The Hype -
No 4 on the TSPDT 1,000 Greatest Films.
No. 6 on the Sight and Sound Critics Top 10 Movies of All Time
Roger Ebert - "This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn't include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Alone among science-fiction movies, 2001 is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe."
Danny Peary, Cult Movies (1981) ... [T]he most awesome, beautiful (the visuals and the music), mentally stimulating, and controversial science fiction film ever made..."
The Reality -
Inside the 141 minute bore that is 2001 - there's an excellent 60 minute movie trying to get out. The movie's middle part with HAL the computer is actually quite good, but the rest of the movie is simply dull. Lots of "Blue Danube", light shows, Monkeys, and Space Ships. The human characters are cardboard cutouts and there is no plot. Kubrick takes a short story by Clarke and pads it out to 141 minutes. There are some interesting visuals - but if I want great visuals I'll just look out the window.
The following critics got it right:
'Whatever else movies do, they do not postulate definitions; if they try they die. What possible religious revelation could be vouchsafed by a movie whose only memorable character was a gay computer? At this distance, within two years of the title's prediction, 2001 looks dated and bloated; watching the flight attendants on the moon shuttle, I only wish that Kubrick had had the courage to call it 1968: A Bad Year for Hats."-- Anthony Lane
"The ridiculous labor of 2001, the cavernous sets, and the special lenses, ride upon a half-baked notion of the origins and purpose of life that a first-year student ought to have been ashamed of. But this message in a bottle lasts over three (with intermission) hours, and the movie has long sequences of directorial self-indulgence."- David Thomson
"It's a monumentally unimaginative movie... The light-show trip is of no great distinction;
-- Pauline Kael, Harper's (February, 1969) anthologized in her collection For Keeps (1994)
No doubt some people will try to explain 2001's plot and why its a great film. But just as a joke that has to be explained isn't funny, a movie that has to explained and diagrammed isn't good.
The Real Reason Its Rated Highly - 2001 checks all the boxes. Landmark film, Great Director, great technique and visuals. Further, 2001 is the perfect movie for a certain group of people. You know who they are. The internet wonks, the comic book guys, the SF buffs, --the student or professor of philosophy/art/film. A person with a passion for avante-garde films with wacky imagery and little else. They're the type of people who find a college thesis' worth of material from the dialogue in the Matrix sequels, they're the ones that boldly declare a film 'art' and anybody else who disagrees with them 'just didn't get it.' 2001 is art alright. The kind of art that I can only liken as being assaulted and nearly beaten to death by an Andy Warhol painting. Yes this movie is art, and you will hate it for that.