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(Credit: MGM)


The animated short that inspired Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'

Regarded as one of the finest science fiction films of all time, Stanley Kubrick and his noted classic 2001: A Space Odyssey was the kind of film that defined a generation. So effortlessly futuristic, widely entertaining and yet still poignant enough to make its point, the film would go on to be its own source of inspiration, encouraging people like David Bowie to write songs in its honour. But what was the inspiration behind Kubrick’s vision?

The 1968 film will forever be remembered as one of Kubrick’s finest as well as a noted moment in the timeline of 20th-century cinema, showing itself as a unique era-defining film. But the inspiration was drawn from another movie, a 26-minute masterpiece called Universe. Directed by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low, the film explains the beginning of the universe and offers up a little direction in how planets work too.

The film relies heavily on animation to get across its mind-bending points and is ranked as one of the finest informative films ever made. Produced by the National Film Board for Canada, Universe won an Oscar in 1960 and took home the Best Animated Short award at the Canne Film Festival. But perhaps one of its more noteworthy accolades is that it is entrenched in the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There are plenty of similarities to draw between the two films. Not only is the imposing soundtrack something that Kubrick would lean heavily on when defining his own film’s score, but the sequence beginning at 5:50, which sees the sun peek out its rays from behind a planet, is so obviously connected to Kubrick’s that there may have even been a plagiarism case to uphold.

The connections continue too. Kubrick was so impressed by the animation on the project that he invited the creators to be a part of 2001: A Space Odyssey. While Colin Low declined the invite, Wally Gentleman, the film’s special effects whiz, made good on his name and gladly accepted the invitation. But perhaps the most obvious connection between the two films is Douglas Rain.

Rain is the narrator on Universe, and his voice was so calming and alarming in equal measure that Kubrick decided he simply had to be the voice of his villainous and destructive supercomputer, HAL 9000. Kubrick’s biographer, Vincent Lobrutto, remembered the first time Kubrick sat down to watch the film: “Kubrick watched the screen with rapt attention while a panorama of the galaxies swirled by, achieving the standard of dynamic, visionary realism that he was looking for.

These images were not flawed by the shoddy matte work, obvious animation and poor miniatures typically found in science fiction films. Universe proved that the camera could be a telescope to the heavens.”

You can watch the 26-minute animated film that inspired Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey below.