By Dean Treadway
Well, we’re finally here. This conclusion, with Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film landing at the #1 spot in WITD’s countdown of the greatest science fiction films ever made, should come as no surprise to anyone. As is likely for many others, 2001: A Space Odyssey has long been my favorite film. I first saw it at Atlanta’s Rhodes Theater early in 1977, at age ten (though I suspect I caught a glimpse of it as a younger child while visiting a drive-in with my parents). Its eloquent, overwhelming vision transformed me immensely, leading me into a life of film study, filmmaking, and film writing. After seeing it literally a hundred times (at least 60 of them on the big screen, often projected on 70mm film, though, alas, I’ve never seen the Cinerama version), I unquestionably consider 2001 the best film that has ever been made, or ever will be made in any genre, but especially in the realm of science fiction. It is resolutely successful in dramatizing the history of mankind from ape to superhuman. No other movie could complete such a feat without being compared to this looming progenitor.
In 1998, I was commissioned by a television network to write a then-popular pop-up commentary on the film. The editors there knew I treasured Kubrick’s work and had studied 2001 closely, so they considered me the perfect person to do this. I was honored for the opportunity, but never got to see the pop-up version. I have always had the nagging feeling they didn’t have room for all the work I provided so here, now, is the complete set of notes I composed for them. This is the first time they are being seen in their entirety, and in this updated edit. They’re meant to be read along with the movie. If I had the equipment, I would have recorded this as an audio commentary, but I will have to save that for another day.
2001: A Space Odyssey begins with an overture–music meant to be played as the audience is filing into the theater. This was a common feature of the larger-scoped movies of the ’50s and ’60s, though it’s a practice that generally fell out of favor by the 1970s. This overture is not meant to be projected on-screen (unless there are closed curtains obscuring it), but these days, overtures are a thing of the past and, more often than not, filmgoers seeing 2001 on the big screen are now treated to a two-minute opening sequence of blackness, scored by the eclectic music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Many are certainly confused by this, but somehow, this meditative rest, punctuated by Ligeti’s screeching score, does put one in the mood for what’s about to be witnessed.
The famed MGM logo of Leo the Lion was modernized in 1965 by the studio’s creative consultancy, NYC’s Lipincott. The newly sleek Leo, white against a blue background, was placed before three films: Grand Prix (66), 2001, and The Subject Was Roses (68). MGM’s Logan’s Run (76) utilized it at the end of its closing credits, and then it was retired in favor of the more familiar, roaring Leo. It lived on, though, as the logo for MGM Records and the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The short opening sequence helped pioneer movies without a full credits sequence at their fore. The 2001 theme, Also Sprach Zarathustra, was composed by Richard Strauss as an 1896 tone poem inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who composed a book of the same name. Nietzsche’s work examining the transformation of Man into Superman would similarly inspire 2001‘s maker, Stanley Kubrick (though, perhaps not so ironically, the book includes the controversial quote “God is dead”). This commanding piece’s inclusion in 2001 would forever seal the music’s meaning and strength in ways Strauss could’ve never foreseen.
The opening scene—the emergence of the Sun over the Moon and then the planet Earth—was animated with the use of photographic transparencies delicately handled, with an arc light standing in as the Sun. It remains among the boldest of all movie openings.
Kubrick’s previous works as a writer/director—Fear and Desire (53), Killer’s Kiss (55), The Killing (56), Paths of Glory (57), Spartacus (60), Lolita (62), and Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (64)–had definitely alerted the film community to a powerful new voice in world cinema. But nothing equipped filmgoers for a work like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Four years plus in the making, and produced at a then-astronomical price of $10.5 million dollars (in the hundred million range by today’s prices), 2001 was poised, from its inception, as the grandest art film imaginable. No one—critics, artists, or audiences—came prepared for its staggering arrival, its deep thinking, its visual splendor and philosophical acuity. All of cinema was changed after its birth.
Yet 240 people walked out of its Washington DC premiere on 2 April 1968. One of them, actor Rock Hudson, reportedly sniffed “What’s this all about?” Its perceived failure that night sent Kubrick racing back to the editing room to make some judicious cuts. (The film’s missing 18 minutes, recently rediscovered, are tucked away in a mysterious film vault somewhere and there are no plans by the Kubrick estate towards their release).
The opening scenes of “The Dawn of Man” sequence feature silent peers of the arid African landscape. These shots were commissioned by Kubrick, who sent a team of photographers to the continent to capture the heated, sandy environs on film. He sifted through hundreds of possible photographs to find only a few suitable choices. In the middle of the barren desert, the photographer’s truck somehow managed to smash into another vehicle in the first of few mishaps visited upon the production.
2001 is one of the only Kubrick films unaccompanied by narration. But, actually, the director did ask Arthur C. Clarke to compose voice-overs for certain sections. Once Kubrick decided the film would ironically be more expressive as a verbal experience, the narration was scrapped. Here’s an example of Clarke’s exacting words once intended to guide these scenes: “The remorseless drought had lasted now for ten million years, and would not end for another million. The reign of the terrible lizards had long since passed, but here on the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for survival had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight. In this dry and barren land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to exist. The man apes of the field had none of these attributes and were on the long, pathetic road to racial extinction.”
The brownish-gray, piggish creatures roaming amongst the apes are tapirs. The scenes are set in Africa but Webster’s Dictionary says tapirs are mostly found in tropical America.
The prehistoric portions of “The Dawn of Man” sequence constituted the last live-action scenes shot for 2001, with assistant cinematographer John Alcott taking the helm behind the camera as lead photographer Geoffrey Unsworth departed for another project. Filming on them began at London’s Elstree Studios in the fall of ’67. Not wanting to hassle with the uncertainties of travel, circumstances and weather, Kubrick decided against a location shoot in Africa (for the remainder of his career, Kubrick would film his projects exclusively in the UK). Instead, he had art director Ernie Archer construct a series of rocky sets based on photos of existing African terrain.
The detailed ape prosthetics and costumes were designed by British makeup artist Stuart Freeborn (though a few baby chimps were added to the cast). In 1968, Planet of the Apes amassed much acclaim for its makeup achievements, but 2001‘s simians are much more realistic. Freeborn’s complex masks enabled the actors to articulate their lips more convincingly than did John Chambers’ famous Planet of the Apes prosthetics. The mask’s lips were controlled by levers that the actors would move with their tongues (the apes’ tongues and teeth are fake). The actors inside the suits—many of them mimes and dancers—were cast for their thin frames in order to mimic the emaciated look of starving Pleistocene-era man. When John Chambers won a special Oscar for his makeup work on Planet of the Apes, an irritated Arthur C. Clarke theorized that the Academy members probably thought Freeborn’s apes were the real thing.
An original ape mask and gloves is currently on display in Astoria, Queens NY at the Museum of the Moving Image.
In 1977, Freeborn would distinguish himself again by designing the myriad of creatures populating the Star Wars franchise.
Based on their studies in anthropology and the origins of man, Kubrick and Clarke determined “The Dawn of Man” occurred somewhere around 4,000,000 B.C. A year after 2001‘s release, an African anthropological dig produced fossils that confirmed their hypothesis.
The actor playing the lead ape, known in the novel and film as Moon-Watcher, is dancer and mime Daniel Richter. He received fourth billing and never did another film. In 2002, Richter released a book, Moonwatcher’s Memoir, about his experiences making 2001. His second book chronicled his time living with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early ’70s.
2001‘s crew didn’t enjoy filming the shot of a leopard protecting its kill. The zebra is actually a day-old dead horse, painted appropriately. The stench of the animal decaying under the powerful studio arc lights was strong enough to displease even the leopard, who was held at bay with tranquilizer guns.
The apes seem expectant of something monumental as they crouch in their lair. Even in this sequence, Kubrick manages to wrench humor out of their desperation as they jockey for space in their darkened cave, their eyes worried and hungry.
The music is Ligeti’s Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs and Orchestra, played by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (Francis Travis, conductor).
Visually, the Monolith, as it was known, was a difficult element to pin down. Numerous designs for the alien object were mulled over by Kubrick and his team. At first, a huge transparent cube was considered, but plastic companies determined it was impossible to produce such a cube on the scale and with the clarity Kubrick required. The director then settled on a clear version of the present rectangular shape, and made the record books by commissioning the world’s largest casting of Lucite—three tons. Unsatisfied, he nixed the notion of a clear artifact and moved onto a pyramid but ultimately thought the implications of that ancient shape were too obvious. A mystical-looking black tetrahedron—a diamond-like shape with four triangular sides–appealed to Kubrick for a while, but looked too small to be the imposing tool of alien intelligence they desired. Finally, they returned to the simple rectangular shape, but this time, it would be colored an inky black. For both Kubrick and Clarke, the look of the Monolith was, at last, primordial and perfect.
Since the Monolith is supposed to be a tool for teaching the apes to survive, Kubrick briefly considered projecting a movie onto its surface—an “educational film” showing the apes how to kill other animals for food.
Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is played for the second time by the Vienna Philharmonic (Herbert von Karajan, conductor).
These shots of Moon-Watcher smashing the tapir bones (in reality, warthog bones) are the only ones in the whole film actually shot under a real sky. Adjourning to a raised platform outside Elstree Studios, Kubrick had Richter destroy the bones as cars and trucks whizzed by off-camera. Only a few pesky planes in the background interrupted the shoot.
One of the pioneering achievements of 2001 was its use of front projection photography. Rear projection, where a film is projected from behind a screen with actors positioned in front of it, had long been used to make a cast look like they were “on location.” But Kubrick thought it looked phony (and it usually did). Front projection was new and infinitely more convincing. The effect enabled Kubrick to project slide photographs of African landscapes onto a wall behind the rocky sets. The slide was projected at a very low light—so low that the image would not register as it hit the actors. But on the wall to which the projector was pointed were strips of highly reflective material developed for road signs by 3M. The huge front projector threw out an equally large, sharp, realistic image on the massive wall, which picked it up brilliantly, lending the illusion that the scenes were filmed on location.
Kubrick, in Gene D. Phillips’ book Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey: “Somebody said that man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilized human beings…we are semi-civilized, capable of cooperation and affection but needing some sort of transfiguration into a higher form of life.”
Film historians often cite Kubrick’s famous edit–which transforms an airborne weapon into an orbiting nuclear warhead–as one of cinema’s greatest transitional cuts (Clarke called it “the longest flash-forward in film history—three million years”). The handheld camera that follows the bone up in the air was operated by Kubrick himself after his photographer failed repeatedly to get it in frame. The camera was handed to Kubrick who got the shot in one take and, shortly afterward, began playfully tossing a nearby broom up in the air in celebration.
Kubrick presciently commented to the New York Times: “It’s an observable fact that all of man’s technology grew out of his discovery of the tool/weapon…The Machine is beginning to assert itself in a very profound way, even attracting affection and obsession.”
Painted by NASA artist Robert McCall, an image of the still-in-construction Space Station One was used for the film’s most famous movie poster. The tag line read: “Space Station One: your first stop in an Odyssey that will take you to the moon, the planets and the distant stars.” Two other styles of movie poster were much harder to find in 1968: one, depicting space-suited men on the moon, and another with astronaut Dave Bowman standing in the Discovery’s Centrifuge.
The Orion IV Space Clipper has a Pan Am logo on its side. By the real year 2001, Pan Am had been shuttered for ten years. Surprisingly, Kubrick’s film was one of the first to use product placement—often humorously, though actually quite prophetically.
The film on the Orion’s TV screen shows scenes of a futuristic car that were filmed in Detroit and then cut together with a “love scene” shot by Kubrick.
The pen is mounted on a rotating plate of glass to create the illusion of its flotation. Parker Pens produced replicas of the pen, which could write in red, blue or black ink. This was one of 2001‘s few merchandising tie-ins, including a comic book attainable at any Howard Johnson’s restaurant, and a plastic model of the Orion released by Aurora Plastics.
The massive Space Station One model seems to be rotating at a fast clip, but the special effects team didn’t quite see this rate-of-turn on set. The camera aperture had to be almost fully closed to get the proper depth of field, so to get the necessary light, each frame of film was exposed for four seconds as the model rotated mechanically at an imperceptible .0025 inches a frame.
In ’74, remains of the original Space Station model were located broken and partially burnt in a field in Stevenage, England, about 20 miles away from the Borehamwood studios. Very few of the 2001 models survived, though the Aries IB model used in the film is set for display at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Museum in Los Angeles (scheduled to open sometime in 2017/18). It was purchased by the Academy in 2015 for $344,000.
IBM’s logo can be seen right over the middle computer screen. International Business Machines contributed much to the technology in 2001 but was dissatisfied with the final film, since it cast computers in an evil light. IBM employees were expressly told not to see the film.
Kubrick’s use of the Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz (played here by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Herbert von Karajan) was a maverick departure from past science-fiction movie music, which had been either electronic a la Forbidden Planet, or melodramatic, as in the Flash Gordon serials. Initially, Kubrick had commissioned an original score by his Spartacus collaborator Alex North. Coming off the talky Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, North saw the opportunity to score this nearly silent movie as a godsend. North greatly admired his finished score, counting it among his favorites even though it was written under immense deadline pressure (so much so that it sent him to the hospital with stress-related back spasms). When Kubrick ultimately decided to scrap the score in favor of the classical music he’d used to “temporarily” accompany the film, North was devastated.
Twenty-three minutes in, the first words are spoken in the film: “Here you are, sir. Main level, please.”
William Sylvester was the little-known American actor chosen to portray National Council of Astronautics scientist Dr. Heywood R. Floyd. Sylvester’s best known previous work was as the lead in the British Godzilla knock-off Gorgo (61).
The curved space station set was more than 300 feet long and 40 feet high, with its lighting built into the set’s brilliant ceiling. The locale included more product placement: Hilton Hotels. The red Djinn chairs were created in 1965 by French designer Olivier Mourgue, who called them “Low Fireside Chairs.”
And more product placement: Bell Telephone and Howard Johnson’s (both of which had largely disbanded by the real year 2001). A shot of an astronaut reading a Playboy magazine was cut from the final print.
The little girl on the Picturephone is Kubrick’s then-six-year-old daughter Vivian. He shot the scene with her on a small set while reading Sylvester’s lines opposite her. Vivian Kubrick went on to become a documentary filmmaker and musician, producing a BBC special about her father’s filming of The Shining (80) and, under the name “Abigail Mead,” the electronic score to his Vietnam saga Full Metal Jacket (87). His inclusion of Vivian in the film prompted critic Pauline Kael, in her obstinately negative New Yorker review, to call 2001 “the biggest amateur movie of them all,” thus proving her analysis wasn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
The greatly-detailed Picturephone was crafted by Bell Laboratories’ John Pierce, who designed the famed Telstar satellite.
A scene with Floyd buying his daughter a bush-baby at a futuristic Macy’s was excised from the film.
Kubrick’s other two daughters almost made the film’s final cut in an edited scene depicting a mall and playground on the space station.
British actress Margaret Tyzack portrays Floyd’s Russian scientist friend Elena. Tyzack, a veteran of British television and stage, took another scientist role in Kubrick’s subsequent film A Clockwork Orange (71). She was nominated for an Emmy for 1972’s Masterpiece Theater production of Cousin Bette. and a Tony for 1983’s Broadway production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. She made a big splash as the nefarious Antonia in the BBC’s hit 1976 miniseries I, Claudius, and as a sadistic nurse in Richard Marquand’s moody horror film The Legacy (78). She capped her film career with small roles in two Woody Allen films: Match Point (2005) and Scoop (2006). She passed away in 2011.
Leonard Rossiter plays nosy Russian scientist Dr. Andrei Smyslov. Best known for his lead roles in two British sitcoms The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Rising Damp, Rossiter’s rubbery face appealed to Kubrick, who would cast him again in Barry Lyndon (75). He also appeared in films by Richard Lester and Lindsay Anderson. He died in 1993.
Of the film’s often banal small talk, Kubrick admitted that he “tried to work things out so that nothing important was said in the dialogue and that anything essential in the film be translated in terms of action.”
The Aries IB pod carries Floyd to the Moon. The ship is an animated transparency here, and the background image of the Moon hailed from actual NASA photographs.
On the Aries, dinner is served. The liquid menu includes: oranges and strawberries, cheese, coffee, fish, corn, peas, and sweet potatoes.
The Aries kitchen was designed by Whirlpool, whose logo can be seen at the top of the unit’s middle panel.
This puzzling effect is actually achingly simple; its use dates back to silent films. The camera is bolted down to the rotating set; the foreground and background are rotating along with the camera, but the actress is walking on a treadmill that stays still, thus giving the appearance that she’s ambling up the walls. Fred Astaire did the same thing when he danced on the ceiling in Stanley Donen’s Royal Wedding (51).
Dr. Floyd slurping his meal through a tube provides 2001 with its only scientific miscalculation: in real zero gravity, the liquid would fail to fall back down the straw and into the box, as it clearly does once Dr. Floyd turns to greet the captain.
In the film’s sole overt display of humor, the Zero Gravity Toilet instructions are nevertheless real, and painfully detailed.
Though Kubrick personally supervised and designed 2001‘s effects, he had major assistance from four Special Effects Supervisors. Con Pederson and Tom Howard were in charge of optical effects, combining the more than 16,000 separate effects elements into the 205 completed special effects scenes in the film. Wally Veevers, who’d worked on the William Cameron Menzies’ Things to Come (36) and with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove (64), oversaw the detailed model building. And a young Douglas Trumbull provided 2001 with many outstanding graphic effects, like its 16mm animated computer readouts and the climactic Stargate sequence. Trumbull later became an FX superstar, lending his talents to classics like Silent Running (which he directed in 1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (77), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (79), Blade Runner (82), and The Tree of Life (2011). He’s been instrumental in the development of IMAX and of many Universal theme park rides.
The pilot of the Aries is played by Ed Bishop, whom sharp-eyed science fiction fans will recognize as the lead in Thunderbirds creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s short lived 1970 series UFO. Kubrick lured a few of the Andersons’ effects specialists over to his camp, including Brian Johnson, who went on to the Anderson-produced Space: 1999 (76), and to Oscars for Alien (79) and The Empire Strikes Back (80).
The graceful opening of Clavius’s domed landing pad add to the sequence’s balletic feel, with Busby Berkeley’s patented overhead shots of his choreography springing to mind. The landing pad is a model ten feet from corner to corner, with the dome consisting of eight three-foot-long “pie pieces.”
The model of the Aries IB is 30 inches in diameter, and the landing pad lowers into a 15′ x 9′ miniature set constructed out of plywood in secret by one of the effects supervisors. Kubrick had no idea the set was being built but, when he finally saw it, he gave it his immediate okay. The shots of human activity inside of Clavius were matted in later, once the arduous animation of this scene was completed.
The mod, ’60s-styled casual costumes—like the checkered suit worn by the photographer in this scene—are arguably the only anachronistic elements in 2001‘s visuals.
American actor Robert Beatty plays Dr. Ralph Halvorsen. This scene provides some of the plot’s most essential information, and gets the mind to thinking about the implications upon humanity once intelligent extraterrestrial life is actually located.
For Kubrick, 2001 was the culmination of a long obsession with space travel; he’d been considering a film on the subject since the late ’50s. But he could not recall when he was first struck with the idea for this unique storyline, stating simply “I became interested in extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe, and was convinced that the universe was full of intelligent life, and so it seemed time to make a film.”
Kubrick: “I don’t like to talk about 2001 much, because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience…the truth is in the feel of it, not the think of it.”
Upon his return to Marvel Comics, famed artist Jack Kirby–co-creator of The Fantastic Four, X-Men and The Incredible Hulk–demanded in his contract that Marvel allow him to do a comic adaptation of 2001. The first issue, in 1976, recounted the movie’s plot but Kirby took the story further in ten subsequent issues.
Kubrick first approached Arthur C. Clarke at the behest of his 2001 publicist, MGM executive Roger Caras. In 1964, when Kubrick first mentioned doing a film about space travel, and that he was looking for a knowledgeable science-fiction writer to collaborate with, Caras remarked “Why not start with the best? Arthur C. Clarke.” Clarke was then the 47-year-old British science-fiction and -fact writer whose most famous books—Childhood’s End, Reach for Tomorrow, and Man and Space—were already undisputed classics. Still, Kubrick was hesitant. “But I understand he’s a recluse, a nut who lives in a tree somewhere in India.” Caras cabled Clarke at his home in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), off the southeast coast of India. Clarke replied by telegraph “INTERESTED IN WORKING WITH ENFANT TERRIBLE STOP CONTACT MY AGENT STOP WHAT MAKES KUBRICK THINK I’M A RECLUSE?”
Oddly, Kubrick and Clark met for the first time on 22 April 1964 at the tiki-themed Trader Vic’s restaurant in New York City.
The music is another Ligeti piece, this one called Lux Aeterna. The spacecraft is known as a Moon Bus and was also released in 1968 as a plastic model by Aurora.
Kubrick and company closely studied non-surface photos of the Moon taken by NASA, but they were the only clues to be found regarding the true appearance of its landscape. These scenes were filmed years before Apollo 11 arrived on the Moon, so the images here are representative of the 2001 production team’s eerily accurate guesswork.
Canadian actor Sean Sullivan plays Dr. Bill Michaels. He would later appear in David Duke’s The Silent Partner (78) and David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (83).
Mankind has come a long way from murdering tapirs for food. Notice that 2001 constantly catches humanity at the dinner table. Ham and chicken sandwiches are passed around here.
The photos are marked TMA-1, and acronym for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1. Tycho is a real moon crater, located in its southern hemisphere and named for Tycho Brahe, the father of modern astronomy.
In the 2001 sequel 2010, Heywood Floyd is played by Jaws star Roy Schieder.
At the time of 2001 release on 3 April 1968, Clarke said “I fully expect to go to the Moon. Probably in 1977 or 1978—that’s when they”ll start commercial service.” In 1998, it was announced that the first commercial flights into space—lasting no more than 20 minutes—were planned for 2002. And we are still waiting…
The numerous computer displays fell under the supervision of Douglas Trumbull, who painstakingly crafted hours of animated readouts for 16mm films that were rear-projected onto numerous on-set screens.
Principal photography on 2001 began at 5 am London Time on 29 December 1965. It had been ten months since Kubrick first announced the project. The first scene shot was this one taking place at the TMA-1 excavation site, where the Monolith has been found. The set measured 120 x 60 x 60 feet, and did not include the lunar terrain, which was a miniature superimposed onto the live-action a full year later. Moon dust was provided with a mixture of dyed fine sand and crushed graphite.
Clarke wrote in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001 that the TMA-1 set was constantly besieged by birds and bats trapped inside the studio.
The handheld camera following the astronauts down the ramp is being operated by Kubrick himself.
Ligeti’s Requiem–the same music played when the apes first touch the Monolith—is reprised here.
The 12 x 2 Monolith was made out of a solid slab of wood and covered with a special concoction of black paint and crushed pencil lead (graphite) in order to give it its unearthly sheen. It was particularly vulnerable to smudges—Clarke pointed one out to Kubrick on the first day of shooting and he “went on a rampage.” The prop department eventually coated it with a protective spray, but Kubrick still had them swaddle the Monolith in soft cotton in between shots. After its use in the TMA-1 scene, it would be a year until Kubrick needed it on set again. In the book, the Monolith’s dimensions are 1:3:9–the sqares of the first three integers.
In 2011, toy company Kenner released a 3-inch-high, “zero points of articulation” Monolith action figure. In 2016, the Monolith (surrounded by moon dust) became the first officially sanctioned 2001 toy when a 12-inch-high version was released with a rich asking prices of $299.
2001’s widescreen 65mm Super Panavision photography (5mm are added for the film soundtrack) was originally intended for the Cinerama process (which, at the time, had abandoned its three-projector method). But as Cinerama is now extinct, most have seen 2001 in either 35mm anamorphic or, if they’re lucky, in 70mm (though mostly, these days, theater audiences are probably watching 2:35 digital files). The shoot was spearheaded by veteran British cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who first worked as camera operator on Michael Powell/Emeric Pressberger films like The Thief of Bagdad (40) and A Matter of Life and Death (46). He eventually became a cinematographer renowned for his creative use of color. He caught Kubrick’s eye with his work on Becket (64) but 2001 turned out to be their only film as collaborators. Before his death in 1978, Unsworth would go on to win a BAFTA for 2001, and two Academy awards, one for Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (72) and Roman Polanski’s Tess (’79), his final film. Other notable Unsworth titles: the Titanic drama A Night to Remember (58), The Four Feathers (60), Superman (78), Murder on the Orient Express (76), and The Magic Christian (70).
Clarke told the press that, if anyone saw 2001 for the first time and understood it completely, he’d feel that he and Kubrick had failed. Later, upon reading the quote, Kubrick said he thought Clarke was joking.
The radio screech emitted as the sun hits the surface of the Monolith is aimed at Jupiter, as we discover later. It’s an example, too, of the litany of supreme sound effects arrived at by sound designer Winston Ryder. Thus ends “The Dawn of Man.”
Chapter Two: “Jupiter Mission 18 Months Later.” The music is Aram Khatchaturian’s gentle Ganye Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (Gennadi Rezhdestensky, conductor).
The model for the spaceship Discovery One was 54 feet long. Its round command module measured 6 feet in diameter (there were smaller versions of the model constructed for long shots). According to Trumbull, the Discovery (like most of 2001‘s groundbreaking miniatures) was made of “wood, fiberglass, Plexiglas, steel, brass, aluminum, flexible metal foils of different textures, wire tubing, and thousands of parts carefully selected from hundreds of plastic model kits ranging from boxcars and battleships to aircraft and Gemini spaceships.” The method of model construction would heavily influence the look of all subsequent science-fiction films. Detailed large-scale replications of the Discovery One model are available at astronomical prices (one very large-scaled version priced in at 10,000 bucks but, luckily, a 1/144 scaled resin model arrives at a comparatively reasonable $220).
The complex Centrifuge set was the most demanding and expensive one built for the film. At a cost of nearly $1 million, the 30-ton structure designed by art directors Tony Masters and Harry Lange was eight feet wide, 38 feet in diameter, and rotated 360 degrees at three miles an hour. No soundstage at Elstree Studios could house it, so it had to be constructed in an airplane hangar. Routinely, lights and 16mm projectors would jigger loose from whatever happened to be the “ceiling” that day, and would come crashing down below. Kubrick made hardhats de riguer for those working in the Centrifuge.
The mind-numbing effect of actor Gary Lockwood (portraying astronaut Frank Poole) running around the Centrifuge’s circumference was achieved by rotating the set one way and having the actor run in place as the camera—resting on a metal rod running through the middle of the set—rotated the opposite direction. Like a seasoned trainer, Kubrick would yell out boxing directions–”Jab! Now a left!”–to Lockwood.
Note how the end of Khatchaturian’s music coincides with the closing of the hatch. Keir Dullea, playing astronaut Dave Bowman, walks over to a strapped-in Lockwood who, at the scene’s beginning, is hanging upside down. The set rotates, returning Lockwood to a normal sitting position as Dullea approaches. Dullea, by the way, does a great job of convincing us the food he’s getting is hot.
The Centrifuge set was equipped with a shower, a tanning bed, a rec room, an electric piano, a kitchen, a ping-pong table, and five hibernation compartments. It was also abundantly adorned with computer consoles, all running multiple iterations of Trumbull’s computer readouts.
The video pads that the astronauts watch accurately predict Apple’s iPad, though they would not be introduced to the public until 2010.
Contrary to a rampant movie myth, HAL 9000’s name is not a letter-play on IBM. The fact that the letters in HAL’s name are exactly the ones that proceed I, B, and M in the alphabet is merely coincidental, according to Clarke. The acronym HAL stands for Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic computer. This refers to the types of learning HAL has mastered (“heuristic” means self-taught and “algorithmic” means problem-solving).
Keir Dullea first came to film audiences’ attention playing a jumpy young street thug in Irvin Kershner’s 1961 drama The Hoodlum Priest. A nervous energy suited him well for his very notable performance as the touch-phobic teenager in Frank Perry’s landmark indie film David and Lisa (62). After winning awards for that performance at the Venice and San Francisco film festivals, he appeared in the 1964 version of The Thin Red Line before being cast in 2001: A Space Odyssey. While in Britain, he managed to complete two controversial Otto Preminger works—Bunny Lake is Missing (65) and The Fox (66)–before 2001 was released.
Many critics sarcastically pointed out HAL 9000 was the picture’s most human character. Kubrick felt this was stating the obvious, and was annoyed when this was cast as a liability to the film.
Kubrick initially cast Douglas Rain, the inimitable voice of HAL 9000, to be 2001‘s narrator. He first noticed the Canadian actor after hearing his commentary for Universe (60), Colin Low’s Oscar-winning National Film Board of Canada short, which was, along with 1964 World’s Fair film To The Moon and Beyond, a tremendous influence on 2001‘s visual effects. When the director scrapped Clarke’s narration midway through production, he recruited Rain as the computer’s voice. He was then a trained Shakespearean actor, a Tony-nominated, 20-year veteran of the Stratford-Ontario Festival, and this was his first feature role. It is arguably the most famous and essential voice-over performance in cinema history.
For his barely eight minutes of dialogue as HAL, Douglas Rain spent a mere ten hours in a recording studio with Kubrick, who fed him the “human” lines. Rain never saw a complete script or a foot of film until 2001 was released.
Gary Lockwood (real name: John Gary Yusolfsky) was a college football star who entered the acting field in the early ’60s (when he was already a fan of Kubrick’s movies). Up until 2001, his most notable screen time was spent as co-star to Warren Beatty and Elvis Presley (in Splendor in the Grass (61) and It Happened at the World’s Fair (62), respectively). He was tapped as the lead to a short-lived American cop show called The Lieutenant in 1963. Kubrick chose both Lockwood and Dullea for their strong, lean physiques and for the cool, detached qualities that made them so intensely resemble well-trained astronauts.
This is the second birthday celebrated in 2001. Note Poole’s agitated reaction to his parents’ off-key singing. The father’s parting line–”See you next Wednesday”–was appropriated as a catch phrase by director John Landis, who used the line as the title of a film playing at a theater in Kentucky Fried Movie (77), as the title of a porn film in An American Werewolf in London (81) and, in others like Trading Places (83) and The Blues Brothers (80), as graffiti or a line of dialogue.
Kubrick played chess obsessively, and had since his younger days hustling games at the cement boards in NYC’s Washington Square Park. “Chess masters,” he once said, “will sometimes spend half of the entire game allotted to them on a single move because they know that, if it isn’t right, their whole game falls apart. In much the same way, you have to devote what appears to be dangerous amounts of time on certain crucial aspects of your film.” Kubrick would take, on average, five years to complete a movie. Parker Brothers almost inserted a game, Pentimento, as a plaything between HAL and the astronauts, but the sequence was eventually cut from the film. One wonders if HAL ever let his opponents win.
Dave Bowman’s still life drawings were penned by art director Tony Masters, whose distinguished career as a set designer includes work on such epics as David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (62) and David Lynch’s Dune (84).
There wasn’t enough room in the Centrifuge set for Kubrick, the cameramen and their equipment, so Kubrick directed these scenes from outside the set, using a close-circuit video camera to view the action. Thus, Kubrick—like Jerry Lewis before him and Francis Coppola after–pioneered the use of “video assist” as a directing tool; with it, all were able to direct scenes from a distance and then see the results immediately on video playback.
Kubrick first considered British actor Nigel Davenport for the voice of HAL 9000, then decided he didn’t want the computer to have an English accent. He then volleyed over to Academy Award-winning actor Martin Balsam, but eventually vetoed him as “too emotional.” Before hiring Douglas Rain, Kubrick was starting to get frustrated in his search, joking that perhaps the computer “should sound like Jackie Mason.”
Arthur C. Clarke, in 1964, composed the first draft of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey while residing in Suite 1008 of New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Dylan Thomas, and Allan Ginsburg all lived and composed work at the Chelsea. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen there. William S. Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch there. Folk singers Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen composed songs there, while it was used as a set for Andy Warhol’s famed, twin-screened avant garde work Chelsea Girls (66). During Clarke’s stay at the hotel, the sixth floor caught on fire and, for a few scary moments, he feared the manuscript for 2001 had turned to ash.
Clarke once joked that, as he was first writing the parts of the novel where HAL began to have his breakdown, he started to feel a little scared of his electric typewriter.
The Mission Control spokesman is played by US Air Force air traffic controller Frank Miller. A non-actor, Miller was so jittery about delivering his lines correctly that he would tap his feet, creating a thump on the soundtrack. Kubrick thoughtfully accommodated him by pacing a blanket underneath his shoes to muffle the sound.
Many of 2001‘s Discovery sets, including the Pod Bay, were rebuilt in 1983 for Peter Hyams’ sequel 2010. Keir Dullea returned for the sequel, as did Douglas Rain.
Variety‘s Robert B. Frederick reviewed 2001 upon its release and deemed it a “big beautiful but plodding sci-fi epic…2001 is not a cinematic landmark. It compares with, but does not best, previous efforts at science fiction; lacking the humanity of Forbidden Planet, the imagination of Things to Come and the simplicity of Of Stars and Men, it actually belongs to the technically-slick group previously dominated by George Pal and the Japanese.”
The recreation of the Discovery One model used in 2010 was housed at Atlanta’s CNN Center beginning in the late ’80s. In the ’90s, it moved over to the Atlanta offices of Turner Entertainment, where the 20-foot model probably still remains, along with a 2001 red spacesuit recreation and a white Cosmonaut suit from 2010.
The pod’s emergence from the command module was another animated effects shot that took hours to film. The pod model, equipped with real lights, was 13 inches in diameter, with the head of the Discovery six feet around. The Discovery cockpit was later matted in.
Gary Lockwood had worked with Kubrick before—as a $50-a-day extra on Spartacus (60).
The National Council of Astronautics decals on top of Dullea’s space helmet make the creature drifting from the pod look like some sort of overgrown bird—which is, perhaps, Kubrick’s point.
Though he received a pilot’s license in 1947, Stanley Kubrick was ironically afraid of flying. His fear dated back to his once losing control of his twin engine plane while attempting a takeoff; the glitch and the subsequent struggle to get the craft under control made the filmmaker realize how truly dangerous aviation was. The fallibility of machines is a major theme expressed not only in 2001 but in most of Kubrick’s films.
The spacewalk scenes were achieved by hanging a stuntman and a pod from wires attached to the studio ceiling. The camera was placed underneath, shooting upwards, with the stuntman’s body and the pod blocking the wires, giving the illusion of weightlessness.
“To be boring is the worst sin of all.” –Stanley Kubrick
This shot contains more authentic, pre-CGI 16mm animation from Trumbull’s team. 150 different images of X-rayed mechanisms and computer chip configurations were used for the AE-35 unit’s calibration scene. The astronauts’ tense distrust of HAL here is palpable.
Kubrick and his assistant director Derek Cracknell would take turns playing the voice of HAL opposite Lockwood and Dullea. Both would radio in their lines from off-set, lending the situation verisimilitude prior to the post-production addition of Rain’s voice. But these director’s voices couldn’t have been farther away from Rain’s controlled tones: Kubrick’s was still tinged with a mild New York accent, while Cracknell’s was pure Cockney.
The British Actor’s Guild objected strongly to Kubrick’s casting of non-actor Frank Miller as the face of Mission Control. But Kubrick stood his ground, remaining unconvinced by British thespians attempting the same quality that Miller displayed naturally.
In 2010, the twin niner-triple-zero computer is equipped with a female voice (provided by Candace Bergen) and is called SAL 9000. Early on, Kubrick and Clarke considered naming the computer “Athena” and giving it feminine traits.
According to Clarke, HAL is a product of human programming and is thus a victim of our innate weakness. “He had been fouled by those clods at Mission Control,” Clarke said, in a statement that transforms the computer into one of the most tragically misunderstood “villains” in all of cinema. In 2010, HAL is given a chance to redeem “himself” with acts of compassion, humility, and cooperation.
2001 has been parodied endlessly. Mad Magazine dubbed it 201 Min. of A Space Idiocy. An early movie precursor to Saturday Night Live called The Groove Tube (74) extensively spoofed the Dawn of Man sequence, with a TV standing in for the Monolith. John Carpenter’s first film Dark Star (73) is basically a feature-length parody, right down to its philosophical undertones, malfunctioning “smart” bomb, and quiet ambiance. Movies and TV shows as diverse as Clueless (96), The Simpsons, Sleeper (74), Minnie and Moskowicz (71), Spaceballs (87), Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mr. Show, The Electric Company, SCTV, and countless others have had a go at the film.
Robert O’Brien, president of MGM during the time 2001 was being shot, deserves much credit for sticking by Kubrick in troubled times. In 1964, the director promised MGM’s board that the film would cost $6 million and would be delivered by December ’66. When both estimates almost doubled, it sent the already failing studio into a tailspin. But O’Brien stood between agitated stockholders and the obsessed director, ensuring that 2001 would receive the best production money could buy. An appreciative Kubrick said “Although he was bothered constantly by the problem of maintaining control of the company…he was very strong in not passing these problems on to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was an embarrassment to him during the making of it. It certainly hasn’t been an embarrassment since then, but before anybody actually saw it, I’m sure they wondered what’s going on.” In 1969, on his last day as MGM’s president, O’Brien gushed about 2001‘s quality and profitability: “Kubrick made one of the greatest movies of all time. He did things no one had ever done before…no one knew how to do them.”
This pod interior is a separate, fully operational set, unlike the interior of the dummy pod Dullea and Lockwood just entered.
Gary Lockwood later confessed to stealing some MGM camera equipment while waiting for shot set-ups, and using it to produce an 18-minute black comedy.
As the astronauts conduct their supposedly private powwow about HAL’s eventual fate, HAL himself sneakily, slyly has the last laugh before we go into intermission. Gary Lockwood claims that he’s the one that suggested that HAL be reading the astronauts’ lips.
Before beginning production on 2001, Stanley Kubrick, in keeping with his usual filmmaking modus operandi, devoured every book and magazine article on space exploration he could get his hands on. He consumed the entire history of science fiction in literature and film, right down to its pulpiest and most obscure examples. The detail-oriented filmmaker spent a year researching and writing the project with Clarke. Vincent LoBrutto, in his biography Stanley Kubrick, estimated that they spent 2400 hours working on both the script and the novel. But the team’s method of devising the screenplay—and defining their individual contributions to it—were quite unusual.
At his own suggestion, Clarke’s nine-page short story “The Sentinel,” first published in 1951 under the title “Sentinel of Eternity” in the magazine 10 Story Fantasy, served as the core basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey. After many months of long, esoteric, mentally challenging discussions about anthropology, psychology, robotics, UFOs, metaphysics, theology, supernovas, the space race, the Cold War, and sci-fi movies, among many other topics, Kubrick had Clarke expand the ideas expressed in “The Sentinel” into a longer novel. “Every time I get through a session with Stanley,” Clarke said, “I have to go lie down.”
Clarke holed up at the Chelsea Hotel, delivering a first draft to the novel to Kubrick on Christmas 1964, nine months after the two had first met. Kubrick began culling together the shooting script on his own as Clarke delivered subsequent drafts of the novel. At the end of his writing day, Clarke would call Kubrick at his home in Borehamwood, England for a lengthy talk about the day’s work. By the end of 1965, both a final draft of the novel and the script were completed.
Clarke and Kubrick were logical about working out the credits for the book and the script. Since Clarke largely wrote the book with Kubrick commenting liberally, Clarke would get the majority of credit for it (though the novel’s dust jacket says “Based on a screenplay by Stanley Kubrick”), Meanwhile, for the film, Kubrick would get billing over Clarke. The split up the profits logically, too—Kubrick got 40% of the book sales and 60% of the script sale, while Clarke received 60% of the book profits and 40% of the script proceeds.
After its first preview, in which Kubrick was alarmed at the number of walk-outs, the director excised much extraneous footage to make the film flow more evenly. A major portion of those cuts consisted of shots trimmed from the second pod EVA (extra-vehicular-activity) scene.
This shot, of the disabled Poole struggling for life, was shot as a slower speed to make Poole’s death throes more desperate.
Photographer Geoffrey Unsworth’s assistant, John Alcott, photographed much of 2001, marking the beginning of a decade-long collaboration between he and Kubrick. They worked together on A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon (for which Alcott collected an Oscar), and The Shining. Unfortunately, his non-Kubrick films weren’t as notable (with 1984’s Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes an exception). Sadly, in 1987, Alcott died from an untimely heart attack.
2001 in one of the few SF films that get one basic fact about cosmic travel correct: there is no sound in space.
Harry Lange, the former NASA spacecraft designer, drafted all spaceship interiors and exteriors, and the Clavius moonbase (including the TMA-1 set), prior to set construction. Though he was not trained in film art direction, he ended up with a lucrative show business career. Along with Ernie Archer and Tony Masters, Lange shared both a BAFTA award (the British Oscar) and an Academy Award nomination for his one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. 2001 would definitely not be the same without his work.
Winston Ryder, a longtime denizen of Elstree Studios, took on the task of designing the sound mix and effects for 2001. His impressive collection of beeps, clicks, hisses, whirrs, and hums, not to mention his engineering of the extremely realistic-sounding roars of the apes in the Dawn of Man sequence, earned the film yet another BAFTA citation.
Clarke postulated that 5% of 2001‘s success could be attributed to his contribution, 5% to the visual effects team, and 90% “on the imagination of Kubrick.”
Kubrick tried to use dummies for these rescue scenes, but their limbs didn’t bob plausibly, so he recruited a few unfortunate stuntmen to do the job instead. They donned the spacesuit and suspended themselves from wires for up to eight hours at a time, often fainting from heat exhaustion in the process. Kubrick devised a way to get water and oxygen to the men, but the scenes were still excruciating to film, as they required a lot of smashing into a suspended, full-sized space pod, 12 feet in diameter.
A website exists called The 2001 Spacesuit Recreation Project. It chronicles fan recreations or restorations of famous 2001 props, including: the spacesuit, a full-sized space pod, the AE-35 unit, the red chairs in the space station, and a HAL panel.
Hibernation specialists from New York University assured Kubrick that long periods of slowed-down body activity were possible. They would be consulted on the shape of the hibernation chambers, and on what vital body information would need to be monitored. NASA scientist Frederick Ordway was brought onto the production as adviser, and MIT artificial intelligence specialist Marvin Minsky was also consulted on the plausibility of HAL’s intelligence. Over 50 scientific bodies were involved in verifying 2001‘s realism.
On the 2001 set, there was no sleeping on the job. As with all his films. Kubrick demanded that his cast and crew match him in stamina. Dullea later said, at a 2008 talk at NYC’s Film Forum, that there were no laughs on set, as the atmosphere was intensely focused. For the better part of a four-year shoot, they worked brutally long 12-hour+ days. Kubrick would be attired in either his customary black suit (of which he owned 7 identical copies), or in a duck-hunting jacket he liked because of its many pockets for lenses and other necessities. Freelance visual effects artists would buckle under the pressure Kubrick put on them to do good work at extended lengths (one left the set in tears). Still, cast and crew paint a picture of Kubrick as a demanding artist who naturally inspired his collaborators to do their very best, if only to please him.
Keir Dullea: “HAL is more personable than I am. To play a 21st Century astronaut, I tried to show as a man without emotional highs or lows—an intelligent, highly-trained man, lonely and alienated, and not too imaginative.”
Kubrick makes the pod even more claustrophobic by projecting the computer readouts onto Dullea’s face, making him seem cornered by the technology that surrounds him. His frantic repeating of HAL’s name is truly unnerving, as are HAL’s cool, superior responses.
Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea had a difficult time topping their 2001 roles in the years that followed (really, though, how could they top this?). Lockwood followed 2001 with one more MGM production (They Came to Rob Las Vegas) and then, in the early ’70s, headlined a few daring if little seen films about West Coast radicals (R.P.M., Model Shop and Stand Up and Be Counted). By the mid-70s, he’d divorced his wife, actress Stefanie Powers, and had retreated to appearances on TV detective shows and in B-movies like Hot Georgia Road (77) and Survival Zone (83). Dullea’s career was more interesting. He played the title role in the 1969 bio-pic of S&M master De Sade, and originated the lovestruck blind man in the 1970 Broadway production of Butterflies are Free. His intense manner gave him presence in two notable ’70s horror films, the Mia Farrow vehicle The Haunting of Julia (77) and Bob Clark’s now-classic Black Christmas (74). He also appeared in a TV adaptation of Huxley’s Brave New World (80) and in a sci-fi TV series The Starlost (73). But other than his 1984 reprisal of his most famous screen role as the fully-evolved Dave Bowman in 2010, Dullea’s most notable work in the past few decades has been on the London and New York stages, though he had small roles in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepard (2006) and in 2014’s indie darling Infinitely Polar Bear (and currently has a role in Hulu’s The Path). Nowadays, both Dullea and Lockwood make numerous live appearances at screenings of 2001, and at sci-fi conventions like San Diego’s Comic-Con and Atlanta’s Dragon-Con. They joined in, quite wonderfully, on an hour-long episode of Alec Baldwin’s short-lived 2013 talk show Up Late with Alec Baldwin.
Kubrick and Clarke debated on how to pronounce “2001.” Was it “two thousand one?” “Two thousand and one?” “Twenty-oh-one?” They settled on “two thousand and one,” then wondered if their decision would influence the way it was really said when the year finally arrived. In 2001, most newspeople recited the year as “two thousand one.”
Jerome Agel’s wonderful but out-of-print paperback The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 remains the definitive yet most compact book on the film’s production (much larger works have been devoted to the film through the years, including a recent box set by Taschen). One of the first detailed “making of” books devoted to one film, it’s an exhaustive collection of articles about and reviews of the movie (even some from the college press). It’s packed with 90 pages of black-and-white production photos and behind-the-scenes snapshots (many taken by Doug Trumbull), as well as letters to Kubrick (as many of them angry as awed), and a myriad of scientific and film factoids relating to the landmark film. Distinctively designed, it also included a number of cogent readings of 2001, one of which (from Margaret Stackhouse, a 15-year-old student at New Jersey’s North Plainfield High School) struck Kubrick as particularly insightful. “Margaret Stackhouse’s speculations on the film,” he wrote, “are perhaps the most intelligent that I’ve read anywhere, and I am, of course, including all the reviews and the articles that have appeared on the film and the many hundreds of letters that I have received. What a first-rate intelligence!” Her analysis can be seen online here.
Appropriately, Agel had designed a number of books written by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, which might explain why Agel found the radical structure of 2001 so intriguing. McLuhan, originator of terms like “The medium is the message” and “hot and cold mediums” had this very curious observation about Kubrick’s film: “A movie like 2001 belongs to 1901, or even to the world of Jules Verne. It is filled with 19th Century hardware and Newtonian imagery. It has few, if any, 20th Century qualities.”
An extensive team of technicians manned an ultra-complex control console in order to make the pod’s arms and fingers move properly.
2001‘s deliberately paced editing is by Ray Lovejoy, who also served Kubrick once more on 1980’s The Shining. Lovejoy was an apprentice to Dr. Strangelove editor Anthony Harvey. When it came time to begin production on 2001, the director called on Harvey and asked if he was interested in cutting it. Kubrick could sense his reluctance; he then suggested Harvey had been an editor long enough, and that it was time for him to move on to directing his own films. Harvey gratefully took the advise and recommended Lovejoy for 2001. Coincidentally, in 1968, the year of 2001‘s release, Harvey emerged with only his second film as director, the 12th Century period piece The Lion in Winter. He ended up not only besting Kubrick at the American Director’s Guild, but also competing along with him in the 1969 Oscar race for Best Director.
The emergency airlock, which Dave Bowman uses to re-enter the Discovery, was a 15-foot-long set positioned not horizontally, as it appears, but vertically. Kubrick placed the camera at the bottom of the set, while Dullea, holding his breath and suspended by wires, could be dropped towards it from the top, to make it look like he’s exploding into the airlock (along with a generous puff of smoke). Kubrick also under-cranked the camera speed so that, when projected, Dullea’s propulsion would quicken and look more violent. The nearly silent scene almost always makes audiences gasp with horror before the sound of rushing air cuts in mightily.
Kubrick is operating the handheld camera that follows Bowman to HAL’s “brain room.”
HAL’s harried dialogue here–in certainly the film’s most sadly humorous moment–undercuts the tension and wrenches from the viewer sympathy for the machine, despite its nefarious behavior for the last 45 minutes.
HAL’s warmly lit brain room was a set 36 feet high and 3½ feet wide. The only person injured on any 2001 set was a lighting technician who, while hanging at the top of the set, tried to catch some toppling equipment and ended up breaking his back in a fall.
Amazingly, at the 1969 Academy Awards, 2001: A Space Odyssey—the second-biggest box office hit of the year (Funny Girl made more money that year, though 2001 eventually surpassed it) and easily the most talked-about movie of the season–failed to get a nomination for Best Picture (it was stepped over for Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel Rachel, Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, and Oliver!, the eventual winner). Kubrick himself did end up with three nominations—one as director, as co-writer with Clarke, and as visual effects designer (the Academy wouldn’t allow more than three FX names on the ballot, so Kubrick took one for the team, to the respectful consternation of his four Effects Supervisors). The film got one other nod for its art direction. Kubrick’s effects award was all but a lock—2001 was up against Ice Station Zebra—but Oscar Night saw the direction and set design awards going to Carol Reed’s Oliver!, while the Original Screenplay award went to Mel Brooks’ The Producers (somehow, 2001 wasn’t considered an adapted script under Academy rules). In awarding his 1968 alternate Best Picture Oscar to 2001, Danny Peary (in his 1993 book Alternate Oscars) wrote that the Academy’s “embarrassing failure to even nominate 2001…was taken as an insult by perceptive young filmgoers who got a new perspective on the types of films allowed to win major awards.” The 1968 Visual Effects Oscar would be the only one Kubrick would receive in his entire career.
Kubrick missed one continuity mistake in the brain room scene. In one shot, none of the bottom row of HAL’s translucent memory bars have been ejected, and in the next shot, the entire bottom row of memory bars are jutting out.
HAL’s birthday is January 12, 1992.
In the book, HAL’s first instructor was named Dr, Chandra, not Mr. Langley. It was discovered there really was a Dr. Chandra in Urbana, Illinois in the late ’60s. The character of Dr. Chandra was reintroduced in 2010, and was played by Bob Balaban.
“Daisy Bell” was an 1896 popular tune, written the same year as Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. The song is also known as “A Bicycle Built for Two.” Kubrick got the idea from a real IBM 7094 computer that was trained in 1961 to “sing” the song for its creators (it was kind of a Baby HAL). HAL’s sad, slow death provides 2001 with perhaps its most memorable scene. Dullea’s breathy performance as HAL expires is effectively jolting.
The gentleman giving the surprise video briefing is William Sylvester’s Dr. Heywood Floyd. His monologue here, triggered automatically as the Discovery reaches Jupiter airspace, gives inattentive or confused audience members the only solid verbal clues as to the film’s plot and purpose. They are also the final spoken words in the film–ones that reveal HAL had been lied to by NASA as to the purpose of the mission. This was the whole reason he went haywire in the first place: mistrust.
This image, of a wondrous Dave Bowman freshly victorious over technology and confronted with new truths about his mission’s purpose, was repeatedly used in MGM’s ad campaign.
2001‘s final chapter–“Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”–is its most visually striking and narratively demanding. The Discovery has reached Jupiter. It is now 390,700,000 miles from Earth.
The music for this segment is a combination of three Ligeti pieces: Atmospheres, Requiem, and an unbilled Aventures. According to Wikipedia: “An electronically altered version of Aventures, unlisted in the film credits, is heard in the cryptic final scenes. The music was used, and in some cases modified, without Ligeti’s knowledge and without full copyright clearance; when the film came to Ligeti’s attention, he ‘successfully sued for having had his music distorted,’ but settled out of court. Kubrick in return sought permission and compensated Ligeti for use of his music in later films.” Ligeti eventually admitted that, without Kubrick’s films (including The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut), his music would certainly be less well-known.
Kubrick wanted to have the Discovery travel to Saturn because he thought the planet more visually interesting. But when it was determined that its rings would be too difficult to reproduce, the director opted for Jupiter instead. FX supervisor Doug Trumbull would make his directorial debut in 1972 with Silent Running, in which the plant-carrying spaceships convincingly orbit Saturn.
The Discovery resembles a stylized sperm cell, and the planets resemble eggs. Given the Starchild at the end of 2001, it could be said that the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” finale dramatizes the conception of a higher form of mankind.
Arthur C. Clarke: “I like to think of the Monolith as a sort of cosmic Swiss Army Knife—it just does what it wants to do.”
The images of Jupiter and its moons were painted by 2001‘s effects team and then turned into transparencies which were photographed on an animation stand.
Kubrick: “The trip and the magical alignment of Jupiter and its satellites are the only things in 2001 that don’t conform to what is known to physicists and astronomers.”
Clarke was surprised when someone pointed out to him that the Monolith completes the sign of the Christian cross, with Jupiter’s aligned moons completing the vertical stroke. Clarke didn’t think it was intentional, but Kubrick has said that “on the deepest psychological levels, [the film symbolizes] the search for God.”
Kubrick coached Dullea through these stunning close-up shots, playing Vaughn Williams’ Anarctica Suite to assist him in visualizing the rushing infinite. Dullea had the ability, through isometrics, to shake violently, so Kubrick filmed this with an under-cranked camera so that Dullea’s head appeared to tremble inside his helmet.
Kubrick assigned the now-famous Stargate sequence to Douglas Trumbull. He wanted to show Bowman hurtling into infinity, and he wasn’t sure how to pull it off. After talking with experimental filmmakers, Trumbull came back with plans for a gadget that could take back-lit transparencies and, by exposing each frame of film for a full minute while moving the camera and artwork in tandem, record that artwork directly onto the film stock in a streaky, stylized fashion, complete with an endless horizon. Trumbull called the massive apparatus the Slitscan Machine, and it proved to be the key to this sequence. Trumbull amassed hundreds of examples of grids, Op-Art, electron and molecular photography, landscapes, and imagery of electronic circuits to feed through the Slitscan. The finished results were astonishing. The Slitscan Machine was also used for ABC’s ’70s-era Movie of the Week opening.
In 1968, when drug experimentation was at a literal high, word got out quickly that 2001 was the supreme “head” movie. Many dropped LSD or smoked pot before the show, hoping for a blown mind. And some got it, too. A San Francisco theater reported one blitzed patron running toward the screen during the “trip” sequence, yelling “It’s God! It’s God!” Kubrick appreciated the youth crowd that embraced (and saved) his film, but said he would put off experimenting with drugs indefinitely. “It deprives you of any kind of self-criticism, which is absolutely essential for any artist to have. It’s very dangerous to be zonked out by everything you see and think of, and to believe all of your ideas are of cosmic proportions.”
The term “The Ultimate Trip” was coined by Christian Science Monitor film critic Louise Sweeney, who used it in her review to label the “dazzling, 160-minute tour on the Kubrick filmship.” After reprinting her review in ads for the film, MGM eventually appropriated the phrase as a tagline for its 1971 re-release.
These ethereal shots of supernovas and galaxies were filmed in an abandoned NYC corset factory by freelance 2001 effects artists. They consist of extreme close-up shots of various chemicals and paints mingling together while back lit. They resemble the work of experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson, who provided director Philip Kaufman with similar effects for his space race masterpiece The Right Stuff (83). Some of the resultant images here begin to morph into alien faces and even embryos.
Will Jones, critic for the Minneapolis Tribune, duly represented the large number of people who just didn’t get Kubrick’s movie when he recounted in his review: “My wife went into the ladies’ room in the middle of the overly-long psychedelic sequence. While there, she met another truant. ‘Do you like it?’ ‘Like it?’ said the beautiful woman I’ve married. ‘After this, I don’t even like Dr. Strangelove anymore.’
Trumbull called the collection of Slitscanned diamonds “The Mindbender Effect.”
Kubrick requested that second-unit photographer Robert Gaffney charter a helicopter to capture some low-altitude shots of barren landscapes. After some research, the director settled on locations around the Hebrides Mountains in Scotland and Monument Valley in Arizona (where John Wayne shot many John Ford westerns). Kubrick took this footage and ran it through a development process called solarization, where colors and textures of the original film are chemically realigned in vividly neon-like ways. Kubrick had his otherworldly landscapes.
Kubrick considered showing audiences some extraterrestrials here, but early special effects tests failed to meet his high standards. Anyway, early on in the project, not-yet-famous astronomer and later Cosmos host Carl Sagan consulted with Kubrick and warned him against portraying any ETs in 2001. The likelihood of aliens looking remotely human was minuscule at best, Sagan thought, and anything Kubrick could come up with would feel artificial.
2001: A Space Odyssey and its year of release, 1968, were a perfect match. ’68 was one of the most politically and socially divisive years in world history. Between the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention, the growing Generation Gap, and the continuing escalation of the Vietnam War, it was clear people were not getting along. 2001 may have been G-rated, but the startlingly diverse reactions to it, split chiefly down generational lines—with the youth pro and their elders con—perfectly summed up the year in movie terms.
Bowman’s eye changes color seven times. In numerology, 7 is a mystical number jam-packed with meaning in all cultures.
Bowman has emerged from his travels through eternity and, now in shock, stands in a strange room. Decorated in authentic Louis XIV furniture, the room also sports brazenly modernist touches (including built-in lighting, which Kubrick always favored for his sets). Kubrick and Clarke describe this room as a holding pen for Bowman, designed for his utmost comfort by the aliens who are studying him.
Bowman sees his life pass quickly by, in a clever Kubrickian trick, as Gyorgy Ligeti’s altered Aventures serves as a tittering, highly-effective representation of mockery coming from an amused superior intelligence.
A Kubrick tradition: set a scene in the bathroom. In the late ’60s, seeing a toilet onscreen was still a just-broken taboo (perhaps first breached in America by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (60)).
Lots of famous people chimed in with their reactions to 2001. John Lennon said “I see it every week.”
Italian director Franco Zefferelli cabled Kubrick, telling him “YOU MAKE ME DREAM WITH EYES WIDE OPEN,” eerily presaging the title of Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (99).
Cass Elliott, of the pop band The Mamas and the Papas, said “It’s not often I have my chemistry altered by a film.”
The first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, praised its “accurate portrayal of spaceflight,” while the first man to walk in space, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, said “Now I feel I have been in space twice.”
Then-newcomer David Bowie was so inspired by 2001 that he wrote his first bonafide hit “Space Oddity.”
Reports came back that, by 2001‘s end, Charlie Chaplin “was weeping at the sheer beauty of the accomplishment.”
Media artist and film director Saul Bass, who designed the credits sequence for Spartacus, called it “beautiful and exciting.”
Director Michelangelo Antonioni admitted that the film was gorgeous, but that he thought Kubrick was “confused.”
Federico Fellini wrote Kubrick a note: “I saw yesterday your film and I need to tell you my emotion, my enthusiasm. I wish you the best of luck in your path.”
Activist Abbie Hoffman said that “2001 has things to feel in it, and it’s fascinating how all the human emotions come through so clearly in a film that, on its surface, seems to deal so much with machines.”
Director Richard Lester sent Kubrick his congratulations, noting that “Once again, you have given us all something to aim at.”
At yet another dinner scene, the breaking of the glass goblet is a reminder that Dave Bowman, for all his travels, still can make human mistakes. Some theorize that it has overtones of Judaism. Stanley Kubrick hailed from a Jewish background.
It took 12 hours for makeup artist Stuart Freeborn to affix the latex old age applications to Dullea’s face and arms.
The monolith has finally arrived to oversee Bowman’s transformation from Man to Superman, as Friedrich Nietzsche might say.
In 1970, Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert played a recording of 2001‘s theme Also Sprach Zarathustra for TV cameras just before memorably uttering “Uh, Houston, we have a problem.” Here, it plays for the third and final time.
The Star Child was a three-foot high fiberglass doll equipped with movable eyes and modeled on Keir Dullea’s features by sculptress Liz Moore, who also contributed nude sculptures to the Korova Milkbar in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It was utilized as the main image on movie posters upon 2001‘s re-release to theaters in both 1971 and 2001. Its striking visage contributes immeasurably to 2001‘s powerful effect.
Like most Kubrick movies, initially, 2001 was greeted with a stunned reaction that was at once warm and baffled. Some were confused, some were bored, some were dazzled, and others were a combination of all three. Some critics proclaimed the director’s genius outright. In Paris’ L’Express, Pierre Billard called it a “film full of mystery, uniting, in original form, science and true art and marking an epoch—Year One in the cinema of the future.” Some, like Archer Winsten of the New York Post and Joseph Gelmis of Newsday, panned the film and then doubled back to praise it after a second viewing. Others, like the New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael, viciously went for the jugular (critic John Simon called it “a shaggy God story,” appropriating a phrase coined in 1965 by sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, who’d later provide the basis for another Kubrick-led sci-fi film A.I.. Artificial Intelligence).
After the reviews were in, an MGM spokesman remarked that Kubrick was “puzzled over the difficulty and lack of understanding being reported.” But the concern wasn’t too stifling; the filmmakers soon knew 2001 was finding its audience. It quickly became one of the studio’s five highest-grossing movies. Including re-releases, repertory showings, and initial box office, the film amassed almost $57 million at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, that sum balloons to nearly $345 million. More importantly, though, everyone everywhere was talking about it, and being transformed by it.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) joked after 2001 wrapped that “MGM doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve footed the bill for the first $10,500,000 religious film.” He would go on to author three best-selling sequels to 2001: A Space Odyssey–2010: Odyssey Two (1982), 2061: Odyssey Three (1985) and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1996). 2001 fan Tom Hanks has long talked about pursuing a film version of the final two novels.
Alex North’s old friend, film composer Jerry Goldsmith—who produced a 1993 recording of his lost 2001 score after North’s 1991 death—later berated Kubrick’s musical choices, saying they were out-of-step with his futuristic images. But Kubrick lashed out at this opinion. “Don’t underestimate the charm of The Blue Danube. Most people under 35 can think of it in an objective way as a beautiful composition. Older people somehow associate it with the Palm Court Orchestra, and therefore criticize its use. But it’s hard to find anything much better for depicting grace and beauty in turning.” 2001‘s present soundtrack album, released on vinyl in ’68 and updated for digital in the late ’90s (complete with HAL’s eight minutes of dialogue), is now a perennial best-seller.
Time has been very kind to 2001‘s reputation. In 1992, it finally broke through to tenth place on Sight and Sound‘s once-a-decade international critic’s poll as to the Best Films of All Time. In their 2002 poll, it rose to number six, a position where it remained in the 2012 polling. The American Film Institute’s controversial 1998 list of America’s 100 greatest films placed it at #22 (it finished at #7 on the AFI’s 1977 poll, though–and is it even an American film?). Even the Vatican, in their 1994 list of 45 “Important Films,” placed 2001: A Space Odyssey at the top of their list of “masterpieces of cinematic language and art.”
This tremendous work stands as a seismic influence on modern cinematic storytelling and visual craft. More crucially, it serves as an inspirational testament to the utterly moving power of filmed imagination.
“If 2001 has stirred your emotions, your subconscious, your mythological yearnings, then it has succeeded.” —Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999)
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Bizony, Piers. 2001: Filming the Future. Aurum, 1994.
Ciment, Michel. Kubrick. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.
Clarke, Arthur C. The Lost Worlds of 2001. Signet, 1968.
Coyle, Wallace. Stanley Kubrick: A Guide to References and Resources. G.K. Hall, 1980
Kagan, Norman. The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
LoBrutto, Vincent. Stanley Kubrick. Donald Fine, 1997.
Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars. Delta, 1993.
Phillips, Gene D. Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey. Popular Library, 1975.
Walker, Alexander. Stanley Kubrick Directs. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Notes written and collected by Dean Treadway, 1999/2016.