2001: A Space Odyssey
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The creation of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was as big an epic as the movie itself. Employing teams of professionals in every field from space flight to food services, Stanley Kubrick set out to make what he simply described as a "good science fiction film." His first step was to contact famed author Arthur C. Clarke, and over the next four years the two men crafted a "fictionalized science lesson" which was to be a coming of age of the entire human race.
Based on a short story written by Clarke in 1950 called "The Sentinel", 2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of humankind's steps from cavemen to enlightened beings.
It is difficult to describe the events of 2001: A Space Odyssey with very much detail without spoiling many of the plot points, and ruining Kubrick's intention for the film, that we "experience" 2001, rather than merely "watch." With the help of Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick wanted to create the kind of science fiction film that just wasn't made before 2001: A Space Odyssey. A voracious fan of science fiction, Kubrick didn't want to merely tell a story about space, he wanted to tell a story about man's relationship to the universe Ða pretty tall order. Because of the immense detail required in a screenplay, Kubrick and Clarke started by writing the story as a novel, which would be primarily Clarke's task. After Clarke delivered the story as a gift to Kubrick for Christmas 1964, they began converting the plot into a screenplay and the adventure began. One of the crowning achievements of 2001: A Space Odyssey was the level of detail, which surpassed even Kubrick's usual demands. With the help of Scientific Consultant, Frederick Ordway, the production collaborated with companies like Whirlpool, RCA, GE, IBM, Pan Am, and NASA to provide a technological product placement. In exchange for discussing their plans for the future, and providing feasible designs for futuristic devices, cooperating companies would earn a place in the movie's environments. Hence, 2001 ASO is littered with amusing logos like Pan Am on the shuttle, and Howard Johnson's on the hotel in the space station. These little touches make life in space that much more believable.
This same commitment to detail was extended to the groundbreaking special effects in the film. During the Dawn Of Man sequence, Kubrick employed front projection rather than rear projection, which was most common. Kubrick felt that rear projection never looked convincing, so he mounted a projector from above and projected the background slide behind the set pieces at very low light. The result was a completely realistic environment. But without convincing ape-men, the background would have gone entirely to waste, so Kubrick employed British make up artist Stuart Freeborn to bring early man to life. Though Freeborn was snubbed for an Oscar for makeup in lieu of Planet Of the Apes (1968), Freeborn's complex masks and prosthetics actually allowed actors to articulate their lips more convincingly than those used for Planet of the Apes. Stuart Freeborn went on to design creatures for the Star Wars films.
The space sequences proved no less imaginative. Because characters would be traveling and living in a variety of environments onboard spaceships, Kubrick needed to find a realistic way to blend both gravity and weightless conditions. The techniques ranged from the simple method of mounting a pen on a piece of rotating plexi-glass so that it appeared to be floating, to actually rotating the set, while the actors roamed about inside. The weightless space walk sequences were achieved by suspending actors, and in some cases set pieces like the "pod" transports, from the ceiling by wires. The "floating" actors were then shot from below, their bodies hiding the wires. For the "stargate" sequence, FX Supervisor Douglas Trumbull devised what was called a "slitscan machine." The machine helped with the process of photographing backlit transparencies of artwork, exposing each frame for a full minute, and moving the camera and artwork in sync, recording the art with a "streaked," stylized fashion. The result was the appearance that Dave Bowman was moving through time and space at infinite speeds.
Taking just over four years, and costing MGM $11 million, 2001: A Space Odyssey was met with mixed reviews when it premiered on April 12, 1968. Critics pretty much hated the film, calling it slow, boring, and confusing. Luckily, for Kubrick and Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey struck a cord with younger audiences, who made the film the second biggest box office draw of 1968. 2001: A Space Odyssey is now widely praised as a remarkable achievement for its realistic depiction of space flight during a time when our space program was in its infancy. Years before we actually set foot on the moon, Kubrick and Clarke not only envisioned settlements there; they showed us an unsettlingly accurate portrayal of the lunar surface.
True, the film can be confusing Ð a point that Clarke concedes. During a trip to Hawaii from his home in Sri Lanka, Clarke was detained by an immigration official who joked, "I'm not going to let you in until you explain the ending of 2001 to me." But the film's ambiguity is part of its importance. Had Kubrick spelled it out entirely, he would have robbed viewers of the experience, and we would not still debate it today. As Kubrick himself commented, "...it's a non verbal experienceÉthe truth is in the feel of it, not the think of it."
Director/ Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, based on the story "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Art Direction: John Hoesli
Music: Aram Khachaturyan, Gyorgy Ligeti, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss
Cast: Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole), William Sylvester (Dr. Heywood R. Floyd), Daniel Richter (Moonwatcher), Leonard Rossiter (Smyslov), Douglas Rain (voice of Hal 9000).
C-149m. Letterboxed. Close captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Bill Goodman