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Tag: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Editorials

The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

July 25, 2020
2001: A Space Odyssey

In 1968 Stanley Kubrick released a ground-breaking sci-fi movie which is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time.

We previously reviewed 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 2019 and offered an opinion on the movie. This time we’ll be taking a closer look at how the movie came to life and what makes it so special.

Path to Glory

The late Stanley Kubrick was an American Film Maker born in 1928. A New Yorker born and raised. A child of Jewish migrants from Austria, Romania and Russia. His father gave him a camera for his 13th birthday, which sparked a keen interest in photography and eventually led to a job as an apprentice photographer at Look magazine. In 1958 Stanley used his savings to create a documentary film Day of the Fight (1951). He continued financing his own films and in 1956 his work caught the attention of Hollywood. Soon Kubrick would be directing the likes of Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).

Kubrick decided to move to England and his first UK release was Lolita (1962). After gaining much critical and commercial success from movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick earned the artistic freedom to work on whatever projects he desired, some of which never materialised.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was a collaboration with English sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. This was followed by A Clockwork Orange (1971), which rivalled Lolita in controversy. Kubrick went on to release a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Kubrick passed away before he could complete A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) so his friend Steven Spielberg helped the movie to cross the finish line. Kubrick discusses much of his early life and films in the documentary The Lost Tapes (1966).

Stanley Kubrick: The Lost Tapes

One Small Step for Man One Giant Leap for Mankind

Let’s consider what was happening at the time 2001 was made. The Vietnam War (which claimed the lives of over 3 million people) was being waged and did not end until 1973. The Hippie counterculture had emerged in opposition to the war. The Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. The Equal pay Act of 1963 was signed by the Liberal President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in the same year. Jim Crow laws from the late 19th Century were abolished when the Civil Rights Act was penned in 1964. The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th 1968. 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted in theatres on April 6th 1968. Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon in 1969.

The Making of a Myth

Hal 9000, the fictional AI in A Space Odyssey.

Arthur C. Clarke is a well known sci-fi writer who Stanley Kubrick partnered with to write the screenplay for 2001. In the documentary 2001 the Making of a Myth (2001), Clarke shared that Kubrick believed there had been no great sci-fi movies made before theirs. Other Sci-Fi movies of the time included Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Kubrick must have been aware of those notable Sci-Fi movies but is thought to be directly inspired by the documentary Universe (1960) and a movie shown at the New York World’s Fair – To the Moon and Beyond (1964).

Captain Kubrick assembled a crew to embark on a mission to create what he believed would be the first great Science Fiction Film. Key personnel were brought in to advise and engineer. Space Scientist Fred Ordway was brought in as a scientific consultant. Illustrators Chesley Bonestell, Roy Carnon, and Richard McKenna created concept drawings, sketches, and paintings of the space technology. A 55 foot long model of the Discovery One spacecraft was built. Engineering company Vickers-Armstrongs were hired to construct a centrifuge that would simulate artificial gravity. Design consultants who had worked on films for NASA and the US Air Force were brought in and 4 Special effects Supervisors were appointed: Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Tom Howard and Wally Veevers.

In 1966 filming began at the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood. The production team developed and used a number of techniques including:

  • Slit-scan photography
  • Rotating Movie sets
  • Front Projection
  • Motion Control
  • Rotoscoping

Production costs soared to in excess of $10m and went $4.5m over budget. The screens we saw in the spacecraft were made to look like computer graphics but were actually a combination of photography and animation. Actors were attached to wires and filmed from beneath to give the illusion of floating in space. The psychedelic Stargate Sequence was achieved by using a custom-built machine and thousands of high-contrast images. Kubrick opted for creating all the visual effects “in camera” to avoid degradation of picture quality which may occur when using Blue Screen techniques. Kubrick’s demands are what led to the project costs spiralling out of control. But this also resulted in the visual effects of 2001 looking spectacular and ahead of its time. A video essay published by Vulture gives a brilliant overview of the feats of engineering that were required and how the innovative cinematographic techniques were implemented in the Space Odyssey production.

To the Moon and Beyond

2001: A Space Odyssey is a sci-fi movie that tells a story of mankind, our relationship with progress, technology and the idea that there may be extra-terrestrial life. The movie builds on Darwin’s theory of evolution and asks us to question what the next stage of human evolution could be. Kubrick gave 2001 a curious ending that is open for debate. You can watch an expert panel give their take on what the movie means to them here. Does the ending suggest there will be another stage of human evolution? One that enables humans to travel through space without the use of technology? In a rare interview more than a decade after the film was made, the reclusive Director gives us his own take on the ending of the movie.

Stanley Kubrick interview (Credit: Wendelle C. Stevens)

Whatever your thoughts are on what the ending means and what the movie represents as a whole, it is a fantastic look into the future told with masterful visual storytelling. A movie that gave us a glimpse of Video Calling at a time when that technology was not available. A movie that modelled the future with photorealistic realism but contained no computer graphics to achieve that goal. A movie that has inspired filmmakers and viewers alike. A movie that will be remembered as one of the greatest movies of all time.

Also Read: The Best Sci-Fi Films of the Decade

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Reviews

Retro Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

May 24, 2019

And so we return once again to Stanley Kubrick. As I stated in my Eyes Wide Shut review Kubrick was one of the most highly regarded film directors of the 20th Century and much of his work displayed the real potential of what can be done with cinema. And nothing epitomizes the qualities of his work better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.   

Released in 1968, 2001 initially polarised critics and moviegoers alike. But in the years since it has been reassessed. And is now heralded as one of the greatest and most influential science fiction movies ever made. But does it really deserve that title? Well, today I head on the ultimate trip as I dive into 2001 and see what all the fuss is about.

Synopsis

2001 begins at “the dawn of man”. We see tribes of apes that will become humans fighting over resources in the wilds of the earth. Suddenly a large black monolith appears. Inspiring one of the tribes to use the bones of a tapir as tools to kill their fellow apes. We then jump to a time when we have used tools to make space travel possible and have conquered the moon. Another monolith is soon discovered, emitting a signal originating from Jupiter. So a team of astronauts go to investigate. Accompanying the team is the worlds most advanced computer system, HAL 9000. But does the artificial intelligence have other motives? What is the purpose of these monoliths? And what lies in wait beyond Jupiter?

What did I like?

As I said earlier there is no movie that gives a better introduction to Stanley Kubrick as a director than 2001. Because it demonstrates what his films do best.

Firstly, this film pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible with visual effects. The amount of sheer effort that went into creating the visuals in this film is unbelievable. Despite being over 50 years old the space sequences in this film still manage to blow modern productions out of the water. Everything looks and feels real, because of the lack of digital enhancement. The spaceships look authentic and the zero gravity sequences have weight to them because of the lingering shots and expert behind the scenes craftsmanship on display. Many newcomers and even old fans can still marvel for hours at how the filmmakers managed to achieve these feats without CGI. But importantly they also feel like part of the narrative, never intruding on the story.  

His films also asked complex questions, such as are we really the masters of our domain or is something else guiding us? Will technology eventually grow beyond us? Is conflict part of our very nature? Kubrick was not afraid to tackle big subjects. But the great thing about 2001 is that it invites different interpretations because of the little details packed into every frame of production, which some may notice and others won’t. Thus it provides a rewarding experience for multiple watches and everyone who sees it will come out with something different.

And, most importantly, Kubrick’s films were uniquely cinematic in their storytelling. The cinematography looks stunning and is packed with unique stylistic choices that make the film more engaging. The dialogue is also used carefully. The first and last 20 minutes of the film has no dialogue. But the audience is never confused because the information is always clearly conveyed through visuals. But even with less dialogue focus, the actors all shine. Whether fighting to get inside a spaceship or pretending to be apes, all the performances feel natural and well-integrated. The highlight being Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL. Who despite his monotone delivery evokes genuine menace and sympathy for his character. Lastly the films classical score is beautiful. When juxtaposed against savageness of the past and the wonders of the future, it gives the feeling of a true epic, spanning all of human existence and is very emotionally engaging.

So if the film is this good, what could possibly drag it down?

What did I not like?

First and foremost, if you are looking for an easy movie, that explains everything, with a simple plot structure and well-developed characters this is not the movie for you. The movie is more about themes and the bigger picture than it is about a character’s journey. It can, therefore, be frustrating to some viewers when the plot keeps jumping forward in time. With only thematic links and minimal dialogue to explain it; and no character to anchor the experience for the audience.

But it’s not just the lack of clear exposition and traditional presentation that may turn people off. The film has a slow and deliberate pace to it. Often lingering on the mechanics of how things work in this world. And while that does link in with the theme of technology getting ever grander and was very impressive for 1968, it does sometimes feel that the movie is stalling for time. And with a runtime of nearly 2 and a half hours that can be incredibly frustrating.

Finally, just like Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick employs a colder directing style that will keep some viewers from engaging with the film. Because he is more fascinated with the mechanics of technology than on the human story much of the characters seem, unengaging. Not that the actors do a bad job. The characters just seem more focused on business and basic survival, which can be emotionally uninvolving for a film audience. Not helped by Kubrick again focusing more on wider shots and a cold colour pallet. Keeping us as viewers at a distance and can keep us from becoming involved with the action.

Verdict

It is easy to see that 2001 will not be to everyone’s liking. The non-traditional narrative, lack of exposition for key plot points, the tendency to linger on minor details for a long time and cold, uninviting presentation may understandably turn a lot of people off.

But if you are looking for a unique cinematic experience that encourages debate and analysis with some of the best special effects ever put on screen and has such a polished level of craftsmanship in terms of cinematography, acting, soundtrack and editing, that even those who hate it can not help but admire it in some way, then do yourself a favour and go on the space odyssey. It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

2001: A Space Odyssey is available for free on BBC iPlayer until Monday 27th May 2019.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Reviews

Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick

September 24, 2016

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Big Picture Film Club took a trip to one of the most talked about art exhibitions this summer: Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick, held at London’s Somerset House. The exhibition featured a variety of paintings, installations, videos, and sculptures inspired by the late cinematic genius Stanley Kubrick. Much like Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas & Ridley Scott after him, Stanley Kubrick’s impressive body of work has given him a cult-like following, particularly after his death in 1999.

Curator, James Lavelle, has done an excellent job in putting together this mix-media exhibition. The 45 works on display flow effortlessly together and make for a seamless and captivating experience. While there were many great pieces of work on display, in no particular order here are some of our favourites from the exhibition:

1) Life, by Dexter Navy

This piece was distinct, in that it references current social commentary of civil unrest, as opposed to directly taking from Kubrick’s films. However, the intricate use of colour in this piece was inspired by the work of Kubrick.

2) Various Works, by Philip Castle

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Airbrush artist, Castle, who designed the original poster’s for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange & Full Metal Jacket, gave the iconic posters a contemporary redesign, and showcasing a never used alternative design for Full Metal Jacket.

3) Camera A, Scene 136, Take 1, by Thomas Bangalter

Bangalter, one half of electronic duo Daft Punk, exemplifies what Kubric’s work is about with his simple, yet powerful video piece. The slow-mo clip features a person walking calmly through a pitch darkness engulfed in flames – the fire providing the only source of light, illuminating the ground below.

4) In Consolus – Full of Hope and Full of Fear, by James Lavelle & John Isaacs ft Azzi Glasser

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Immediately the senses are treated to an overload of sight, sound and smell. The clearly recognisable, Lolita inspired giant teddy bears gives a sense of fun and playfulness whilst the darkness of the room and the juxtaposed neon love sign hints at sinister undertones. Empty pantry boxes reference The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired scent from perfume designer Glasser fills the room, whilst the soundtrack comes courtesy of: Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig, Italian dance ensemble Planet Funk – Domenico “GG” Canu and Marco Barani, spoken word artist and designer Michele Lamy, and UNKLE collaborator Elliott Power.

6) Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums, by Norbet Shoerner

Norbet created a 360° virtual reality recreation of the Discovery One space. Breath taking in its redesign, fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey will feel as if they have been dropped right into the movie. Definitely one of the key highlights of the exhibition!

7) History Painting, by Marc Quinn

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Quinn draws from media reportage of social unrest, amplifying the sense of violence and unease with the contrasting use of colour.

8) The Shining Carpet, by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

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Immediately recognisable, no Kubrick exhibition would be complete without the iconic print carpet from the Overlook Hotel. The print continues to inspire artists of all mediums.

9) Clockwork Britain, by Paul Insect

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Famous for his street art, Insect alludes to violence and the alienated youth in A Clockwork Orange by fusing 60s pop art and contemporary street art with the use of bold colours and the Union Jack motif.

10) Metanoia, by Polly Morgan

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Morgan explicitly exhibits the implicit sexual imagery we see from Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The downward pointing triangle is traditionally referred to as the chalice, symbolising the flow of water, the grace of heaven, and the womb – an ancient symbol of female divinity. Seeing this stuffed uncomfortably with a serpent, provokes very real feelings of disturbance just as when we watched those awful scenes in the film itself.