Let’s face it, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a hard movie to understand. Okay, that’s an understatement. It can absolutely be labeled as one of the few films impossible to fully “grasp” from only one viewing.
For those of you who have raked through the film five or six times, read the book and put together the necessary information enough to form some semblance of a plotline, you may have found it an even harder task trying to teach your friends what’s going on. At a lengthy 160-minute running time, the hardest task of all may simply be trying to keep them awake throughout the entire experience.
Yet, in perhaps one of the best publicity moves of all time, MGM released a three-and-a-half minute trailer prior to the film’s release which tries its damnedest to give the audience a clue as to what the hell they’re in for. The question is, was there really anything that could have prepared a 1968 audience for a film as revolutionary as “2001”? This is a society whose finest exposures to science fiction in film came either through cornball H.G. Welles rehashes or lower budget knock-offs of Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella.” Sci-fi, up until that point, was almost exclusively synonymous with the term “B-movie.” For this reason, Steven Spielberg refers to “2001” as “the Big Bang of Science Fiction.”
Naturally, the reception to the film was pretty disastrous. Many were happy to label it as a “visual feast” (you know, probably due to the whole “Beyond the Infinite” thing) while also rejecting it as “completely and utterly pointless.”
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Yet, in perhaps one of the worst publicity moves of all time, MGM decided this would be a fine film to market as “fun for the whole family,” with a “completely and utterly pointless” focus on conquering the ’60s nuclear family demographic. The ultimate example of the ineffectiveness of this strategy comes in the form of a letter written to Stanley Kubrick from a concerned mother back in 1969. The woman had recently taken a trip with her family to the drive-in, where they were treated to a double bill of “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” and, inexplicably, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Thankfully, but not unexpectedly, many youths ended up clinging to the underlying mysteries of the film, thirsting for an answer only satiated by sifting through the works of later auteurs and philosophers. Thus, just like Starchild, a new, smarter generation of movie fans was born.