2001: A Space Odyssey

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is an influential science fiction film directed by Stanley Kubrick. The story is based in part on various short stories by co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke, most notably "The Sentinel" (1951). Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, from which Kubrick created the movie and Clarke wrote the novel version (which eventually grew into the so-called "Space Odyssey" series of books). For an elaboration of their collaborative work on this project, see The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, Signet., 1972.

The film is notable for combining episodes contrasting high levels of scientific and technical realism with transcendental mysticism. As Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1972, "Quite early in the game I went around saying, not very loudly, 'MGM doesn't know this yet, but they're paying for the first $10,000,000 religious movie.'" This film won the Academy Award for Visual effects in 1968.



NOTE: Due to the fact that the film conveys almost all ideas visually and ambiguously, it can be interpreted in many ways. The following synopsis is merely one interpretation.

In early conversations, director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke jokingly called their project "How the Solar System Was Won," an allusion to the epic 1962 Cinerama film How the West Was Won, which presents a generation-spanning historical epic told in distinct episodes. Like How the West Was Won, 2001 is composed of distinct episodes. Three of the four major sections are introduced with the use of title cards: the lack of a title card between the first and second sections listed below has been seen by some imply that Dr. Floyd's trip to the Moon and the discovery of TMA-1 merely continue the action of Moon Watcher's discovery of the monolith in the Dawn of Man sequences, without introducing a new phase in the development of humanity.

  • The Dawn of Man
Early ape men become endowed with their first intelligence after encountering a black monolith.
  • TMA-1 – (untitled on screen) [set in 1999]
Four million years later, a similar monolith is discovered buried beneath the lunar surface.
  • Jupiter Mission, 18 Months Later [set in 2001]
The American spacecraft DISCOVERY 1 embarks on the first manned attempt to reach Jupiter.
  • Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite
An experience in another time and dimension.

In the background to the story in the book, an ancient and unseen alien race uses a mechanism with the appearance of a large black monolith to investigate worlds all across the galaxy and, if possible, to encourage the development of intelligent life (the monoliths are perhaps Von Neumann probes, although the segment explaining this was cut from the film). The film shows one such monolith appearing briefly in ancient Africa, four million B.C., where it influences a group of our hominid ancestors to learn how to use weapons and eat meat.

Missing image
The alien monolith excavated on the Moon

The film then leaps millions of years to the year 1999 (via a widely famous and much-parodied jump cut) from a murder-weapon thigh bone, tossed high in the air by an ape-man, to satellites orbiting the earth (actually bombs, though that was not mentioned in the film). The film then shows humans travelling to an orbiting space station and then on to Clavius base on the Moon to investigate a magnetic anomaly in the Tycho crater, dubbed TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly #1). When excavations there uncover a second monolith and expose it to sunlight, it emits a powerful signal aimed at Jupiter. As Kubrick told interviewer Joseph Gelmis, "you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man's first baby steps into the universe—a kind of cosmic burglar alarm." The movie then focuses on a manned mission to Jupiter to investigate the signal's receiver, taking place eighteen months later in the year 2001.

The ship is manned by a crew of two astronauts, David Bowman and Frank Poole, and an on-board computer called HAL 9000, designed to function as an artificial intelligence, which sees through multiple distinctive fish-eye cameras located around the spacecraft and speaks with a warm, mannered human-like voice. The three scientists sent to investigate the signal's destination have been placed in suspended animation. The live crew—unlike Mission Control, HAL, and the sleeping scientists—is unaware of the discovery of the Tycho monolith or the nature of their mission.

Missing image
Discovery pod bay and astronaut David Bowman in space suit

On the outbound trip, after discussing apparent anomalies in the ship's mission with the ship's captain, David Bowman, HAL reports an unverifiable error in the ship's antenna control system. After the apparently malfunctioning unit is retrieved, it is found to be perfect, suggesting that the fault lies with HAL. Bowman and Poole discuss the possibility that HAL might be malfunctioning and should therefore have his higher mental functions disabled. HAL discovers their plans, and because of contradictions in his mission plans and directives, decides to eliminate all the humans on board. Kubrick explained, "In the specific case of HAL, he had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility... Such a machine could eventually become as incomprehensible as a human being, and could, of course, have a nervous breakdown—as HAL did in the film."

To this end, HAL first kills Frank Poole by teleoperating a space-pod whilst Poole is on an EVA to replace the communications unit. While Bowman attempts to recover Poole's body, HAL kills the hibernating crew by shutting down their life support systems and then refuses to allow Bowman back into the ship.

These events gave rise to the catch phrase "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", when Bowman requests that Hal open the ship.

Bowman manages to outwit HAL and regains entry to the ship, and proceeds to shut down HAL's mental faculties one by one, in a scene which is ironically one of the film's most poignant.

HALs disconnection triggers a pre-recorded video informing Bowman of the truth about the mission. Months later, he proceeds to complete it in one of the most memorable film conclusions ever. In a special-effects-laden sequence he travels through a stargate and arrives in what appears to be a hotel room.

Kubrick explained, "When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he's placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death."

The creators are never seen directly: Bowman arrives in the hotel room, which has since become a science fiction clich for situations where a vastly powerful being must construct a benign environment for a human. He undergoes a transcendence, ending the story as a "star child" with some of the godlike powers of the monolith creators. According to Kubrick, "He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man's evolutionary destiny."

However, many choose to interpret the imagery towards the end of the film as ambiguous and metaphoric, ignoring the literal account in Clarke's novelization.

Historical background

While the film's supposed estimate for our technical progress was, with the benefit of hindsight, overly optimistic (though in many cases through lack of political will rather than any technical reason), Kubrick's intense desire for technological accuracy was unprecedented for a science fiction film, especially since the Moon based scenes were filmed before the 1969 Moon landing of Apollo 11.

Missing image
Living space in Discovery. The "hamster's wheel" design of the living space provides simulated gravitation.

The film is legendary for the depth and scale of its pre-production research and Kubrick even devised a customised filing system to deal with the vast amounts of information collected. He consulted widely with NASA, with aircraft companies, computer companies and many other research and development groups. Moreover, the film's profound themes about the past, present and potential future of humanity still resonate powerfully today.

The film and Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name share an interesting developmental history, with the book being modified by Clarke based on some of the film's daily rushes, with feedback in both directions.

Music and dialogue


Music plays a crucial part in 2001, and not only because of the relatively sparse dialogue. From very early on in production, Kubrick decided that he wanted the film to be a primarily non-verbal experience, one that did not rely on the traditional techniques of narrative cinema, and in which music would play a vital role in evoking particular moods. In many respects, 2001 harks back to the central power that music had in the era of silent film.

The film is remarkable for its innovative use of classical music taken from existing commercial records. Up to that time, major feature films were typically accompanied by elaborate film scores and/or songs written especially for them by professional composers. But although Kubrick started out by commissioning an original orchestral score, he later abandoned this, opting instead for pre-recorded tracks sourced from existing recordings, becoming one of the first major movie directors to do so, and beginning a trend that has now become commonplace.

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? 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."

2001 uses works by three classical composers. It features music by Aram Khachaturian (from the Gayaneh ballet suite) and famously used Johann Strauss II's best known waltz, "On The Beautiful Blue Danube", during the spectacular space-station rendezvous and lunar landing sequences. 2001 is especially remembered for its use of the opening from Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra (or "Thus spake Zoroaster" in English), which has become inextricably associated with the film and its imagery and themes. The film's soundtrack also did much to introduce the modern classical composer Gyrgy Ligeti to a wider public, using extracts from his Requiem, Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna and (in an altered form) Aventures.

Missing image
A view of HAL 9000's Brain Room in Discovery

In the early stages of production, Kubrick had actually commissioned a score from noted Hollywood composer Alex North, who had written the stirring score for Spartacus and also worked on Dr. Strangelove. But on 2001 Kubrick did much of the filming and editing, using as his guides the classical recordings which eventually became the music track. At some point during the editing process, Kubrick decided to use these "guide pieces" as the final musical soundtrack, and he abandoned North's score. Unfortunately Kubrick failed to inform North that his music had not been used, and to his great dismay, North did not discover this until he saw the movie at the premire. North's soundtrack has since been recorded commercially and was released shortly before his death. Similarly, Ligeti was unaware that his music was in the film until alerted by friends. He was at first unhappy about some of the music used, and threatened legal action over Kubrick's use of an electronically "treated" recording of Aventures in the "interstellar hotel" scene near the end of the film.

Hal's haunting version of the popular song "Daisy Daisy" (Daisy Bell) was inspired by computer synthesized arrangement by Max Mathews, which Arthur C. Clarke had heard at Bell Laboratories.


Alongside its use of music, the dialogue in 2001 is another notable feature, although the relative lack of dialogue and conventional narrative cues has baffled many viewers. One of the film's most striking features is that there is no dialogue whatsoever for the first twenty minutes of the film—the entire narrative of this section is carried by images, actions, sound effects, and two title cards.

Only when the film moves into the postulated "present" of 2001 do we encounter characters who speak. By the time shooting began, Kubrick had deliberately jettisoned much of the intended dialogue and narration, and what remains is notable for its apparently banal nature—an announcement about the lost cashmere sweater, the awkwardly polite chit-chat between Floyd and the Russian scientists, or his comments about the sandwiches en route to the monolith site. The exchanges between Poole and Bowman on board the "Discovery" are similarly flat, unemotional and generally lack any major narrative content. Kubrick clearly intended that the subtext of these exchanges—what is not said, what lies behind them—should be the real, meaningful content.

Missing image
Kubrick directing Dullea in pod sequence

Narrative through sound

Kubrick's unique treatment of narrative in 2001 is perhaps best exemplified by the scene in which the HAL-9000 computer murders the three hibernating astronauts while Bowman is outside the ship trying to rescue Poole. The inhuman nature of the murders is conveyed with chilling simplicity, in a scene that contains only three elements.

When HAL disconnects the life support systems, we see a flashing warning sign, COMPUTER MALFUNCTION, shown full-screen and accompanied only by the sound of a shrill alarm beep; this is intercut with static shots of the hibernating astronauts, encased in their sarcophagus-like pods, and close-up full-screen shots of the life-signs monitor of each astronaut. As the astronauts begin to die, the warning changes to LIFE FUNCTIONS CRITICAL and we see the vital signs on the monitors beginning to level out. Finally, when the three men are dead, there is only silence and the ominously banal flashing sign, LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED. Other than the alarm sound and the constant background hiss of the ship's environmental system, the entire scene is enacted with no dialogue, no music, and no physical movement of any kind.

Scientific accuracy

In general, the film is extremely realistic: it is one of the few science fiction films to accurately portray space (a vacuum) as having no sound and to have spaceships producing no sound while travelling through space. Its vision of the "future" is also frequently accurate: space travel (although incorrectly postulated as being commonplace by 2001) is presented as boring; telephone numbers have a greater number of digits than they had in the 1960s; and computers are ubiquitous.

The film does have a number of minor failures of scientific accuracy such as:

  • The height of lunar mountains was overestimated, as the film was made before the lunar expeditions of the Apollo program, and because meteoric erosion was underestimated.
  • The thermal radiators on Discovery One, originally intended to be included, were eventually removed from the design because Kubrick felt they looked too much like wings.
  • In the EVA shots of "Discovery One," the background stars are seen to be slowly moving in relation to the ship. This is inaccurate -- the stars are too far away and the ship's speed too slow in relation to them for them to appear to move.
  • The dust blown up by the exhaust of the lunar shuttle is seen to billow up from the landing pad, rather than radiate out in straight lines, as would happen in the near-vacuum of the lunar surface.
  • A further inaccuracy seemingly ignored by many commentators is the varying phases of the Earth as seen from the Moon during the landing manoeuvres of the Aries 1B moonship (an error of continuity as well as science). However, there are various places in the film where planets "magically" align, for artistic purposes, in defiance of reality.
  • In the sequence in which David Bowman blows the hatch on his space pod to regain entry to Discovery's airlock, there is a shot with Dave rebounding in the airlock chamber, while his space pod is still sitting just outside the airlock door. Since the pod is not fixed to Discovery, the blowing of the hatch would have caused the pod to move away on the thrust of its escaping atmosphere—though rather slowly, given a rough estimation of the mass and speed of ejected air, and mass of the pod. This being said, it is not impossible that the ejection procedure involves automatic compensation by the thruster of the pod.
  • Much has been made of the reality of 2001 with regard to its accurate portrayal of weightlessness on board the Discovery. The film itself draws attention to this, with impressive tracking shots inside the rotating "wheel" which provides the artificial gravity, contrasting it with the weightlessness outside the wheel such as during the repair or the HAL disconnection scenes. The scenes in the pod bay where the astronauts are walking may be explained by a 'velcro'-like coating of the floor, which explains the oddly slow pace of the walk.
  • There is a somewhat famous, though small, technical error when Heywood Floyd is flying to the moon. Supposedly in a weightless state, he sips through a straw, and when he lets go of it, the fluid slides back into the container.

The ship's computer interfaces, with numerous small screens displaying FORTRAN code and merely schematic drawings, are often seen as a failure to predict multiple "windows" and graphical user interfaces. However, as embedded systems applications often have spartan interfaces, this claim is actually disputed.

However, there were a number of accurate predictions.

  • Cameras using film which needs to be processed are still in use today and were shown being still in use in the movie.
  • Flat-screen computer monitors were predicted to be in use.
  • Small, portable, flat-screen televisions were in use.

On the other hand, HAL's speech, understanding and self-determining abilities exceed the year 2001 actual state of the art by orders of magnitude.


Missing image
The title screen of the film.
A sequel to the film, titled 2010: The Year We Make Contact was based on Clarke's book 2010: Odyssey Two and was released in 1984. (The book was published in 1982.) However, Kubrick was not involved in the production of this film, which was presented literally rather than "mystically", and did not have the impact of the original.

Kubrick makes a cameo appearance in the film, after a fashion; a photograph of the director is used to represent a Russian premier, seen on a magazine cover. Also, the name of the captain of the Leonov is "Kirbuk".) Clarke also has a silent cameo, as a man sitting at the opposite end of a park bench (in front of the White House) from where two main actors are talking. Clarke is entirely out of frame in the pan-and-scan TV screen version of the movie.

Clarke went on to write two more sequel novels: 2061: Odyssey Three (1987) and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). To date there has yet to be any serious discussion of filmmakers adapting either for the screen.


Upon release, 2001 received mostly positive reviews, and quickly gained a cult following (its psychedelic visual imagery was embraced by the counterculture). Roger Ebert gave the film four stars in his original review, believing the film "succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale" [[1] (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19680412/REVIEWS/804120301/1023)]. Yet the movie also had its detractors. Critic Pauline Kael said it was "a monumentally unimaginative movie"[[2] (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19680101/CRITICALDEBATE/40305008)], and Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic called it "a film that is so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull"[[3] (http://www.krusch.com/kubrick/Q16.html)].

2001 earned one Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Director (Kubrick), and Original Screenplay (Kubrick, Clarke). 2001: A Space Odyssey is consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films, was number 22 on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies and number 40 on its 100 Years, 100 Thrills, and been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Missing image
Spaceship USSS Discovery launching an EVA pod. Note the deliberately non-aerodynamic design of both crafts.
  • Kubrick and his team tried several variants of the alien artifacts. One of the early favoured designs was an tetrahedron, but Kubrick later rejected this because people would believe there was a connection with the pyramids. A transparent version of the familiar rectangular monolith was also constructed out of perspex, but it proved too difficult to light and shoot effectively and Kubrick then had the prop remade in its final form, which was cast in black lucite.
  • It has been claimed that the psychedelic "stargate sequence" that concludes the film, entitled "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite", matches perfectly with the Pink Floyd song, "Echoes", just as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is believed to sychronise well with the movie The Wizard of Oz. [4] (http://www.synchronicityarkive.com/display.php?view=2)
  • The first portion of the psychedelic "stargate sequence" was made using Slit-Scan photography, a camera technique in which bands of color from a thin slit are projected onto photographic film. [5] (http://www.underview.com/2001/how/slitscan.html) The images used for this sequence can be viewed in their original form using Slit-Scan unraveling techniques. [6] (http://seriss.com/people/erco/2001/) Some of the revealed images appear to be photographs from nature (flowers, coral, etc.) and geometric light shapes.
  • It has been frequently noted that "HAL" is "IBM", shifted one letter back. Clarke insists that this is a coincidence; HAL is an amalgam of "heuristic" and "algorithmic," the two main processes of learning. However, the light blue color around the word resembles IBM's own blue color. See HAL 9000.
  • The book's description of the moon Iapetus curiously closely describes another Saturnian moon, Mimas; this was a coincidence, as close-up images of Saturn's moons did not become available until 1980. According to Clarke, in the foreword to the 30th anniversary edition of 2001, this destination was removed from the movie version because Kubrick felt the special effects created to depict Saturn and its rings were not realistic enough. Special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull eventually re-used much of his early designs for Saturn in his 1972 film Silent Running.
  • 2001 was filmed at the same time and in the same studios as the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, and Arthur C. Clarke is believed to have made a brief non-speaking cameo appearance in one scene of the latter film. In addition, the TV series The Prisoner was also being filmed next door, and series star/executive producer Patrick McGoohan borrowed a piece of special effects footage made for 2001 (namely an image of stars in the night sky) for use in a scene for his show.
  • On the morning of January 1, 2001, visitors of Seattle, Washington's Magnuson Park discovered a metallic monolith atop Kite Hill. The oblong object measured approximately three feet wide by nine feet tall and appeared to be hollow. It didn't stand for long. Sometime during the wee hours of January 3, the monolith disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. At the same time, artist and Blue Moon Tavern regular Caleb Schaber revealed that he and a band of anonymous collaborators calling themselves "Some People" had fabricated the device and several smaller versions placed around Seattle.
  • Almost all of the American actors featured were expatriates who happened to be living in London, making it cheaper for them to hire.
  • Dr. Heywood Floyd’s daughter, seen on the videophone, "Squirt", was played by Kubrick’s five-year-old daughter Vivian.
  • Comedian Ronnie Corbett was employed for the make up tests for the Ape Men; it is reported that the results were too disturbing, and a much revised approach is seen in the film. Corbett did not act in the film.
  • The "Dawn of Man" scenes (except for "Moonwatcher" demolishing the tapir skeleton with a bone) were all filmed in the studio using a system of front projection for the backgrounds as this would not show up on the Ape costumes. A technical glitch gives this away during the scene with the Leopard: when it turns its head towards the camera its eyes light up.
  • With the exception of two baby chimpanzees, all of the apes in the beginning of the film were played by mimes, dancers and actors in costumes.
  • Many different techniques were tried to achieve the effect of the pen floating in zero gravity on the flight to the space station. In the end a sheet of clear perspex was placed in front of the camera to which the pen was glued. The actress playing the crew attendant simply pulled the pen off the plastic. A similar technique was used in filming 2010, when Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) demonstrates how the Alexei Leonov can escape Jupiter space ahead of the launch schedule.
  • The line of dialogue "See you next Wednesday", spoken by Frank Poole's parents in the transmitted birthday greeting, has become a famous in-joke in the films of John Landis.
  • The living quarters for the Discovery was built by aircraft manufacturer Vickers-Armstrong inside a 12-meter by two-meter drum designed to rotate at five km per hour. A camera could operate through a slot in the centre of the set while Kubrick directed the action from outside, using a closed-circuit TV system. It cost $750,000, nearly 10% of the whole budget, but due to cuts made by Kubrick is only used to its full effect in a small number of scenes.
  • The English actor Nigel Davenport was hired to read the dialogue for HAL but Kubrick dismissed him as the accent was too distracting. Martin Balsam was also tried for the voice of HAL but Kubrick found his voice too emotional. Sometime during post-production Douglas Rain was hired to voice HAL. It is believed that Keir Dullea (David Bowman) and Rain have never actually met in person.
  • The original scripted ending has the Star Child set off the orbiting nuclear devices seen (though not explained) in the "Blue Danube" sequence. Kubrick concluded this was too similar to the ending of Dr. Strangelove and so opted for the more ambiguous and optimistic ending scene. The author of a "Making of 2001" book explained this, and added the quip, "We WON'T Meet Again!"
  • At Kubrick's request, first assistant director Derek Cracknell had his baby daughter Sarah screen-tested to be the Star Child. The footage ultimately went unused, and a fake baby appears in the finished film. Sarah Cracknell, however, would go on to a different sort of stardom as singer with the British indie band Saint Etienne. When asked in interviews why her footage wasn't used, Sarah has joked that she looked "too cute".
  • The main working title for the film was Journey Beyond the Stars. Kubrick came up with the present title 8 months into productions after going over many other suggested titles like Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, How The Solar System Was Won, and Planetfall. [7] (http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0073.html)


Many an influential and popular work of art are subject to imitation and parody, and "2001" is no exception:

  • Mad Magazine did their obligatory takeoff, titled 101 Minutes of Space Idiocy, although the final cut was actually 139 minutes, according to Leonard Maltin's movie book.
  • History of the World - Part 1, Mel Brooks' uneven satire of the history of humanity, begins with a scene similar to "2001", except that the ape-men are, shall we say, self-absorbed.
  • The opening strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" have also been used in countless TV commercials and other media events.

See also

External links



Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

es:2001 fr:2001, l'odysse de l'espace it:2001 Odissea nello spazio he:2001: אודיסיאה בחלל hu:2001 nl:2001 ja:2001年宇宙の旅 pl:Odyseja kosmiczna 2001 sk:2001 sv:2001 - ett rymdventyr th:2001 จอมจักรวาล zh:2001太空漫游


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