It is a testament to the directorial influence of Stanley Kubrick on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey that to this day there remains a very solid if incredibly small and infinitely paranoid group of conspiracy theorists who remain convinced that the actual footage of the 1969 moon landing of the Apollo mission was a hoax perpetrated by NASA with the assistance of Kubrick behind the camera. These moon landing hoax crowd don’t point to George Pal or Richard Fleischer or Roger Corman or even Jack Arnold as the guy behind the camera that fooled billions of people. They point to Stanley Kubrick. Why? Because he was the first film director to ever make the experience of traveling through space seem anywhere near to being real. And for a great many people, Kubrick remains the only film director to fully capture the nuances of what space travel for humans might be like.
Another testament to the power of Kubrick’s visual artistry on display in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the fact that both the film he directed and the novel written by collaborator Arthur C. Clarke were essentially being created simultaneously. Despite the inevitable close adherence between film and novel, Clarke’s descriptive prose that serves to fill in much of the empty spaces in Kubrick’s cinematic narrative stands as just a towering personal artistic vision as Kubrick’s film. This fact alone underlines the depth of creativity of both writer and filmmaker.
And yet, it must always be remembered that filmmaking is a collaborative art. Kubrick did not create the special effects technology that made 2001 an epochal leap forward in the artistry of creating the illusion of space. Kubrick did not manage each minute little technical requirement necessary to create those illusions. The directing of a film is the not the same as the writing of a novel, but when it is done well it is also a long way from the mere upper-level management job that some of the caliber of Michael Bay makes the job. What sets those filmmakers who are discussed in terms of the ridiculously inappropriate conceptual space of the “auteur” apart from those who prove that the term “auteur” is a completely joke comes down to a single word.
Despite the fact that original germ of the story began with a short story published by Clarke some years earlier and despite the fact that visual effects innovator Douglas Trumbull was the true creative force behind the innovations that allowed 2001: A Space Odyssey to push light years beyond the boundaries of simulating space travel on film that had been in place relatively unchanged for decades, the story and the effects that made that story seem palpably possible all come back to one man’s vision. That man is neither Clarke nor Trumbull, but Kubrick. Kubrick’s influence as the director of 2001 goes well beyond standing behind the camera and yelling “Action” and “Cut” as he guides the cinematographer around the blocking created for the actors. Trumbull’s majestic and awe-inspiring solutions to problems ranging from how to make the lights of stars in the background look equally bright in both 35mm and 75mm to figuring out how to make it believable for one actor to be eating while situated upside down become merely parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle which only Kubrick knew would look like when all the pieces were fitted together. As for Clarke’s narrative, part of the reason that a movie made in the decade responsible for probably more classic films that have become “dated” than any other still remains fresher and more daringly original than anything being made today is the fact that as a visual artist, Kubrick recognized the leeway that film has for being more ambiguous than the written word. An image is almost exponentially more interpretive than a written description of the same image and so Kubrick’s influence as the director even allows him to confer an aura of mystery on the action that is infinitely less ambiguous inside the pages of Clarke’s novel.
Some say that the era of the director as the complete and total master puppeteer ended with the demise of the silent era when recording material meant the guy with the megaphone could no longer bellow specific directions for his actors to follow. That may be true and, if so, perhaps no director of a film in the sound era ever came as close to recapturing that power as Kubrick on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.