimmer at something bigger.

Kubrick touched the monolith, but Clarke went inside.
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Comments (showing 1-14)

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message 14: by Mal (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mal Gormley Spot-on review, Jack. I couldn't have said it better.

Magdalena (Maggie) Nightingale I'm glad this is better than the movie. While it was pretty deep and had a good plotline, there was something about the movie that just bored me to tears, confused me, and made me want to press the fast-forward' button all at the same time.

David Dibble The tandem (film and book) are counter-points, each expressing the same ideas in different ways. The film is more puzzling and less didactic--more open-ended. It also (still) wonderfully captures the wonder of near-earth space travel that utterly escapes us today. And the soundtrack adds a majestic dimension lacking in the book. The book is quite good, but the film is a visual masterpiece (if not to everyone's liking).

An interesting question is, is it better to first read, then watch, or the other way around?

message 11: by Jack (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Beltane @David: Experience the book or movie first? Hard to say. They're quite different. I think the movie may disappoint you if you read the book first. Having said that, the movie is a masterpiece of visual media, and the intent may be more the visuals than the plot... So yeah, I'm no help.

Efehan Elbi Seriously, this is perfectly phrased. I'm going to use your empty container analogy when comparing the two versions of the story, now, as it is exactly right.

Gino I think you missed the impact of the novel and film being done in tandem. At some points, one or the other had to react to what the other was doing and unfortunately, the book suffers from that. BTW, the two stories didn't split along two different paths. One is a written work. The other is an A/V experience. They have different foci and, again, the written work suffers from NOT having split more from the A/V experience. 4 pages of prose to explain going through the star gate. Really?

Jack Beltane I don't think you understand books...

Gino I know you don't understand film and I know you don't know much about science fiction.

message 6: by Jim (last edited May 07, 2014 10:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim I'm glad to hear that someone (Clarke?) gave some background about the Clarke/Kubrick/collaboration (say that three times fast).

I don't think that was the case when 2001 came out in pocketpaper - but then that was forty years ago.

Despite the stated collaboration, I have always regarded the novel to be one interpretation of the film. The film was quite oblique. It demands much inference of the viewer - if he will decide to do so. Without filling in the gaps, what is left is the container you describe. Kubrick expected more of you.

My forty year recollection is of a straight-forward hard-science novel (God need not apply). I may have to pick it up and re-read.

Ryan Hibbett I disagree with much you said about the film. Of course Clarke had a different vision than Kubrick, but that doesn't make Kubrick's a hollow shell. It's more subtle than Clarke's. After hearing Douglas Trumbull speak about the film, I felt like I had a better understanding of Kubrick's version. He wanted to show that these aliens communicated with us and had us evolve, but unfortunately the way people evolve is through destruction of ourselves, and the only way to save us was to create a separate evolution of man (which ends up being the space child, our savior). It's a technically brilliant film, but also deals with plot subtleties unlike any other. Clarke's novel felt rooted in science, whereas Kubrick's was more interested in philosophy of humanity. Don't get me wrong, Clarke does it too, but it doesn't feel like that was his first priority.

Bret Quinn The film was based on Clarke's short story, "The Sentinel," which I've read and studied. I'm a film grad student and a huge Clarke fan, and also a huge Kubrick fan. SK touched on much more than alluded to, here. HAL's internal conflict, the visual spectacle of the monolith appearances, and the final shot of the evolved Bowman are all Kubrick's vision. Clarke writes in a literal medium, which is by nature more cerebral than film. He is probably my favorite scifi writer, but that qualification aside, Clarke's novel is still beautifully and lyrically written, and was published (IMHO) to try and answer everyone who was scratching their heads after the film was released. Clarke's anti-war theme is obvious in both mediums, and that's the universal message he wants us to "get."

message 3: by Nupur (new)

Nupur Krishna Having read the book first, The movie did disappoint me. No movie can do justice to the power of human imagination

Martin Lacasse However, it is pretty hard to translate the ideas from 2001 into a movie.

Barry Your review is perfect, I agree with everything you said. The movie just wasn't as haunting and inspiring as the book to me. I wasn't left pondering my spot in the universe, like after reading the book, instead after the movie I was left pondering why I had fallen asleep three times during the final half hour and was not yet in bed

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