Stanley Kubrick

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2001: A Space Odyssey on DVD 2001: Books

Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an influential American-British filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and photographer. He directed a number of highly acclaimed and often controversial films. Kubrick was noted for the scrupulous care with which he chose his subjects, his slow method of working, the variety of genres he worked in, his technical perfectionism, and his reclusiveness about his films and personal life.


2001: A Space Odyssey

Main article: 2001: A Space Odyssey (film)

Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was conceived as a Cinerama spectacle and was photographed in Super Panavision 70. Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke, expanding on Clarke's short story "The Sentinel". Kubrick reportedly told Clarke that his intention was to make "the proverbial great science-fiction film."

Enigmatic and sometimes impenetrable, 2001 resists a short synopsis. It begins four million years ago with an encounter between a group of apes and a mysterious black monolith, which seems to trigger in them the ability to use a bone as both a tool and a weapon. The latter allows them to claim a water-hole from another group of apes who have no tool-wielding ability. A victorious ape tosses his bone into the air at which point the film makes a celebrated jump-cut to an orbiting weapons-satellite circa the year 2000. At this time a group of Americans at their moonbase have dug up a similar monolith. Geological evidence indicates it was deliberately buried four million years ago. When the sun rises over the monolith, it sends a radio signal to Jupiter. Eighteen months later, the US sends a group of astronauts aboard the spaceship Discovery on a mission to Jupiter, the purpose of which is to investigate the monolith's signal although this is concealed from the crew. During the flight, the ship's sentient HAL9000 computer malfunctions but resists disconnection, believing its control of the mission to be crucial. The computer terminates life support for most of the crew before it is successfully shut down. The surviving astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) in a tiny spacepod encounters another monolith in orbit around Jupiter whereupon he is hurled into a portal in space at high speed witnessing many astronomical phenomena. His interstellar journey concludes with his transformation into a mysterious new being resembling a fetus enclosed in an orb of light, last seen gazing at Earth from space.

The film was a massive production for its time. The special effects were overseen by Kubrick and engineered by a team that included special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull (Silent Running, Blade Runner). The special effects were considered groundbreaking. Kubrick extensively used travelling matte photography to film space flight, a technique also used nine years later by George Lucas in making Star Wars, although that film could use motion-control effects unavailable to Kubrick. Kubrick used an innovative use of slitscan photography to film the Stargate sequence. The film's striking cinematography was the work of legendary British director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later photograph classic films such as Cabaret and Superman. Manufacturing companies were consulted as to what the design of both special-purpose and everyday objects would look like in the future. At the time of the movie's release, Arthur C. Clarke predicted that a generation of engineers would design real spacecraft based upon 2001 "even if it isn't the best way to do it".[citation needed]. The film also is a rare instance of portraying space travel realistically with complete silence in the vacuum of space and realistic portrayal of weightlessness.

The film is famous for using classical music in place of an original score. Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube waltz became for a while indelibly associated with the film, especially the former as it was not well-known to the public prior to the film. Kubrick also used music by contemporary, avant-garde Hungarian composer György Ligeti, although some of the pieces were altered without Ligeti's consent. The appearance of Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, and Requiem on the 2001 soundtrack was the first wide commercial exposure of Ligeti's work. This use of 'program' music was not originally planned. Kubrick had commissioned composer Alex North to write a full-length score for the film, but Kubrick became so attached to the temporary soundtrack he had constructed during editing that he dropped the idea of an original score entirely.

Although it eventually became an enormous success, the film was not an immediate hit. Initial critical reaction was extremely hostile, with critics attacking the film's lack of dialogue, its slow pacing, and seemingly impenetrable storyline. One of the film's few defenders was Penelope Gilliatt, who called it in the New Yorker "some kind of a great film". Word of mouth among young audiences--especially the 1960s counterculture audience, who loved the movie's "Star Gate" sequence, a seemingly psychedelic journey to the infinite reaches of the cosmos--made the film a hit. Despite nominations in the directing, writing, and producing categories, the only Academy Award Kubrick ever received was for supervising the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Artistically, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a radical departure from Kubrick's previous films. It contains only 45 minutes of spoken dialogue, over a running time of two hours and twenty minutes. The fairly mundane dialogue is mostly superfluous to the images and music. The film's most memorable dialogue belongs to the computer HAL or HAL's exchanges with Dave Bowman. Some argue that Kubrick is portraying a future humanity largely dissociated from its environment. The film's ambiguous, perplexing ending continues to fascinate contemporary audiences and critics. After this film, Kubrick would never experiment so radically with special effects or narrative form, but his subsequent films maintain some level of ambiguity.

Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey are numerous and diverse. Despite having been released in 1968, it still prompts debate today. When critic Joseph Gelmis asked Kubrick about the meaning of the film, Kubrick replied:[33]

They are the areas I prefer not to discuss, because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.

2001: A Space Odyssey is likely Kubrick's most famous and influential film. Steven Spielberg called it his generation's big bang, focusing attention upon the space race. It was a precursor to the explosion of the science-fiction film market nine years later which began with the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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