6 Degrees of Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey-Then & Now

*Note: This was originally published in August of 2023 but was one of the blog postings that was lost from 6 Degrees website! Re-posted in May of 2024…

 

2001: Then & Now: Thoughts on seeing the classic film on the Big Screen

 

One of the topics that continues to arise in recent years is the constant push/pull of streaming movies vs the box office films that still draw movie goers in. And recently, the experience of sitting in a theatre to watch the classic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ on the big screen brought that ongoing argument to mind.

 

It is one of the reasons that a film is set apart in our minds when we remember the special moments of our lives that can be traced back to the experiences we shared while watching films or in going to the movies. It is where we met our friends, our loved ones, and at times how we were able to escape and to simply relax and unwind.

 

That is why the experience of going to the movies should be one where we can take a moment and discover the films that stand out and then make a personal list of those movies that you would love to experience as they were meant to be seen-on the big screen!

 

2001 & the Star Wars Connections…

Reading the wonderful book about the making of the film , (“The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey”), also helped to make the experience memorable. So many little details pop out. I had known that 2001 was really an inspiration for Star Wars and the special effects revolution that occurred at Industrial Light & Magic and at LucasFilms only became possible long after this film had been made.

Here is the excerpt from my book, ‘6 Degrees of Film” that credits 2001 as the inspiration for “Star Wars.”

 

There was an opening for a big turnaround movie.

One appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey. At 2001’s release in

1969, Stanley Kubrick’s innovations were the cutting edge in

technological advancement in films. But Kubrick’s innovations

did not translate into other copy-cat films, and Kubrick

remained something of a lone-wolf figure. For one thing, the

film was made in England and was too big and too expensive

to emulate. The film failed to revive the waning special-effects

industry in Hollywood. But it did inspire a generation of

young filmmakers who saw that it could be done.

 

George Lucas was one who acted on that inspiration. He

said, “Almost from the moment film was invented, there was

this idea that you could play tricks, make an audience believe

they were seeing things that really weren’t there. But this was

completely lost by the 1960s.”

 Lucas labored for two years on his Star Wars script. …”

 

2001: The Details of the Film that stand out

 

So many details of the film stood out when reading about the making and then being able to see them up close and personal how it was realized on the silver screen. Here’s a few notable stand-outs:

 

  • The Monolith: One is the reason the monolith was BLACK and shaped as it was….became a question of praciticality for what Kubrick had envisioned The science portion was extremely engrossing in that those who were experts in the field …found things in the film that…even the NASA Astronauts were joking about the Black Monolith!

 

  • The question of HAL being IBM numbers secretly scrambled or some such nonsense was addressed by Arthur Clarke (Who seemed annoyed at having to explain this detail again!) HAL stood for Heuristically Adopted Algorithmic Computer for HAL…

 

  • The ending that has been so controversial; a huge sci-fi set was drawn up and they just in the end decided to use French Furniture; and yes, they are meant to be placed in some type of hotel-like setting where humans are on display….for the Alien race which we don’t ever really see….but instead we just imagine…For some reason the ending for me, is reminiscent more of The Shining, where we just fade out to this frozen shot….in Kubrick-ian style!

 

  • The connections with “Dr Strangelove,’ Kubrick’s previous film had been a big box-office success. Some of the revelations revealed that even then he was obsessed with an alien sub-plot to add!  Kubrick had wanted to add a post-film scene (in Strangelove) of the film depicted as a documentary shown to aliens about a “quaint comedy’ that somehow shows the Ancient History of Failed Civilizations…. It had already been well documented that he thought Strangelove should be a comedy instead of a straight up film about the possible fail-safe conditions that would lead to nuclear annihilation!

 

  • An interesting tidbit reveals that Carl Sagan also talked to Kubrick about the film. Sagan was not seen in a flattering light by Kubrick or in the book! Kubrick had a director’s addition of a documentary with some scientific experts who had talked about aliens and the science involved in traveling to other planets.

 

The Unique Collaboration between Kubrick & Clarke

 

The collaboration between Kubrick & Clarke was one of the most fascinating sub-plots of the book. Their dialogue & brainstorming sessions went along for years prior to the actual start of the film production (I can see another movie in this meeting of minds!)… and the book depicted the different ways the teamwork made the film better & stronger in the end. There was also the idea that-like the classic film, Casablanca-they would go in each day after filming had begun and fly by the seat of their pants!  Just letting inspiration take them to a new place-and then try to invent or create or come up with something even better than what they had planned. It was also reminiscent of the ongoing collaboration of the Apple Team that Steve Jobs assembled in creating the IPhone! It was more than just one man-but it did take a creative genius with vision to put it all together…

The unique collaboration between Kubrick & Arthur C Clarke was as interesting as the actual filming of the movie. And as a writer,  it was interesting to note that the script was not finished as they started production.  Also, Clarke was allowed to participate in some respects by going to the set, although his real contribution was in creating “The Sentinel,’ which was the original short story used to begin the kernel of an idea that transformed into this unique film. Clark was initially disappointed in the film after seeing it for the first time, but he came around as so many did in later years as he recognized the genius of it.

 

The Snobbery of those who felt Science-Fiction was too ‘low-brow’ to create anything worthwhile on film!

 

The notion of Science-Fiction in the early 1960’s was that the entire genre was seen as a rather low-brow form of entertainment and pulp fiction. Most critics had acknowledged only two films were stand-outs: The Day the Earth Stood Still & Forbidden Planet-before 2001!

As a writer, Clarke hobnobbed in New York with the likes of….a literati set where he was acknowledged as the ‘top of his game’ writer on Sci-Fi. Yet although Clark had been able to distinguish himself as a writer, the thought of directing a science-fiction film left some of Kubrick’s friends and colleagues literally aghast.

 

Kubrick’s Genius:  his Creativity as a Director & the Connection with Steve Jobs

 

Kubrick’s attention to detail and his collaboration did remind me of the teamwork possible with Steve Jobs at Apple And like Jobs, Kubrick also had a tyrannical manner that tended to push people to the limit to extract the best of them. In the end we see that this extraordinary product was only possible from an extended period of collaborative effort with special-effects teams and scientific knowledge that was fused together by the mind of Kubrick

The book discloses that fact that the film at first was just considered a break-even effort. It was briefly considered a bust before it exploded into the consciousness of those who saw it for the breakthrough piece that it was.

 

Then vs Now: Watching it and marveling at how much it still holds up and is not dated!

 

You cannot help but marvel at how well the film holds up today. In part, our fascination and our dread of Artificial Intelligence seems to be rooted in the idea that computers, such as HAL, will someday turn on humans! That keeps the material still relevant, Unfortunately, the same holds true for Strangelove regarding our human foibles and our connections with Atomic Bombs.

The mind of a genius is explored in the film and in the book. And in the end it proves that although it does take a genius to conceive the vision, it takes collaboration and imagination from a dedicated team of talented professionals to make it actually work-much like the Atomic Bomb!

Some Final Thoughts

The irony of the film and how it holds up is connected to the current frantic obsession that our society has with AI- Artificial Intelligence. We are afraid of the unknown, and unsure of how it might be used or if it can be used as a boon to mankind, or a terrible curse as we saw in 2001.

An amusingly ironic twist occurred with the Tampa Theatre group actually using an “AI” generated review of 2001 in their promotion for the film! It reads in part like this:

 

The film explores humanity’s relationship with the universe and our quest for knowledge and understanding. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on a novel by Arthur C Clarke

More Questions than answers with 2001

Some of the questions about 2001 asked in Google were:  What was the real meaning of 2001 and Why did HAL suddenly go mad and turn on the humans who created him?

The film does indeed ask questions and explore our relationship with the universe and our expanding quest for knowledge. But in the end, the film asks more questions than it answers, and some of the meaning is purposefully left quite obscure. That is the Kubrickian spin to the story.

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