Movie booksScifi

Space Odyssey by Michael Benson (book review).

I’ve been sitting on a couple books about the 1968 film ‘’2001: A Space Odyssey’ for some time now. While the SF book releases are somewhat in a recession at the moment, I’ve finally been able to fit this book in. Objectively, there are very few SF films that have had many books written about them, and certainly ‘2001’ is probably the oldest on that list, or at least beating the ‘Metropolis’ (1927) and ‘King Kong’ (1933) films, which are more fantasy.

Part of the reason any of these film books are bought is for the photo content, and not only are they scattered throughout the book but also in a 16-page glossy section with many photos I haven’t seen before.

The background detail is what makes certain aspects of this book stand ouWe know that Arthur C. Clarke resided in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, but the island’s tax system confiscated all his funds if he did not remain on the island or return within a specified timeframe. He made his investment in a film there, and he also had to pay for his divorce. r. On Kubrick’s part, he was friends with director/actor Bryan Forbes, who was aghast that he was even considering directing an SF film.

I did wonder how Kubrick met Con Pederson and Doug Trumball, and here it was because he was impressed with a preview screening of the 1964 film ‘To The Moon and Beyond’ that they had done in America. Considering its historical significance to ‘2001’, you would think someone would have thought of getting the rights and releasing it.

I was aware of some areas of pre-production, and Benson brings in a lot more detail. Looking back and living through the time period, the image of SF in cinema was low-budget B-movies, and rarely any films were that significant. White costumes and accessories adorned the ideas of the future. In part, Kubrick and Clarke were creating from raw cloth, drawing inspiration from ‘The Sentinel’, but they were uncertain about the direction they should take. Kubrick was looking at and throwing out ideas for a pastime, building and rebuilding, looking for his own ideas of perfection but wanting to present what the year 2001 would look like, even if it did look somewhat sterile in space. Don’t forget that after the man-apes section, we didn’t really see much of the Earth’s environment. I’ve pointed out flaws at the ends of my editorials, but that doesn’t stop ‘2001’ from being a classic—just things they were too close to realizing they missed.

In pre-production, we see the complete list of names for the film before we finally get it. Even Kubrick had B-level titles for a long time. ‘Journey Beyond the Stars’ was definitely impossible. Oddly, he would listen to people like Carl Sagan, dismiss them, and then do something similar. Doug Trumbull, himself, informed him that killing the hibernating crew was necessary, but he left them in hibernation and told them to leave, only to use them later. Whether this was Kubrick’s ego or not is debatable, because he certainly employed the right people, even if he grinded them down unless they stood up to him. That problem exists for perfectionists.

Observing the creation process of the monolith reveals the reason for its departure from the novel’s transparency: Perspex retained its original look. Interestingly, the same firm that made the Daleks also made the spacesuits, albeit without adding any details. Trumbull also created all the computer graphics overlays for the screens, not just for the AE-15 unit under examination.

There are a few things Benson misses, such as how he hired Brian Johnson away from Century 21 Productions.

It is, however, interesting that Kubrick listened to Gary Lockwood about ditching some scenes and going for the talking in the pod, not HAL lipreading them. Keir Dullea also suggested the goblet breaking in his end scenes. Poole’s run in the Discovery’s opening sequence was done to Chopin, but which albums will make it hard to find out considering he was doing this for several days?

The chess game is a bigger puzzle, and HAL made a mistake in the solution by making a couple more moves than necessary. I suspect you would have to be a grand master or stop the film to look at the moves to spot that. Home video, let alone DVD, was unheard of back then.

The more you read this book, the more you become aware of how much research Kubrick was doing behind the scenes to make the film what he wanted it to be. Money went a long way in these pre-inflation days. He also employed a younger crew, likely to avoid indoctrination, but this didn’t prevent them from experiencing occasional intimidation. Kubrick’s manipulative nature becomes evident as he tested individuals for one job before offering them another, a tactic that helped mime Dan Richter secure employment and collaborated with Stuart Freeborn to secure the appropriate costume for his role. Something that isn’t that apparent from the man-apes sequence is just how short these mimes were. I tended to think the man-apes were large, but that was in proportion to the tapirs, although they didn’t appear in Africa.

Something I’m going to have to prove to myself after I watch ‘2001’ again is how much more attention I give to the production credits and who did what. Tony Masters did much of the design, and the landing port of Clavius Base was a last-minute sketch before he left to work on another film. Stuntman Bill Weston did all the stunts for Bowman and Poole, and Kubrick learned a near deadly lesson about not having enough wires.

It also looks like I’m adding another book to look out for, ‘Moonwatcher’s Memoir: A Diary of 2001, a Space Odyssey’ by Daniel Richter from 2002. From what I’ve seen online, these books are not only expensive but also difficult to find. I’m less sure about ‘African Genesis’ by Robert Ardrey from 1961, which provided evidence of man evolving in Africa, although it might be out-of-date by now considering the spread of homids.

Understanding the creation of the provisional soundtrack helps to explain some of the random processes that occurred. These days, I suspect directors rely a lot more on specialised music staff to find something suitable. Back then, Kubrick provided one of his staff members, Tont Frewin, with cash to purchase numerous classical albums, which he then combed through to find the music he desired. Even then, he didn’t come up with ‘The Blue Danube’ or even Ligoti’s music. Andrew Birkin, another staff member, came up with one, while his wife, Christiane, heard the other on the radio. Alex North wasn’t the first to provide a soundtrack or to face dismissal. These days, getting clearance for use and mixing with composers isn’t that unusual, but the film business is slow to change. When you consider how the various unions were closed shops, let alone doing each other’s job or letting the director do some of it, which Kubrick frequently did, things were forced to change or be penalised.

We all know that the film lost about 40 minutes of its original length after previews. Benson notes some of the scenes taken out, such as Bowman doing his running exercise in the centrifuge, which is understandable because it looks like a duplicate when Poole is also shown. However, I didn’t realize how many people had actually seen this version, so copies must still exist. Why haven’t the studios thought they could make a few bucks by releasing the original cut, allowing us to see the full version and form our own opinions?

The acknowledgements at the end confirms Benson had a lot of respectable sources to go to. One book I’ve missed and looks like is sold out is ‘Are We Alone?: The Stanley Kubrick Extraterrestrial Intelligence Interviews’ by Anthony Frewin from 2005 which has scientist interviews Kubrick was going to run before the film. Surely, its publisher, Elliott and Thompson in America or some publisher in the UK would consider a reprint.

This is a long book to read. I suspect a lot of ‘2001’ fans have bought the book because it was there. I’m uncertain if they have actually read it. I acquired my copy a few years ago, and based on the felt tip mark, it appears to be a reprint from 2018, released in 2018. This book surprised me by revealing a wealth of new information, which made it an intense read. There are some areas missing, like Durella and Lockwood wearing wigs, so they kept a consistent haircut in the months of filming. Kubrick plays down the ultimate trip aspect that attracted hippies or the fact that Clarke was offered some ‘pills’ to enjoy it better, but these are minor quibbles. Most of you reading this know the film. However, this book is more about the people and what they actually did, which goes beyond what it shows in the end credits.

Although not explicitly stated, one can infer certain things. Kubrick refrained from collaborating with MGM’s publicity department until the release of ‘2001’ to prevent potential copying due to the lengthy production process. As a result, Kubrick destroyed many of the models. This explains the film poster’s depiction of the space station and shuttle with engine exhaust, as they struggled to decide which elements to include in the animation. The later poster showed a blurry starchild, making even less sense because it was only on the screen for a few seconds. Logically, it should have been The Discovery, but it would hardly look that dramatic.

The length of a review always reveals the extent to which various aspects drew my attention to a particular comment. There is so much more than I’ve used above. If you have the book, time for a read. If you haven’t, it’s time to get it. Me? I have a date with the monolith.

After watching ‘2001’ again, all my senses were more alert than usual, from performance to special effects, including counting the active monitor panels. For example, look at the pod in the end sequence, and the panels flash ‘non-functional’. One thing is for sure: the end credits, when compared to IMDB, are only a fraction of the people involved. I understand that some people express dissatisfaction with the lengthy credits in modern films, but considering the duration of the Blue Daube, it was undoubtedly feasible to acknowledge all those involved. Two years of work deserved recognition. So get this book and read it all.

GF Willmetts

April 2024

(pub: Simon & Schuster, 2018. 497 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: varies. ISBN: 978-1-5011-6393-7)

check out website: www.simonandschuster.co.uk


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

One thought on “Space Odyssey by Michael Benson (book review).

  • My spouse and I purchased and read Space Odyssey. We both agreed that this book increased our appreciation of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks for the enjoyable article.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.