Few pieces of science-fiction filmmaking, or any other creative medium for that matter, better captures the awe, terror and beauty of the expanding universe than Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whilst it may find itself sandwiched beside, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, John Carpenter’s The Thing and Frtiz Lang’s Metropolis, in the upper echelons of the genre, none of these aforementioned films possess 2001’s “really good” proverbial legacy.
These were the words Kubrick himself once used, enclosed within a letter to the renowned author, and co-screenwriter of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke. Establishing himself as one of the most perceptive and intelligent voices in science fiction literature, Kubrick wished to collaborate with the “possibility of doing the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie.”
With the benefit of hindsight, this sentence seems particularly momentous as not only does the director himself now own that proverbial legacy, with his notable style and its emulators being referred to as ‘Kubrickian’, but, as he wished, 2001 is now often cited as sci-fi’s crowning jewel.
Dated the 31st March 1964, the letter reads:
Dear Mr Clarke:
It’s a very interesting coincidence that our mutual friend Caras mentioned you in a conversation we were having about a Questar telescope. 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.
Roger [Caras ]tells me you are planning to come to New York this summer. Do you have an inflexible schedule? If not, would you consider coming sooner with a view to a meeting, the purpose of which would be to determine whether an idea might exist or arise which could sufficiently interest both of us enough to want to collaborate on a screenplay?
Incidentally, “Sky & Telescope” advertise a number of scopes. If one has the room for a medium size scope on a pedestal, say the size of a camera tripod, is there any particular model in a class by itself, as the Questar is for small portable scopes?
Through conversation with Clarke, one can assume that Kubrick’s sprawling interests listed here, were whittled down to largely encompass the very first point, “The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.” Whilst Kubrick certainly touches on these other points throughout the film, his interests lie in the difference, or lack thereof, between A.I and extraterrestrial life. Though, this is, of course, only one idea within the multitude laced throughout the odyssey itself.
Released four years later on 12 May 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey would go on to define science-fiction filmmaking, with this early correspondence between the two visionary thinkers, becoming an artefact of cinema history and the beginning of an intergalactic journey.
See the letter in full, below.