Childhood's End

Childhood's End Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick

The collaboration between Clarke and Kubrick is one of the most admired, fecund, and impactful amongst members of the artistic community. The science fiction writer and the filmmaker came together to produce an adaptation of Clarke’s notable short story “The Sentinel”; what resulted is 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that is now considered one of the best of all time.

A letter recently donated to the Library of Congress from Clarke’s Sri Lanka papers reveals how the two men desired to create a “really good science fiction movie” since there were so few at the time that even came close to that designation. Kubrick contacted Clarke after the success of Dr. Strangelove (1964), hoping that the novelist would be interested in this collaboration. He wrote in a letter dated March 31st, 1964: “I had been a great admirer of your books for quite a time and had always wanted to discuss with you the possibility of doing the proverbial “really good” science-fiction movie. My main interest lies along these broad areas, naturally assuming great plot and character: 1. The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. 2. The impact (and perhaps even lack of impact in some quarters) such discovery would have on Earth in the near future. 3. A space probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars.”

Keen to undertake this endeavor, Clarke agreed, and the men focused on “The Sentinel," written in 1948, and began to develop it into a novel and a screenplay. As Clarke said, “This is more or less the way it worked out, though toward the end, novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions. Thus I rewrote some sections after seeing the movie rushes—a rather expensive method of literary creation, which few other authors can have enjoyed." Much of their discussion centered around the “Cube," later turned into the Monolith; for example, Kubrick advocated: “We see only the hypnotic image appear and the spellbound faces of the man-apes.”

The film took four years to complete and ended up being $4 million over-budget. It also appeared as if it would be a critical failure but it attracted the attention of hippies, who flocked to the film and helped generate buzz and its eventual success.

The novel was released a few months after the film came out, and credit was given to Clarke alone. Clarke later complained that this made the novel seem more like a novelization of the film. There are a few differences between the novel and the film, particularly in the background reasons for why the events of the film are taking place. Kubrick later explained, "It’s a totally different kind of experience, of course, and 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 movie, on the other hand, is basically a visual, nonverbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer’s subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic. The film thus becomes a subjective experience, which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting. Actually, film operates on a level much closer to music and to painting than to the printed word, and, of course, movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension."