You might recall hearing some alien sounds echoing around the room that Dave finds himself in. There was a time when we might have actually seen the aliens as well. Clarke had written a draft in which we would see Dave make contact with an alien. From the earliest days of preproduction, “Kubrick had commissioned hundreds of alien concepts from a variety of sources” and it was reported that no aspect of the film had been more “rethought and revised” (Cinefex 113).
Wally Gentleman said,
“In one treatment… the alien was to come along and take Bowman by the hand. It was going to be a towering insect-like creature—rather light and vaporous. One logical way to do this would have been to shoot the creature with a variable anamorphic lens to elongate the image onto film. With such a lens, you can squeeze the image from side to side and from top to bottom, and you can increase or decrease the ratio of the squeeze. Then, by projecting that squeezed image onto a mirror positioned in front of Bowman at an angle 45 degrees to the camera, we could have made the alien appear to be standing right next to him, and it would have been on the original negative.
Quite traditional, really – the technique goes back to the stage arts. There were many other alien concepts – most of them created after I left. One was a cone-shaped thing with pea bulbs all over it – a tall mass of glittering light that looked like a Christmas tree. Kubrick had Doug Trumbull working on the thing, but Doug was rather contemptuous of the whole idea” (Cinefex 113, 114).
In an interview, Douglas Trumbull details some of the many design concepts for the look of the aliens.
“I produced quite a few alien effects using video feedback. Video feedback has a strange kind of lifelike quality to it, so I made a video feedback system for creating totally nonhumanoid shapes [and] shapes of pulsating light… I also created some aliens using the same concept as the City of Light, only rather than having a lot of little light bulbs, I put together a kaleidoscope projector that produced varying-diameter shapes, and then multiplied those into four facets and projected them onto a piece of white cardboard. As this thing moved in space, it would create a light image of variable volume that would be somewhat humanoid in shape. By changing the patters in the kaleidoscope from a small diameter to a sudden larger diameter, and then tapering down and going into two thinner diameters, I could roughly create the shape of a head, shoulders, arms, body and legs. Yet it was all just volumetric light that looked sort of like a jellyfish—transparent luminosity. There were things about it that worked and things about it that didn’t—such as, it was very difficult to get these light characters to move or articulate. It just got to be terribly complex” (Cinefex 114).
Brian Johnson shares his experience working on another alien concept:
At one point [Kubrick] wanted something like a Giacometti sculpture – humanoid in shape, but very thin and distorted. So I got involved in producing a suit of light with about five thousand tiny bulbs wired onto it. The idea was to put one of the dancers we had choreographing the ape sequence into this suit – which was made out of black velvet – and then photograph him with star filters on the lens and various other things. The lights alone would define the creature. Then we were going to try to squeeze the image in some way and distort it so that we’d have this weird creature that would float about. I worked on that for quite some time. We also went though a variation of that idea, utilizing a black velvet suit with a whole series of front-projection dots that we projected images onto. The thinking was that, without thousands of pea bulbs wired onto his suit, the dancer would have much greater flexibility of motion. But all this was near the end of production, and it never got cut in. I don’t think it was quite what Stanley wanted (Cinefex 114).
In a later interview, Johnson said, “I also recall helping Dan Richter dress up in a body suit because Stanley had wanted to try to film an alien, and Dan was dressed up and I had to put all of these little balls onto his suit. I know that we did some tests of that, but in the end that didn’t work either” (Johnson Interview).
Dan Richter: “Right, even at the end, one of the last things we were doing is they were painting me white and putting polka dots all over me and putting me on polka dot fields and shooting me with high-contrast film, so that it would like- lights moving in a field of lights. We were trying to create aliens right up to the very end, but Stanley never used them.
Stuart Freeborn recounts an optical effect they were testing out:
“Stanley came up to me one day… and he said: ‘I’ve got an idea. What if we do a kind of optical illusion?’ He had seen a dotted pattern somewhere, in front of a dotted-pattern background – and the result was something that was virtually invisible, yet somewhat visible just because it was on a different plane than the background. It was an intriguing idea, and Stanley asked me to begin working on something along those lines. So we got a performer, and I made a white bald cap that fit him nice and tight; then I put black round spots evenly all over it. I did the same thing on a pair of tights that covered the rest of his body. We got the largest paper hole-puncher we could locate, and stamped out perfect rounds of black paper, which we glued all over his white form. We covered him completely – right over his feet, all down his legs, everywhere. Then we stood him against a white background with the same-size black dots all over it. The effect was stunning. Standing still, he would disappear into the backing; but when he moved, you could just make out a shape. It was an amazingly weird effect – quite extraordinary – but I don’t think it really fit in the movie. I could never see how Stanley was going to use it – and, of course, he never did” (Cinefex 114).
In an interview with Playboy magazine, Kubrick alluded to the possibilities of what the aliens could be. He said,
“When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans” (Playboy).
Kubrick had done extensive pre-production on the film A.I. and at one point was planning to direct before deciding that Steven Spielberg was better suited to direct the story and he would produce. The treatment to the film featured hyper-advanced robotic entities much like what Kubrick was describing in the Playboy interview. Perhaps this is close to what Kubrick had in mind for the aliens in 2001.
After traveling through the Stargate, Dave finds himself in a strange room. Kubrick plays this sequence perfectly. We had just gone through about ten minutes of psychedelic colors and abstract imagery and now we are in a Baroque style room. Kubrick knows very well that the audience is confused and yet, he has them in the palm of his hand. He waits, forcing us to soak it all in and contemplate the mystery of it all.
The sound design adds so much here. The overwhelming soundtrack becomes understated—the imposing score is replaced with tones and distant noises. The Stargate sequence went hand-in-hand with a large awe-inspiring composition, but here, with the wide shot of the EVA pod in the room, we become more analytical and Kubrick plays into that by removing the music and having strange indefinable noises echo from beyond the walls of the space. We are trying to figure out what is going on and the sounds highlight the fact that we know nothing. Are they the voices of the aliens?
Kubrick very slowly brings in the sound of Dave’s breathing, which would have been what Dave had been hearing throughout the Stargate sequence, but it wouldn’t have worked cinematically. Here, it brings Dave back into the film as a character who can take actions. During the Stargate sequence, Dave was a passive observer much like the audience, but in the room, he can move about and make discoveries.
I think some of the sound design in this scene accomplishes what Kubrick would later use sound design for in The Shining. It’s not as jarring, but it creates a sense of unease along with the mystery of it all. Dave is at the complete mercy of whatever is causing this to happen and he is at the mercy of his own understanding of what is happening. We also get similar shots of humans introduced at a long distance from the camera causing us to recognize the shape of the out-of-place person and yet, the distance keeps us from determining whether or not they are a threat.
I also really like the other layer this scene adds outside of the diegesis of the film. Kubrick himself is seen as a mysterious figure and the recognition that he created all of this and what will happen next gives him the same god-like power over the audience that the aliens have over Dave.
The look of the room was based on the Dorchester Hotel in London. When Kubrick’s family arrived at the Dorchester Hotel in London in 1965 during pre-production, Kubrick took these photos with a 35mm Widelux, which had a 26mm lens that gave an almost cinemascope effect. That’s Christiane on the right, Vivian, Anya, Katharina, and if you look closely, you can see Stanley with the camera reflected in a mirror on the left (A Life in Pictures).
In this picture, we can see Christiane, Jeremy Bernstein, and the kids.
But in these photos, you can sort of see the similarities to the mysterious room at the end of the film. Most noticeably the moldings on walls and some of the light fixtures. The idea behind having the room look this way was that either the aliens constructed it from images in Dave’s mind and perhaps he had stayed at the Dorchester Hotel or that the aliens had been observing the history of mankind and constructed what they thought would be a normal looking habitat for a human.
Originally there was going to be a television of some sort displaying footage of nature documentaries and other images of Earth life.
Ivor Powell acted as the Assistant Director on some of this sequence and mentioned in an interview that the set was “intensely hot.” They used photo-flood lights under each floor tile to illuminate the room. The lights were so hot that they began melting the tiles, so they had to shut the lights off as soon as each take was over (Powell Interview).
Tony Masters said,
“You never see behind the camera, so it isn’t that apparent on the screen; but, in fact, the set had no windows or doors in it – there was no way in and no way out. It was built something like twelve feet up from the stage, and the floor was made up of three-foot squares of Perspex—each one with a 5K lamp underneath it. I’ve never seen so many lamps. It was like an oven in there” (Cinefex 116).
In this photo, we can see what looks like air conditioning being pumped into the room. In this same photo, we can also see that Kubrick is filming Keir Dullea through a hole in a sheet of wood. This was likely to prevent the reflection of the camera from showing up in Dave’s helmet.
It makes sense why Kubrick would have the light coming from the floor beyond the alien look of it—this way, he would be able to show how confining the set is using a wider angle, without having to show a normal source of the light, which likely would have looked tacky in this situation. There seem to be unlit candles on fixtures attached to the walls, which wouldn’t really provide adequate lighting even if they had been lit. If there had been a lamp of some sort, it would raise the question of how the light bulbs would be changed over the course of time Dave lived in the room. But then again, where does the food come from?
It also seems possible that the light remained on during Dave’s stay in the room because we see the light at the same level even when he is in bed.
There were going to be props that didn’t make the final cut of the film. There was going to be a telephone that Dave would try to use only to find that the handle was attached to the base. There would also be a telephone book from June 2001, but when he opened it there would be no phone numbers inside as well as a Gideon Bible with only blank pages. Supposedly this would depict the concept that the room was constructed from his memories, so he would have a memory of a phone book, but he wouldn’t know any of the numbers inside (Cinefex 117).
Trumbull explains another scene that didn’t make the cut:
“Bowman walks into the bathroom in his spacesuit, pokes around in there, and sees himself in the mirror. By the time he comes back out, the pod—which had been sitting in the room—is gone; but on the bed is the housecoat that he ends up wearing in the next scene. He goes over to the bed and sort of picks up the coat and feels it, then sees a pair of slippers on the floor – it’s as if people are coming and going while he’s there. But Stanley dropped all of that out, and instead went with these overlapping, interconnective time jumps, which could occur in a split second or over thousands of years—who knows?” (Cinefex 117).
What’s bizarre, and something I never seemed to notice before, was that there is a continuity issue between these two shots. The second shot leads us to believe that he is walking toward the doorway to the bathroom, but this is on the opposite side of the room from the direction he is walking in the first shot. You can see that there is no doorway in front of him and that the bed, which was on his right side, is now on his left. And we can see the bathrobe on the bed from the sequence that was cut. This shot follows with a shot of the bathroom, so it still works within the story because these two shots are not necessarily continuous, but could have cut between an undetermined amount of time such as in the bone to satellite shot. And it’s possible that we are seeing time compressed in such a way that the different periods of Dave’s life exist all at once. For all we know, the bathrobed Dave could have been in the main room the entire time that Dave in the space suit was in the bathroom.
Instead we have an almost unnoticeable transition from older Dave in the space suit to an even older Dave as the room’s inhabitant. The last shots of older Dave in the space suit are intercut with a moving shot showing his point of view. So, when our last shot of Dave standing in front of the doorway is followed by a shot looking through the doorway, we assume that this is another point of view shot, but the older Dave in the space suit is already gone.
Kier Dullea: “You’ll see where I knock the glass on the floor—I remember, this was definitely my idea. I thought it was an interesting way to be in mid-motion, to suddenly hear something because each character, each of these versions of me, hears something off-camera.”
This is the only time we see two Daves in one shot and allows for a fairly quick transition without it being jarring.
The old age makeup was done by Stuart Freeborn. The final stage in Dave’s aging took 12 hours to do and one day to shoot.
2001italia made a post about this photo: On July 7th, 1966, Kubrick shot this pick-up shot. This was after Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood had left England. On the set they referred to the monolith as “the cube” even though the monolith took its final shape in late 1965.
An extremely aged Dave Bowman lays in bed when a monolith appears before him. He reaches out and the monolith envelops the screen. This is the only shot that takes place from outside the room. If this had been done any time before now, it would have compromised the confinement of the space. But now, we get a view from outside looking in that gives us a possible angle of the aliens’ point of view.
What happens next is one of the most mind-blowing moments in cinema—on the bed, we now see that Dave has become a Star-Child resting in a womb that looks like a luminous bubble or halo of some sort.
Kubrick said, “The ending was altered shortly before shooting it… In the original there was no transformation of Bowman. He just wandered around the room and finally saw the artifact. But this didn’t seem like it was satisfying enough, or interesting enough, and we constantly searched for ideas until we finally came up with the ending as you see it” (McAleer).
A biography of Arthur C. Clarke titled Sir Arthur C. Clarke: Odyssey of a Visionary contains this passage:
“On October 3, during a telephone conversation with Kubrick, Clarke was presenting his latest ideas for an ending, and one of them clicked.
‘Bowman will regress to infancy,’ Clarke suggested in an essay, ‘and we’ll see him at the end as a baby in orbit. Stanley called again later, still very enthusiastic. Hope this isn’t false optimism: I feel cautiously encouraged myself.’
Two days later, after much creative brooding, Clarke came up with a logical reason for Bowman’s appearing as a baby at the end of the film. ‘It’s his image of himself at this stage of his development. And perhaps the Cosmic Consciousness has a sense of humor. Phoned these ideas to Stanley, who wasn’t too impressed but I’m happy now’” (McAleer).
The look of the Star-Child was inspired by the photography of Lennart Nilsson. Nilsson did a series of photographs of fetuses meant to show fetal development. The series was part of a book called A Child is Born in 1965. Later that same year, the series was published in Life magazine where it [quote] “sold eight million copies in the first four days” of its release (Wiki). The series claimed that these were living fetuses, but sadly they were not. They were [quote] “obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under Swedish law” (Wiki). Because of this, Nilsson was able to have a great deal of control over the photographs, using specialized lighting and poses to create these images. Despite the truth behind the origin of these photos, they became a symbol of the “pro-life” movement in the 1970s (Wiki). Interestingly, some of these images did travel to space on board the Voyager spacecrafts (Wiki).
Kubrick wanted the Star-Child to look more evolved than a normal baby. You’ll notice that it has a larger head and eyes, and a smaller mouth, much like what classic aliens look like. Kubrick had an artist named Liz Moore sculpt it. The model was originally meant to have moving arms and fingers, but Kubrick scrapped that idea in favor of having the Star-Child appear in a womb of light (Cinefex 117). In the final version, only the eyes moved.
Brian Johnson said, “The eyes were made of glass, and I built a little mechanism using drives and bearings and some selsyn motors that made them move sideways and slightly up and down” (Cinefex 117).
Kubrick came up with a photographic technique to achieve the cocoon of light. Douglas Trumbull explains:
Kubrick “shot it through about fifteen layers of a special gauze… with about forty thousand watts of backlight—something like four big arc lights to rim-light it. And he got this tremendous, overexposed glow effect. This particular gauze—actually very rare women’s stockings from pre-World War II Europe – created a beautiful softening of the light without making it unsharp. If you use a fog filter, or something like it, it makes the image unsharp because it’s actually a piece of glass with diffusion on it. But with gauze, part of the camera lens is seeing right through it, without interruption, so it tends to scatter the light without really stopping it from being sharp. Stanley filmed a number of different moves on the Starchild—shots of it entering frame and sliding through frame and so on. Then I airbrushed the envelope that surrounded it onto a piece of glossy black paper, which was photographed on the animation stand and matched in movement to the model, also with a lot of gauze and overexposure” (Cinefex 117).
The ending of the film was going to be much more like the novel, but it ended up being only implied with a subtlety that only someone who had read the book would pick up on. This is a passage from Arthur C. Clarke’s biography:
“In the novel the Star-Child detonates the nuclear weapons orbiting planet Earth. This concept actually went to the shooting-script stage but was finally nixed. Kubrick and Clarke agreed that it was to similar to Kubrick’s ending in Dr. Strangelove” (McAller).
Arthur C. Clarke: “The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him, but he preferred a cleaner sky. He put forth his will and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief, false dawn to half a sleeping globe.”
When we see the Star-Child back at Earth, all of the satellites that were orbiting Earth at the beginning of the Floyd sequence are nowhere to be seen. It is possible that Kubrick didn’t want to clutter up the mind-blowing final images of the film, but it also works well with the idea that the Star-Child has erased them from existence.
Brian Johnson: “I think he would have liked another year or so shooting on it quite frankly, but the money just ran out.”
It sort of seems logical that they ran out of money considering the shooting ratio was 200 to 1—so for every shot used in the film, 199 shots were not (Trumbull Masterclass).
The world premiere of the film was on April 2, 1968 at the Uptown Theater in Washington D.C. (Wiki). Arthur C. Clarke reported that the Apollo management rescheduled a meeting so they could attend the premiere (Press Conference).
Two days later, it was screened again at the Warner Cinerama Theater in Hollywood and the Loew’s Capitol in New York (Wiki). At the New York premiere, Kubrick spoke to a reporter about what made him interested in the project.
Stanley Kubrick: “We started in 1965- early 1965. Well, I became interested in the idea that the universe was full of intelligent civilizations, which is the current scientific belief. Well, the facts in the film only help you believe the story, but- scientists know now that there are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy and about a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe. The point is that there are so many stars in the universe that the likelihood of life evolving around them—even if it were possibilities of one in a million—it would be hundreds of millions of worlds in the universe.”
Just before the screening in Hollywood, Arthur C. Clarke gave a press conference.
Arthur C. Clarke: “What we were trying to do was to convey the wonder and the beauty and, above all, the promise of space exploration—this great new frontier that’s opening up in our age and probably just in time. However, besides doing this, at the same time, we were tackling an even more ambitious theme and this was nothing less than an attempt to convey the possible, indeed the probable, place of Man in the hierarchy of the universe.”
After the premieres in Washington, New York, and Hollywood, Kubrick took the film back into the editing room and cut 17 minutes out. Apparently much of this was dialogue. Make-up artist Stuart Freeborn theorizes that cutting so much out to service the ambiguity had a specific goal. He said that friends of his would say “I’ve seen it seventeen times—and I still go back and enjoy it, because I invent something in my own mind each time” (Cinefex 117). Whether or not this was Kubrick’s goal, we will never know, but I agree that it’s part of the reason I keep going back.
Douglas Tumbull said,
“Everything was ‘sort of’ supposed to represent something… but the objective of the picture was to make it so ambiguous that people could interpret it as anything they wanted to. That was Kubrick’s main intent, I believe. People like to grab hold of things in a very literal way so they can make sense out of them – but there was none of that [in] 2001. Kubrick sought not to make sense out of it. It was up to the viewer to interpret it. In that respect, Kubrick succeeded in making a film that is more like a piece of music than a story” (Cinefex 117).
On the ambiguity of his film, Kubrick had this to say:
“How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: ‘The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.’ This would shackle the viewer to reality, and I don’t want this to happen to 2001” (Making 92).
Upon its wide-release, the film received mixed reviews. Some critics raved about the film while others hated it. Film critic Stanley Kauffmann said it was “a film that is so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull,” Renata Alder said the film was “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring,” and super famous film critic Pauline Kael called the film “a monumentally unimaginative movie,” (Wiki). If we go on to read Kael’s review you can see where it bothered her. She said, “2001 is a celebration of a cop-out. It says man is just a tiny nothing on the stairway to paradise, something better is coming, and it’s all out of your hands anyway. There’s intelligence out there in space controlling your destiny from ape to angel, so just follow the slab” (Fandor).
The consensus of negative reviews seemed to straddle the slow pace and the suggestion of human-kind’s origins. However, one unlikely positive review came from the Vatican who praised the film by including it in a list of “great films.”
In an interview with Playboy Magazine, Kubrick addressed the religious interpretations of the film. He said, “I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God” (Playboy).
I’ve linked to some letters written to Kubrick praising the film. One I found particularly interesting is by iconic graphic designer Saul Bass who would later work with Kubrick on some posters for The Shining.
He writes: Dear Stanley:
I saw your film and just wanted you to know how beautiful and exciting I found it. Apparently most everybody else does too, even those few who worry about your ending. For me it was a fascinating, breathtaking experience.
Very best regards, Saul Bass
The most positive reactions to the film arguably came from contemporary filmmakers and those who would become the next generation of filmmakers.
Steven Spielberg: “No IMAX experience—being on the shuttle and looking down at earth—has ever really put me in space as much as 2001 did.”
Martin Scorsese: “You’ve never seen anything like it, I think. We didn’t see anything like it up at that point. I still don’t think you’ve been immersed in a world that way—certainly not in commercial— (quote) commercial cinema (unquote)— you know, at that time, coming out “MGM Presents” and suddenly you’re taken to another timeframe.”
It not only redefined the genre of science fiction and inspired countless serious and thought-provoking science fiction films, it also pushed the envelope of special effects enough to inspire leaps and bounds in the art of making the unreal real.
Kubrick won the Academy Award for Visual Effects for the film and this was a point of controversy with the crew. In 1968, there was a rule in the Academy that no more than three people could be nominated for the visual effects work on one film. However, there were four special effects artists that would have been up for the award for their work on 2001 (Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Wally Veevers, and Tom Howard) and because of this, Kubrick listed himself as the sole visual effects credit for the Academy Awards even though it has been said that he did not create or design the effects, he only directed them. To add to the controversy, Kubrick accepted the award and kept it himself—possibly because it would be difficult to share one award among the several people who worked on the special effects.
Douglas Trumbull: “So, Kubrick decided to take the award for himself and we didn’t get anything and ever since that time, it’s been a sort of bone of contention between us because I tend to say, ‘I worked on 2001 and I worked with these other guys and we did these special effects,’ but the press tends to say, ‘Doug Trumbull, who did the special effects for 2001, says blah blah’ and then Stanley Kubrick reads that and he calls back and says, ‘Douglas, you didn’t do all the special effects. I did them and Con did them and Wally’- and I say, ‘But I didn’t say that.’”
I had a chance to see the award up close at the Stanley Kubrick Exhibit when it was in San Francisco and the irony here, is that Kubrick—one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema—only won one Oscar and it was for the work of his crew (Hollywood Reporter).
After its initial release, theater attendance became sparse, but the film found new life with the youth who would go see the film on psychedelics. They even started marketing the film as “The Ultimate Trip” and used clips from the Stargate sequence in the advertising.
In many ways, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a propaganda film—it was meant to invigorate the public in the possibilities of space exploration. Kubrick, Clarke, and Fred Ordway made sure to ground this science fiction story in a base layer of science fact in order to make legitimate these possibilities. The film has a feeling of reality that makes you believe that this is where our species could be headed with the right focus.
The overarching quest for realism is probably why much of 2001’s depiction of the future is now a reality. Tablet computing, televisions in airline headrests, glass displays in cockpits, videophones, space stations, voice recognition, winged space shuttles, and the first attempt at computers mimicking humans for assisting purposes.
What’s your favorite movie?
Siri: “I don’t really have a favorite. But I hear that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ got some good reviews.”
Of course some of this may be directly inspired by the film. For instance, Samsung used an image of Dave and Frank with their tablets in a court case disputing Apple’s patent of the original tablet design (Wiki).
2001: A Space Odyssey has remained just as relevant today because of continuing impact on newer generations of fans (including myself). The mystery of space exploration and the intrigue of mankind’s origins will never become dated and Kubrick and Clarke’s story has become so iconic that it has found its way into a wide variety of other pop culture icons. I first saw the film about 16 years ago and I had already been exposed to much of its imagery in popular culture.
There is even a nod to 2001 in another Kubrick film.
Steven Spielberg: “He kept saying, ‘I want to change the form. I want to make a movie that changes the form.’ And I say, ‘Well didn’t’ you do that with 2001?’ He said, ‘Just a little bit, but not enough. I really want to change the form.’ So, he kept looking for different ways to tell stories.”
That is part of the reason it has always captivated me. For me, it doesn’t just represent the unknowable in the universe, but in film itself as well. It goes against nearly everything that we’ve learned makes a great movie— a great deal of the movie is made up of shots of people traveling from one place to another. It also likely has way more product placement in it than any other film.
Heywood Floyd, Dave Bowman, and Frank Poole are dull individuals, they don’t have flaws or really any character arcs. Moon Watcher has a small arc, but Bowman—who we spend the most time with— doesn’t have any explicit personal revelations by the end of the film. His trip through the Stargate and ultimate evolution into the Star Child doesn’t have any emotional payoff to backstory like in something like Contact or Interstellar—Dave doesn’t have a backstory. I think this creates something bigger than a story. Even though the film ends with a crescendo, the lack of a completed character arc makes it feel as if what we experienced has no real end. It is as infinite as the universe itself.
It is the first and probably only movie that I’ve seen that almost completely sidesteps using the characters as an avatar for the audience’s emotion and instead, it creates just one emotion externally—awe. Aside from the fear HAL experiences during his disconnection, the characters don’t really experience much classic emotion themselves. We, the audience, are in awe from nearly the beginning of the film to its end.
There is no love story, and the story seems to be told through the universe itself more than the characters that inhabit it. I’ve said some of this before, but I believe this is what makes this movie so great:
First: there is a simple and captivating short narrative thread in the middle of the film that is built on the greater mystery of the overarching narrative. That is the story about HAL 9000. This is very important. I feel like a lot of experimental or ambiguous films miss the mark because they lack a simple and intriguing narrative as a way in.
Second: the brilliant special effects and the greater theme of the unknowable in the universe both captivate us with excitement for the future, with admiration for the ballet-like beauty of space, and with wonder at the secrets of the universe.
Third: The use of legendary composers that forever redefine and link their music with the film.
Fourth: Kubrick hired great actors who hadn’t reached a high level of fame and therefore wholly become their characters.
Fifth: the innovative use of special effects mix spectacle with purpose leaving us with the same feeling after witnessing a great magic trick.
Sixth: an ending that at once fits with the narrative, but also perplexes causing us to think about the film long after it’s over.
Seventh: Kubrick surrounded himself with a crew of great artists and gave them the opportunity to experiment and find innovative solutions for problems.
Eighth: The absolute obsession with detail, from the scientific research of Fred Ordway to the quality of the photography itself. For example, Kubrick wanted every version of the title shot for other languages to be first generation, so the entire shot of the planets and everything had to be done from scratch 6 times for 6 different languages instead of just swapping out the titles (Cinefex 110).
Ninth: the aversion to cliché and the creative use of the medium to create something utterly cinematic.
And tenth: The historical context surrounding the period of the film’s release. It is very interesting to think that humans would land on the moon around only 15 months after the film was released.
It has been really great seeing all of the positive support for this series and conversing with fellow fans of this movie. This series could not have been possible without the fans of 2001 more or less archiving every word, photo, or video on 2001 and sharing them on the Internet. I want to take a minute to thank some of the many resources that made this series possible. First and foremost is 2001italia, whose website is a treasure trove of all things 2001.
Then there is the post on Cinephilia & Beyond, the videos from Eyes on Cinema, and interviews from The TV Store Online. And a Patreon supporter named Quincy Battieste (I hope I’m pronouncing that right) who hooked me up with the issue of Cinefex that I drew from extensively for these last 2 episodes. Many thanks to those and you can find a link for most of these in the description down below.
Thanks to all of the people interviewed for their accounts and memories.
Thanks so much for watching! This final part was completed almost exactly two years after the first part was uploaded. I thank you for your patience and engagement with these videos. If you’re new here, please hit that subscribe button now because there are plenty more videos about Kubrick and more on the way for cinephiles like you.
Thanks again for watching!
This video essay was written, edited, and narrated by Tyler Knudsen.
Letters praising the film: http://imgur.com/a/HcBMt
2001Italia – http://www.2001italia.it/
Cinephilia & Beyond – http://bit.ly/2mQl8Mh
TV Store Online – http://bit.ly/2mgQKaT
Remembering Stanley Kubrick – Steven Spielberg (Paul Joyce 1999): https://youtu.be/Rd97Og-20Yc
2001 Space Odyssey Interview w. Arthur C. Clarke – part 1: https://youtu.be/HEEtfhxLQbw
2001 A Space Odyssey Vinyl Record Side 2 read by Arthur C Clarke: https://youtu.be/qnWp33nVvhw
Douglas Trumbull on 2001 Oscar: https://youtu.be/wHi2QghwtWc
Stanley Kubrick Wins Special Effects- 1969 Oscars: https://youtu.be/uVEeu1eNx34
The Dawn of Man BFI Live British Film Institute (2010)
2001 – The Making of a Myth
The Making of Kubrick’s 2001
Playboy Magazine (Sep. 1968)
Sir Arthur C. Clarke: Odyssey of a Visionary: A Biography by Neil McAleer
Lennart Neilsson Wiki
“What Does Anybody Know About Anything” by Chris Zabriskie
“God Be With You Till We Meet Again” by Chris Zabriskie
“But Enough About Me Bill Paxton” by Chris Zabriskie
“I Don’t See the Branches I See the Leaves” by Chris Zabriskie
“I Want to Fall in Love on Snapchat” by Chris Zabriskie