Before man landed on the moon in 1969, Stanley Kubrick offered audiences a taste of how such an endeavour could potentially take form. Out of an almost flawless catalogue of films, it is hard to pick one Kubrick picture that reigns supreme, however, for many, it is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Released in 1968, the almost two-and-a-half-hour film is partly an exploration of the relationship between man and technology, made during a period of rapid technological progression.
The presence of HAL, an artificial intelligence aboard the Discovery One spaceship, warns of the dangers of technological advancements that become too far out of human control. The opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey sees a group of apes discovering a monolith, which in turn leads to their discovery of the power of violence. The sequence ends with a match-cut that mirrors a shot of an ape throwing a bone into the air with a satellite orbiting Earth. Kubrick demonstrates that humanity as we know it began with violence and the realisation that we can use it for our own selfish needs. From the prehistoric era, the film takes us to 2001, when humans have evolved to the point of space travel and the creation of artificial intelligence. However, it turns out HAL has a human personality — this man-made creation is capable of evil, and ultimately he uses it against the humans on board the spaceship.
The film is an incredible odyssey through human evolution and technology, and it is almost unbelievable that such a breathtaking and innovative film was made over 50 years ago. With stunning cinematography and set design that captured the 1960s futurism style – simultaneously modern and retro in equal doses – Kubrick’s masterpiece feels timeless. Its themes of technological danger still ring true today, over half a century later, with the rapid invention of even more realistic artificial intelligence robots and gadgets that replace the need for real humans.
The 1960s was a period of great optimism for the future, with the space race taking place, it was only a matter of time before humans would step foot on the moon, something that just a few decades before would seem inconceivable. A short documentary was released in 1966 about the making of Kubrick’s film, entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future. At only 23 minutes long, the film not only explores the production of Kubrick’s epic, but also puts the film’s impact on the view of the future into context. The documentary includes interviews with the author Arthur C. Clarke, whose novel 2001: A Space Odyssey served as the film’s inspiration, and who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick, lead actor Keir Dullea, and space scientists Fred Ordway and Harry Lange.
Both Ordway and Lange discuss the film, as well as sharing some of the props they designed for it. Lange created the helmet that the film’s astronauts can be seen wearing, and the pair describe how the memory packs that feature on the back of the helmets are activated by an arm unit that can connect to the computers in the main ship. The documentary also gives us an insight into the set design of 2001, showing clips of illustrator Roy Carnon at work, hired to conceptualise the images of space technology seen in the film. Kubrick hired many artists in order to ensure that the depiction of space travel was realistic and avoided the gimmicks of space movies released at this time.
Furthermore, the film interviews art director Anthony Masters, who at this point had been working for two years on bringing these illustrations and ideas to life. We are shown how cameras were placed in unusual mounts to create a weightless effect, which were made in order to “meet the requirements of Kubrick’s bizarre and incisive imagination.” Arthur C. Clarke’s optimism for human progression is fascinating to hear, considering that the year of 2001 is now over 20 years in the past. He says: “We hope to convey to the public the wonder and beauty and promise of the new age of exploration, which is opening up before the human race. We want to convey the message that our earth is perhaps not the only abode of life.”
Check out the full documentary to see footage of the film’s production below.