Film Professor Yifen Beus described Dr. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a film that revolutionized the film industry in science fiction and special effects. The movie recently marked its 50th anniversary. Filmmakers, such as George Lucas and Christopher Nolan, have credited “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a major influence in their profession.
Beus explained, “The story is complex and has a philosophical approach to the beginnings of mankind. It's a sophisticated and intentional way of storytelling.” The synopsis of the film is in the future, humanity has discovered a monolith under the surface of the moon and sends a manned mission to trace the artifact’s origins in the Solar System.
The crew consisting of two actors, David Bowman and Frank Poole, are accompanied by artificial intelligence, Hal-9000. Along their journey, misfortunes occur and David Bowman takes steps to complete the mission.
The film was released in 1968 at the heart of the Cold War and the Space Race and one year before Apollo 11 an astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. landed on the moon.
In the documentary “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 a Space Odyssey,” Doug Chamberlain, a cinematographer in Los Angeles, said, “You have to watch the film in a historical context, because the intro to the film shows apes learning how to use bones for weapons and then there's this hard cut to the future.
“On the screen, you can see a satellite that is actually a Russian spacecraft holding nuclear weapons, symbolically saying that the apes and future humans are still the same.”
Chamberlain continued, “Stanley Kubrick planned so carefully and imagined what it would be like in outer space that he took everything into account from the zero gravity to the designs inside the spaceships. Before ‘2001,’ no one really put any effort in making a significant science fiction film.”
The genre of science fiction at the time was not taken seriously. Beus said, “All of the science fiction up to that point had been very ‘B’ oriented.” The only other significant science fiction film released prior to “2001” was “Planet of the Apes,” which was also released in 1968.
Chamberlain said, “In order to fully appreciate the origins of science fiction, you have to watch this film because every sci-fi film after ‘2001’ is connected to ‘2001.’ ‘Star Wars’ was the next big sci-fi movie, and that was released almost 10 years after ‘2001.’
According to the documentary, “George Lucas copied elements of the spaceship designs from ‘2001’ and implemented them into the ship designs of ‘Star Wars.’ After ‘Star Wars,’ Ridley Scott directed ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner.’ ‘2001’ was years ahead of its time and it turned science fiction into a legitimate genre.”
In the documentary, Lucas, upon watching the film while attending film school, said, “To see someone actually do it, to make a visual film, was hugely inspirational to me. Kubrick did it. I can do it.” Lucas went on to write and direct “Star Wars” and even hired conceptual artists who worked on “2001.” Nolan said, “One of my earliest memories of cinema is seeing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in 70mm.”
Talking about “2001,” Lucas explained, “In terms of special effects, it is the pinnacle. If you look at the first 70 years, this is the best of the best of special effects movies and it will always be.”
The film has scenes that feature space stations and rooms rotating to simulate gravity. One particular scene shows the protagonist, David Bowman, jogging in one of these rotating rooms. Janusz Kaminski, cinematographer for “War of the Worlds,” said “It’s amazing to realize that some of the shots involved so much engineering. You see the entire set rotating and the camera follows and the actors have to hit certain marks otherwise they will fall because the set rotates.”
Paul Duncan, author of “Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films,” said, “For the control room on the Discovery, they [the film crew] actually built a centrifuge. This thing was bigger than a house.” David Hughes, author of “The Complete Kubrick,” said, “What better way to simulate the revolving centrifuge of a spaceship than to build one full size, revolve it, and let it turn 360 degrees.”
According to Chamberlain, Nolan’s “Inception” featured a fight scene in a rotating hotel hallway. The set piece was directly influenced by “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Using practical effects over digital, Nolan achieved the same visual simulation of gravity as “2001.” In a broader sense, Nolan’s film “Interstellar” also has influences from “2001.”
Chamberlain said, “The use of rigs and gimbals in ‘2001’ paved the way for other films to incorporate these things. For example, in the movie ‘Gravity,’ Sandra Bullock was inside this huge gimbal for the majority of the film. Kubrick even thought up of projecting lights onto helmets and faces to show the characters interacting with buttons and lights. ‘Gravity’ and countless other films like ‘Alien’ use this effect.”
Speaking about his movie “2001,” Kubrick said, “I want this film to succeed. Not on a level of cinema but on a level of music.” John Baxter, author of “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography,” commenting on the use of “The Blue Danube Waltz” in “2001,” said, “And it is. It’s music. It’s an opera.” Lucas said, “The whole movie is like watching a sunset. All the shots are very long and very slow and very musical. You get to see everything.”
In commenting about what film students could take away from the movie, Beus said, “This is great way for film students to be more inquizitive and more adventuresome when it comes to watching all kinds of films. Don’t be afraid to watch lots of different types of films.”