Watch the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with the original, unused score
2001: A Space Odyssey, the pioneering 1968 science fiction film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time.
The film, which follows a voyage to Jupiter, delves deep into subjects such as human evolution, existentialism, technology and artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film synopsis reads: “An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future in this enigmatic adaptation of a short story by revered sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. When Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behaviour, leading up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.”
While its incredible screenplay and pioneering special effects usage remain its lasting legacy, Kubrick has been heavily praised for the film’s innovative use of classical music taken from existing commercial recordings. Poignantly, the majority of the music in the film appears either before the first line of dialogue or after the final line with no music being heard during scenes with dialogue — a method that relies heavily on the substance of the sound.
In the early stages of production, Kubrick had commissioned the score for the film to be created by Hollywood composer Alex North. Composer North, who had built a solid reputation having previously written the score for Spartacus and also worked on Dr. Strangelove, completed the work for Kubrick and submitted his work. However, during post-production, Kubrick took the bold decision to abandon North’s music in favour of the classical pieces of Strauss, Ligeti, and Khatchaturian he had been using during editing.
North was not aware of the decision to scrap his work up until after he saw the film’s premiere screening in New York City.
In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick explained: “However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?”
Kubrick continued: “When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.”
North, who was said to be “devastated” after discovering his work had been scrapped, said: “Well, what can I say? It was a great, frustrating experience, and despite the mixed reaction to the music, I think the Victorian approach with mid-European overtones was just not in keeping with the brilliant concept of Clarke and Kubrick.”
Below, you can see how 2001: A Space Odyssey would have differed with the use of North’s original work and, further down, stream his entire score in full.