The eccentricity of the iconic director Stanley Kubrick is a well-known fact, with several stories across his filmography demonstrating his blind devotion to his craft, no matter the consequences. Such stories include almost giving The Shining actress Shelley Duvall a nervous breakdown by forcing her to do so many exhausting takes, as well as his obsessive attitude toward his failed biopic Napoleon. Though, perhaps it was the smaller, stranger peculiarities of the director that made him all the more curious, and ultimately endearing.
Such odd behaviour was elicited in his 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, a sprawling exploration of space, evolution and human origins. Perhaps sci-fi’s greatest ever achievement, the film became a significant cultural and cinematic achievement, with fellow director Steven Spielberg calling the film his generation’s “big bang” and George Lucas noting that the film was “hugely inspirational”. Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott even went so far as to say that he believed Kubrick’s film was so good that it ‘in a sense killed the science fiction genre’.
Written during the Space Race during the mid-1950s, Stanley Kubrick became increasingly paranoid that aliens would be discovered before the release of his sci-fi epic, therefore making his film redundant. For a producer, such uncontrollable real-life events can be a nightmare for their film as audiences’ tastes change along with the circumstantial mood of the nation. With on-screen aliens set to feature in Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, the idea of real-life extraterrestrials being found before the release of the film became a genuine concern. This was so much so that the director even tried to take out “alien insurance” with Lloyd’s of London, in case the discovery of alien life ruined the plot of his film.
Going through several different designs, discarding each one in fear audiences might find them absurd, at one point Kubrick even considered using an idea from Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End that illustrated aliens as traditional demons. Other ideas included gargoyles, towering insects, a city full of bipedal lizards, as well as aliens who looked just like ourselves. Part of the reason the director decided to drop such concepts was the fear that NASA would discover real aliens, and his creations would look like a joke in comparison.
Thankfully, such designs were never used in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic and instead we are only teased with the impression that such life exists and may have influenced human life for centuries. The only real physical impression of such extraterrestrials is in the Monoliths that often appear throughout the film, machines built by an alien species that have chartered and encouraged human progress across history.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey could’ve been a very different film with the inclusion of aliens, and likely wouldn’t be the monolithic piece of filmmaking that we now consider it to be today.