At the dawn of man, a mysterious monolith triggers an evolutionary leap in primates. Millennia later, a monolith uncovered on the moon emits a radio signal to Jupiter and a manned mission is sent to investigate. The only drawback is a psychotic and self-aware computer called HAL...
Awesome, influential, mind-blowing, cool, obsessional, pretentious - 2001 is all of these. That it is both great and gobbledygook is still fascinating. Certainly it deviates from Kubrick's claimed intention to make a 'proverbial good science-fiction movie', as it defies genre and is unlike any science-fiction film before it, good or gawd-awful.
The Oscar-winning, ground-breaking special effects (designed by Kubrick, supervised by Douglas Trumbull) are a mesmerising mix of imagination and science (although it lost out in the Best Picture race to Oliver! Go figure...).
Fastidious mime and prosthetics make-up create the best ever men in monkey suits for the first of the film's four acts, and the movie is strewn with unforgettable images: the stunning and now oft-parodied cut from a bone (wielded by ape-man as a weapon and tossed aloft) to a satellite that condenses eons of time into a millisecond; the alignment of sun and moon above the rim of the monolith; the docking shuttle and space station's orbital waltz; the circular crew habitat of the Discovery (made an actuality in the space shuttle programme).
The musical motifs (Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, Johann Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz) will forever bring the film to mind, and snippets of its minimalist dialogue ("Open the pod bay doors, Hal", "See you next Wednesday", "Good morning, Dave") pop up in homages and cultural references left, right and centre, but they still have sensational power enjoyed in their Space Odyssey context.
Whether you read this film as a mysterious adventure, a symbolic sermon or a mystic vision, one haunting conclusion is inescapable: how disappointing that it is 2001 and we're still tribal apes enthralled by technology, a very long way from becoming children of the stars.
What 2001 lacks in warmth it makes up for in ideas, style and no end of gobsmackage. Moreover the film boasts a prodigious power to provoke argument - is it profundity personified or plain old pap? Wherever you sit in the debate, movies were born for experiences like this.