2001:A Space Odyssey


2001:A Space Odyssey
(Alternative titles: Journey Beyond the Stars, Two Thousand and One: A Space Odyssey)
   MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), 139 minutes (final cut), 156 minutes (premiere cut), April 1968 Producer: Stanley Kubrick; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick, based on Clarke’s story “The Sentinel”; Cinematographers: John Alcott and Geoffrey Unsworth; Assistant director: Derek Cracknell; Art director: John Hoesli; Costume design: Hardy Aimes; Makeup: Colin Arthur, Stuart Freeborn; Sound: H. L. Bird,Winston Ryder, J. B. Smith,A. W. Watkins; Editor: Ray Lovejoy; Production design: Ernest Archer, Harry Lange, Anthony Masters; Special photographic effects supervisor: Tom Howard; Special visual effects supervisor: Con Pederson; Cast: Keir Dullea (Dr. David “Dave” Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole),William Sylvester (Dr. Heywood R. Floyd), Daniel Richter (Moonwatcher), Leonard Rossiter (Smyslov), Margaret Tyzack (Elena), Robert Beatty (Dr. Halvorsen), Sean Sullivan (Michaels), Douglas Rain (voice of HAL-9000), Frank Miller (mission controller), Ed Bishop (lunar shuttle captain), Alan Gifford (Poole’s father), Edwina Carroll (stewardess), Penny Brahms (stewardess), and John Ashley (ape).
   One should not underestimate the influence of 2001:A Space Odyssey on recent generations of filmmakers and audiences around the world. With its release in 1968 it transcended preconceived notions of the SCIENCE FICTION film genre, reaching for such grandiose themes as the role of humankind in a mechanistic age and its creative interaction with the universe. Whether or not the film achieves its lofty goals is still up for debate. What is assured, however, is that there were science fiction films before 2001 and science fiction films after 2001. That they bear little resemblance to each other—they neither look nor sound alike—is a testament to the film’s profound impact on the genre. No longer are pencil-shaped rocketships with fins (think of Cadillac automobiles of the 1950s) the norm; 2001’s enormous buildingblock vehicles (looking for all the world like Lego constructions) have replaced them. The film’s pioneering special effects work (for which it won an Academy Award, STANLEY KUBRICK’s only one) anticipated today’s digital effects and set the standard for all subsequent efforts. The aggregate of classical music themes that comprise its music track boosted sales in the record stores. And its enigmatic ending has provoked more controversies and debate than any science fiction film before or since. That the film continues to mesmerize new audiences today speaks to Kubrick’s singular talent and uncompromising vision. STEVEN SPIELBERG, an ardent Kubrick admirer, has called the film “not so much science fiction as science eventuality,” complimenting the realism of the production and its effect on every futuristic movie produced in its wake.
   Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released the film in 1968, although its production had its genesis much earlier. ARTHUR C. CLARKE, the prominent science fiction author, wrote a short story in 1950 entitled “THE SENTINEL. ” Upon reading the story, Stanley Kubrick expressed interest in turning it into a film. Beginning their collaborative effort in 1964, Kubrick and Clarke had intended to cowrite a novel fleshing out the story and use it as the basis for a cowritten screenplay, originally entitled “JOURNEY BEYOND THE STARS. ” Each would receive higher credit in his respective medium—Clarke for the novel, and Kubrick for the film. Although ultimate credit for the novel was given solely to Clarke, their efforts on the film and its ideas were truly collaborative. Clarke and Kubrick spent two years working on the novel and subsequent screenplay adaptation.
   Production began on December 29, 1965, at the MGM Shepperton Studios, where everything but a few front-projection transparencies of Africa was shot on soundstages. Most of the special effects work was not begun until March 1966. Working with cinematographers GEOFFREY UNSWORTH and JOHN ALCOTT were WALLY VEEVERS, DOUGLAS TRUMBULL, Con Pederson and Tom Howard, who supervised a 106-member special effects crew. They had to contrive more than 205 shots, which Kubrick had demanded “look completely realistic. ” It is in the area of special effects that 2001 advanced film technology to previously unknown heights. As documented in Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s ‘2001,’ meticulous care was given to each of the film’s shots to provide both authenticity to then-current possibilities of space travel, and realism to audiences whose expectations for science fiction special effects had not matured beyond the cheap, unimpressive effects characteristic of most films of the 1950s and 1960s, like Destination Moon (1951) and Conquest of Space (1955). However, Kubrick had doubtless been encouraged by the precedent set by Forbidden Planet, an MGM science fiction film released in 1956 that held out great promise for the future of the genre with its exceptional effects, stellar cast, electronic music score, and thoughtful moral about the dangers of unchecked human arrogance. (There was even some Freud and Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. ) Surely, Kubrick reasoned, since MGM had financed such a project, it would finance Kubrick’s.
   Also impressive are 2001’s depictions of humankind’s simian forebears. Special care was taken with the apeman costumes, which were created to make sure that they didn’t simply look like ape suits. The actors had to have exceptionally thin arms and legs and narrow hips, as well as excellent control of their facial muscles, to manipulate their masks’ expressions. To create a realistic setting for the apes, large-scale, front-screen projection was employed in the studio, in addition to more than 1,500 individual ceiling lamps. A special front-screen projector was created by the crew specifically for the film. The film’s soundtrack is as crucial to the overall experience as any of the visuals, and it must be noted that although the choice of several popular classical music pieces may seem like a perfect fit to the finished film, they were not originally intended as such. ALEX NORTH, a film composer who had just completed work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?, was selected by Kubrick (after his work on Kubrick’s SPARTACUS) to compose an original soundtrack for the film. Kubrick had mentioned to North his desire to include, in some form, several of the classical pieces he had used when editing the film himself. North nonetheless attempted to compose original music for the film, but was afraid that no matter what he came up with, it would not supplant the classical pieces, such as excerpts from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayne ballet, RICHARD STRAUSS’s ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, JOHANN STRAUSS JR. ’S THE BLUE DANUBE, and three works by GYÖRGY LIGETI, Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, and Requiem. Indeed, after North had devoted one and a half months to work on almost one hour of original music, Kubrick called North and said that no original soundtrack was necessary. Although the film differs in several respects from Clarke’s novelization (as many adaptations, out of necessity, must), the general idea of intelligent life visiting Earth millions of years earlier can certainly be understood as the bedrock theme of all three stories that structure the film.
   The film itself is divided into three major parts, and includes an intermission, although it should be noted that these distinct parts do not often resemble the three-act narrative structure that most viewers are accustomed to. These parts are divided into sequences which span an enormous amount of time, certainly millions of years. The first part begins with the subtitle, “The Dawn of Man. ”We are shown a group of apemen surrounding a watering hole on a desert plateau. Soon thereafter, the apemen discover what appears to be a large black monolith on their plateau. An apeman touches the monolith, whose alignment with the Sun suggests some newfound awareness or knowledge to come. One of these apemen, “Moonwatcher,” learns how to use the first primitive tool after picking apart an animal carcass. Catching up a bone and wielding it like a hammer, or weapon, he hurls it in the air. In one of the most famous cuts in film history, the bone spirals upward in slow motion, its trajectory interrupted (but continued) by a shot of a spaceship, shaped like the bone. The music of Strauss’s Blue Danube wells up on the soundtrack, suggestive of an outer-space “ballet” of satellites and spaceships.
   The year is 2001, and interior shots of a spacecraft show humans on board, reacting to zero gravity. Kubrick intends to show that life in deep space is quite ordinary, even banal. Meals are served, a toilet is shown, and the electronic guidance systems in the spacecraft are depicted in loving detail. One sleeping passenger, Dr. Heywood Floyd (WILLIAM SYLVESTER), is on his way to a conference dealing with an occurrence on Clavius. Dr. Floyd arrives at the space station, has a teleconference call with his daughter, and meets some fellow scientists from Russia. These scientists ask about the rumors of activity on Clavius, but Floyd responds,“I am not at liberty to say. ” Floyd then leaves on another spacecraft for Clavius, where he briefs a group of scientists from other countries. He promises to keep everyone informed of the developments and leaves to visit the large crater on Clavius created by a large black monolith (similar to the one in the prehistoric scenes). The scientists are assembling for a group picture when a loud, piercing tone is heard. The scientists must cover their ears.
   The second part is subtitled “Jupiter Mission, 18 Months Later. ” Astronauts Poole (GARY LOCKWOOD) and Bowman (KEIR DULLEA) are two of a five-man crew carrying on routine tasks on the spaceship Discover y. While the others are in deep hibernation chambers, the astronauts take part in exercises, eating meals, and playing chess with HAL-9000 (the voice of DOUGLAS RAIN), a computer that monitors all aspects of the mission, including crucial control systems onboard the spaceship. HAL notes a potential failure of the communications system. Poole goes outside the ship in one of the space pods to fix the system and discovers no problem. Another computer, from mission control, corrects HAL, but HAL insists that the error is a human error and that he is correct about the original prediction. Poole and Browman go to one of the space pods, believing it to be secure from HAL’s “eyes and ears. ” However, HAL reads their lips and realizes his own potential termination. There is a break for intermission.
   Poole leaves the ship for a space walk to replace the unit he removed earlier, allowing HAL to cut off Poole’s oxygen line and send Poole hurtling through space. Bowman attempts to rescue Poole but forgets his space helmet. HAL terminates life support systems for the other three astronauts in hibernation. Bowman retrieves Poole’s body, and asks HAL to open the pod bay doors. HAL refuses the order, instead saying goodbye to Bowman. Bowman sets off an explosive charge that blasts him into the preparation chamber, where he immediately closes the door. At this point, Bowman realizes that HAL must be shut down, and proceeds to the main computer room to terminate HAL’s connection. HAL pleads with Bowman to spare his “life,” but Bowman begins the process of shutting the computer off. As Bowman works, HAL slowly winds down, reminiscing on the first days of his “life,” singing the popular tune, “Daisy,” as he dies. Once the computer is terminated, a prerecorded message is heard from Dr. Heywood Floyd, explaining the mission’s goals. Floyd states that, “the first sign of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered below the lunar surface . . . the four-million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose a total mystery. ”
   Part three begins with the subtitle, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. ” Bowman leaves the Discovery in one of the space pods, hurling toward the black monolith as if magnetized. In the celebrated “Star Gate” sequence, designed by Douglas Trumbull, the speed of the pod increases, and in one of the most famous “trips” in the history of the movies, Bowman views a fantastic display of lights and colors. (As Kubrick biographer JOHN BAXTER has explained, Trumbull borrowed techniques from the work of experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson and used an optical printer and a slit-scan camera “which photographed a slowly moving roll of artwork through a vertical slit, tracking from as close as two or three centimeters to as far away as five meters. Once photographed, the images were projected at high speed above and below the horizon line of the image. ”) The pod suddenly stops, and Bowman walks into a green-and-white room, with Renaissance-style decorations. Bowman sees an elderly man at the table eating, who appears to be Bowman himself, although aged now by several years. The man at the table drops the wine glass he is holding, and in the next scene appears in a large bed in front of the black monolith. He is now a very old man. His next incarnation is as an embryo, who ultimately takes his place in the galaxy as a “star child” overlooking the planet Earth. There are only 43 minutes of dialogue in the entire two-and-a-half-hour film. Against the spectacular visuals, the mechanical and artificial environments, and the overwhelming sense of deep space, the human presence seems almost irrelevant. As commentator Vivian Sobchack notes in her study of the science fiction film, The Limits of Infinity, “The paucity of dialogue creates an interesting effect; since characters speak so infrequently, when they do open their mouths it seems natural to expect something significant to come out, something saved up, something important or informative . . . [yet] what is delivered is puny, weak, unfulfilling, stillborn. ” By contrast, HAL, the machine, has a rich voice and speaks with emotion and clarity. The implication is clear, concludes Sobchack, “Our language—and, therefore, our emotions and our thought patterns-have not kept up with either our technology or our experience. ”And as critic Penelope Gilliatt has chillingly observed,“[The characters] are spent and insufficient, like the apes. ”
   Compared to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was released nine years later, Kubrick’s view of humankind’s place in the cosmos is decidedly downbeat. As historian Phil Hardy points out, whereas Spielberg depicts a confrontation between humans and extraterrestrials on relatively equal terms, Kubrick implies that the never-seen aliens are man’s superiors, monitoring and manipulating his destiny. “For Kubrick,” concludes Hardy, “man is little more than the property of unseen aliens: for Spielberg man achieves his own destiny. ” A preview of 2001 at New York’s Capitol Theater on April 1, 1968, elicited several complaints, including frustration at the film’s length, boredom with its longueurs and moments of banality, and bafflement at its disjointed narrative and enigmatic conclusion (although Kubrick pointed out that older audiences do not react as positively as younger viewers). Kubrick ended up editing out 19 minutes of footage, though he insisted that no one requested the cuts. Critics were equally divided on the film, with most recognizing the film’s technical brilliance but Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (Kubrick estate) markedly fewer willing to grapple with the film’s narrative (or non-narrative). Renata Adler, of the New York Times, seemed to speak for those who couldn’t decide one way or the other about the film when she called it “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring. ” Stanley Kaufman, critic for the New Republic, called the film a “major disappointment,” pointing to the long production schedule leading to what he believed nothing more than a distraction.
   More recently, critical acclaim for the film has grown virtually unanimous, with many critics voicing praise for a film “years ahead of its time. ” The American Film Institute placed it among the top 100 films of all time, and its legion of fans seems only to grow, with DVD technology able to replicate in home theaters what was originally seen in 70 mm Cinerama. Significantly, the production time of the film encompassed a period of accelerated changes in computer technology, space suit design, rocketry, and cryogenics. When shooting of the film began, Luna 1 had just become the first spacecraft to escape from earth’s gravity; when the film was released in 1968, Apollo 8 put three Americans into Moon orbit.
   In retrospect, 2001 was both behind and ahead of its time. Arthur C. Clarke notes that a prediction of a huge base constructed under the lunar surface was “hopelessly optimistic. ” At the same time, no one could have predicted that before the year 2001, the Voyager probe would fly on past Saturn on its way out of the solar system; that a mission to Jupiter and its moons could be achieved; and that color images would be beamed back to Earth from the planet Mars. “Mars,Venus, and other distant worlds about which absolutely nothing was known when we first began work on 2001 have since become real places. ” In sum, writes author Piers Bizony, in its concatenation of realism and fantasy, experience and conjecture, the film possesses a kind of “honorary reality. ” Hammering wild imagination and surmise into discrete visual images was perhaps Kubrick’s greatest accomplishment in not just this, but in all his films.
   References
   ■ Agel, Jerome, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (New York: Signet, 1970);
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1997);
   ■ Bizony, Piers, 2001: Filming the Future, rev. ed. (London: Aurum, 2000);
   ■ Clarke, Arthur C. , The Lost Worlds of 2001 (New York: New American Library, 1972);
   ■ Coyle, Wallace, Stanley Kubrick:A Guide to References and Resources (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980);
   ■ Gilliatt, Penelope, “Review of 2001: A Space Odyssey,” in 68/69 Hollis Alpert and Andrew Sarris, eds. , (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 53–57;
   ■ Lightman, Herb A. ,“Filming 2001:A Space Odyssey,American Cinematographer 49 (June 1968);
   ■ Phillips, Gene D. , Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1975);
   ■ Sobchack, Vivian Carol, The Limits of Infinity: The American Science Fiction Film (South Brunswick and New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1980).
   J. A.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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