2001: A Space Odyssey (Film)



Meeting of Kubrick and Clarke

After completing Dr. Strangelove (1964), director Stanley Kubrick became fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life,[18] and resolved to make "the proverbial good science fiction movie".[19] Searching for a collaborator in the science fiction community, Kubrick was advised by a mutual acquaintance, Columbia Pictures staffer Roger Caras, to talk to writer Arthur C. Clarke. Although convinced that Clarke was "a recluse, a nut who lives in a tree", Kubrick allowed Caras to cable the film proposal to Clarke, who lived in Ceylon. Clarke's cabled response stated that he was "frightfully interested in working with enfant terrible", and added "what makes Kubrick think I'm a recluse?"[20][21] Meeting for the first time at Trader Vic's in New York on April 22, 1964, the two began discussing the project that would take up the next four years of their lives.[22] Clarke kept a diary throughout his involvement with 2001, excerpts of which were published in 1972 as The Lost Worlds of 2001.[23]

Search for source material

Kubrick told Clarke he wanted to make a film about Man's relationship to the universe, and was, in Clarke's words, "determined to create a work of art which would arouse the emotions of wonder, awe ... even, if appropriate, terror".[22] Clarke offered Kubrick six of his short stories, and by May 1964, Kubrick had chosen "The Sentinel" as the source material for the film. In search of more material to expand the film's plot, the two spent the rest of 1964 reading books on science and anthropology, screening science fiction films, and brainstorming ideas.[24] They spent two years transforming "The Sentinel" into a novel, and then into a script for 2001.[25] Clarke said that his short story "Encounter in the Dawn" inspired the film's "Dawn Of Man" sequence.[26]

Kubrick and Clarke privately referred to the project as How the Solar System Was Won as a reference to MGM's 1962 Cinerama epic, How the West Was Won. On February 23, 1965, Kubrick issued a press release announcing the title Journey Beyond The Stars.[27] Other titles considered include Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, and Planetfall. In April 1965, eleven months after they began working on the project, Kubrick selected 2001: A Space Odyssey; Clarke said the title was "entirely" Kubrick's idea.[28] Intending to set the film apart from the "monsters and sex" type of science fiction films of the time, Kubrick used Homer's The Odyssey as inspiration for the title. Kubrick said, "[i]t occurred to us that for the Greeks the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery and remoteness that space has for our generation."[29]

Parallel development of film and novel

"How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: "This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth"—or "because she's hiding a secret from her lover"? It would shut off the viewer's appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don't want that to happen to 2001."

—Stanley Kubrick, Playboy, 1968[30]

Kubrick and Clarke planned to develop the 2001 novel first, free of the constraints of film, and then write the screenplay. They planned the writing credits to be "Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick" to reflect their preeminence in their respective fields.[31] In practice, the screenplay developed in parallel to the novel, and elements were shared between both. In a 1970 interview, Kubrick said:

There are a number of differences between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does, which is inevitable in a verbal medium. The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel. As a result, there's a difference between the novel and the film ... I think that the divergences between the two works are interesting.[32]

The screenplay credits were shared while the 2001 novel, released shortly after the film, was attributed to Clarke alone. Clarke wrote later that "the nearest approximation to the complicated truth" is that the screenplay should be credited to "Kubrick and Clarke" and the novel to "Clarke and Kubrick".[33]

Clarke and Kubrick wrote the novel and screenplay simultaneously, but while Clarke opted for clearer explanations of the mysterious monolith and Star Gate in the novel, Kubrick made the film more cryptic by minimising dialogue and explanation.[34] Kubrick said the film is "basically a visual, nonverbal experience" that "hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting".[35]

Depiction of alien life

Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his book The Cosmic Connection that Clarke and Kubrick asked his opinion on how to best depict extraterrestrial intelligence. Sagan, while acknowledging Kubrick's desire to use actors to portray humanoid aliens for convenience's sake, argued that alien life forms were unlikely to bear any resemblance to terrestrial life, and that to do so would introduce "at least an element of falseness" to the film. Sagan proposed that the film suggest, rather than depict, extraterrestrial superintelligence. He attended the premiere and was "pleased to see that I had been of some help."[36] Kubrick hinted at the nature of the mysterious unseen alien race in 2001 by suggesting, in a 1968 interview, that given millions of years of evolution, they progressed from biological beings to "immortal machine entities", and then into "beings of pure energy and spirit"; beings with "limitless capabilities and ungraspable intelligence".[37]

Stages of script and novel development

The script went through many stages. In early 1965, when backing was secured for the film, Clarke and Kubrick still had no firm idea of what would happen to Bowman after the Star Gate sequence. Initially all of Discovery‍ '​s astronauts were to survive the journey; by October 3, Clarke and Kubrick had decided to leave Bowman the sole survivor and have him regress to infancy. By October 17, Kubrick had come up with what Clarke called a "wild idea of slightly fag robots who create a Victorian environment to put our heroes at their ease."[33] HAL 9000 was originally named Athena after the Greek goddess of wisdom and had a feminine voice and persona.[33]

Early drafts included a prologue containing interviews with scientists about extraterrestrial life,[38] voice-over narration (a feature in all of Kubrick's previous films),[39] a stronger emphasis on the prevailing Cold War balance of terror, and a different and more explicitly explained breakdown for Hal.[40][41][42] Other changes include a different monolith for the "Dawn of Man" sequence, discarded when early prototypes did not photograph well; the use of Saturn as the final destination of the Discovery mission rather than Jupiter, discarded when the special effects team could not develop a convincing rendition of Saturn's rings; and the finale of the Star Child exploding nuclear weapons carried by Earth-orbiting satellites,[42] which Kubrick discarded for its similarity to his previous film, Dr. Strangelove.[42][38] The finale and many of the other discarded screenplay ideas survived into Clarke's novel.[42]

Kubrick made further changes due to his desire to make the film more non-verbal, communicating at a visual and visceral level rather than through conventional narrative.[43] Vincent LeBrutto writes that Clarke's novel has "strong narrative structure", while the film is a mainly visual experience where much remains symbolic.[44]

Remnants of early drafts in final film

While many ideas were discarded in totality, at least two remnants of previous plot ideas remain in the final film.

HAL's breakdown

While the film leaves it mysterious, early script drafts made clear that HAL's breakdown is triggered by authorities on Earth who order him to withhold information from the astronauts about the purpose of the mission (this is also explained in the film's sequel 2010). Frederick Ordway, Kubrick's science advisor and technical consultant, stated that in an earlier script Poole tells HAL there is "... something about this mission that we weren't told. Something the rest of the crew knows and that you know. We would like to know whether this is true", to which HAL responds: "I'm sorry, Frank, but I don't think I can answer that question without knowing everything that all of you know."[40] HAL then falsely predicts a failure of the hardware maintaining radio contact with Earth (the source of HAL's difficult orders) during the broadcast of Frank Poole's birthday greetings from his parents.

The final script removed this explanation, but it is hinted at when HAL asks David Bowman if Bowman is bothered by the "oddities" and "tight security" surrounding the mission. After Bowman concludes that HAL is dutifully drawing up the "crew psychology report", the computer makes his false prediction of hardware failure. Another hint occurs at the moment of HAL's deactivation when a video reveals the purpose of the mission.

In an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1969, Kubrick stated that HAL "had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility".[45]

Military nature of orbiting satellites

Kubrick originally planned a voice-over to reveal that the satellites following the match cut from the bone-weapon are nuclear weapons,[46] and that the Star Child would detonate the weapons at the end of the film.[47] However, he decided this would create associations with his previous film Dr. Strangelove, and decided not to make it so obvious that they were "war machines".[48] A few weeks before the release of the film, the U.S. and Soviet governments had agreed not to put any nuclear weapons into outer space.

In a book he wrote with Kubrick's assistance, Alexander Walker states that Kubrick eventually decided that as nuclear weapons the bombs had "no place at all in the film's thematic development", now being an "orbiting red herring" which would "merely have raised irrelevant questions to suggest this as a reality of the twenty-first century".[49]

Kubrick scholar Michel Ciment, discussing Kubrick's attitude toward human aggression and instinct, observes: "The bone cast into the air by the ape (now become a man) is transformed at the other extreme of civilization, by one of those abrupt ellipses characteristic of the director, into a spacecraft on its way to the moon."[50] In contrast to Ciment's reading of a cut to a serene "other extreme of civilization", science fiction novelist Robert Sawyer, speaking in the Canadian documentary 2001 and Beyond, saw it as a cut from a bone to a nuclear weapons platform, explaining that "what we see is not how far we've leaped ahead, what we see is that today, '2001', and four million years ago on the African veldt, it's exactly the same—the power of mankind is the power of its weapons. It's a continuation, not a discontinuity in that jump."[51]


The film contains no dialogue for the first and last 20 minutes or so.[52] By the time shooting began, Kubrick had removed much of the dialogue and narration; what remains is notable for its banality (making the computer Hal seem to have more emotion than the humans) juxtaposed with epic space scenes.[53]

The first scenes of dialogue are Floyd's encounters on the space station: chit-chat with the colleague who greets him, his telephone call to his daughter, and the friendly but strained encounter with Soviet scientists. Later, en route to the monolith, Floyd engages in trite exchanges with his staff while a spectacular journey by Earth-light across the Lunar surface is shown. Hal is the only character who expresses anxiety, as well as feelings of pride and bewilderment.

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