12 Out-of-This-World Facts About 2001: A Space Odyssey

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a watershed moment in filmmaking. The epic sci-fi story of extraterrestrials and higher planes of existence bridged the gap between studio pictures and art films, all because of the inimitable genius of its writer/director. Here are 12 facts about the sci-fi classic.

1. The book and the movie were developed concurrently.

2001: A Space Odyssey sprang from a February 1964 lunch between director Stanley Kubrick and Roger Caras, the publicist for Kubrick’s previous film Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick told Caras that for his next movie he wanted to do a movie about extraterrestrial life, which prompted Caras to suggest he get in touch with his friend, collaborator, and science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke.

Caras introduced the two, with Clarke sending a telegram saying, “Frightfully interested in working with enfant terrible,” and soon the two were working on expanding Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” into a movie treatment. Per Kubrick, “The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel.”

2. It had a few alternate titles.

During development on the movie, Kubrick and Clarke humorously referred to their lofty project as “How the Solar System Was Won,” a play on the title of the 1962 western epic, How the West Was Won. It was never a serious title option, though in author Jerome Agel's 1972 book, The Making of Kubrick's 2001, Clarke admitted, "[It] was our private title. It was exactly what we tried to show."

The pair’s first working title for the movie was Project: Space, which is listed in their first outline. Other temporary titles included Across the Sea of Stars, Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, Earth Escape, Jupiter Window, Farewell to Earth, and Planetfall. The official MGM press release for the movie from February 1965 lists the title as Journey Beyond the Stars, though two months later Kubrick selected 2001: A Space Odyssey for the final title, as an homage to Homer’s Odyssey. “Stanley selected 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Clarke said in his book, The Lost Worlds of 2001. “As far as I can recall, it was entirely his idea.”

3. One of Stanley Kubrick's biggest inspirations was a 1960 animated short from Canada.

It’s no surprise that Kubrick selected “Universe” as a possible title for his movie, as it was also the name of one of the biggest inspirations he had while making it. Universe is a 28-minute, Oscar-nominated animated documentary from 1960 made by the National Film Board of Canada that was meant to be an awe-inspiring look at what it would be like to sail through space beyond the Milky Way.

Kubrick was so taken by the short film that he hired Douglas Rain, the narrator of Universe, to be the voice of the evil computer HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and also hired Universe’s optical effects artist Wally Gentleman to do special effects for the movie.

4. Kubrick had a little help from Carl Sagan.

Kubrick began principal production on the movie without knowing how to convey many of the film’s key scenes, most notably the ending where Dr. Dave Bowman makes contact with extraterrestrial life. One of the biggest problems Kubrick had while developing the movie was how to depict these extraterrestrial life forms in a way that suited his abstract ideas, but could also be covered by the film’s budget. So he asked noted astrophysicist/author Carl Sagan for help.

In his book The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, Sagan explained, “I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of Man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve again anywhere in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it, and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly to display, the extraterrestrials.”

Though Kubrick would experiment with literal ways to show aliens in 2001, like hiring a ballet dancer in a special polka-dotted suit filmed against a black background, he settled on Sagan’s insinuation of extraterrestrials.

5. Kubrick tried to take out an alien insurance policy.

Kubrick was paranoid that he’d put all this work into getting as close to reality with the concept of extraterrestrial life as he possibly could and then aliens would be discovered just before his expensive sci-fi movie was finished. In order to literally insure his movie wouldn’t become obsolete, Kubrick attempted to take out an insurance policy at Lloyd’s of London to protect himself against losses in case extraterrestrial intelligence was discovered before the film’s release. Lloyd’s declined the policy because they figured the probability of discovering extraterrestrial intelligence in such a short period in the mid-1960s was too small.

6. The film was shot almost entirely indoors.

The film was shot almost entirely at England’s Shepperton Studios and MGM-British Studios. Massive sets were built for the film’s locations, including a 30-ton rotating Ferris wheel set meant to portray the Discovery’s gravity, built by a British aircraft company called the Vickers-Armstrong Engineering Group.

The film’s iconic monolith was actually comprised of wood and a special graphite mix black paint in order to get an extremely smooth sheen on the outside surface.

The only on-location exterior shot of the movie was of the Moon-Watcher ape smashing the animal bones with his own bone weapon, which was shot on an elevated platform near the studio so that Kubrick could get a low angle of actor Dan Richter, who played the Moon-Watcher, tossing the bone into the air. The shot, which would be the first part of the film’s infamous bone-to-spaceship match cut, was thought up during the shoot after Kubrick tossed a broomstick to a crew member before directing a shot.

7. All the apes were mimes.

One of the last sequences Kubrick shot was the opening “Dawn of Man” sequence, mostly because the director had difficulty in figuring out who could portray the apes in the scenes. He auditioned actors, dancers, and even comedians to potentially perform the parts, and initially hired Richter (who was working as a professional mime in London at the time) to simply choreograph the sequence. Instead, Kubrick hired Richter to be the main ape and tasked him with recruiting 20 other mimes to be the apes.

To help with the reality of the sequence, Richter explained, “I spent a lot of time at the zoo, in front of the chimp cage and the gorillas. I got all the footage of Jane Goodall's work and watched it over and over again. I met with anthropologists. My goal was to take this group of 20 man-apes, drop them in a parking lot without telling them what to do, and they would just look right.”

8. Kubrick got some help from NASA pros.

Even though the story he was telling was science fiction, Kubrick wanted a lot of collaboration in basing the film in science fact. To work as technical consultants on the film, Kubrick hired German-born designer Harry Lange, who had previously worked at NASA as the head of its “future projects” section, and Frederick Ordway, NASA’s former chief of space information systems, who had helped develop the Saturn V rocket.

Of his collaboration with the director, Ordway said, “Kubrick wanted to make certain that every special-effects shot would be completely convincing, yielding a realism never before accomplished in motion pictures.”

9. It featured some truly groundbreaking special effects.

Entire books have been written about the elaborate special effects used to create the futuristic world of 2001. Such effects were painstakingly created because the movie existed in an era before you could just fire up a computer and make whatever is in your noggin come to life. The most famous special effect in the movie is perhaps the end “Star Gate” sequence, which was created by effects artist Douglas Trumbull using a technique called slit scan photography.

To get the trippy colors to portray Bowman traveling to a higher existence, Trumbull used nothing but two sheets of glass and a camera on a custom dolly track. He placed a static foreground sheet of glass that’s entirely blacked out, save for a small slit in the center, in front of the camera. Another static sheet in back of the blacked out sheet featured a piece of glass with interchangeable paintings, drawings, and geometric patterns on it. He then pushed the camera backward and forward to, as Trumbull explained, “produce two seemingly infinite planes of exposure,” that were edited together to create the sequence.

10. Kubrick scrapped the entire original score.

Kubrick called 2001 “a visual, nonverbal experience,” and to help create that the director wanted to stress the music of the film. In the early stages of production, Kubrick commissioned composer Alex North, whom he’d previously worked with on creating the music for Spartacus, to score the movie. North composed a full score, but Kubrick ultimately abandoned it during post-production in favor of iconic classical music cues like Johann Strauss’s “The Blue Danube” waltz.

North didn’t even find out his score was scrapped until he attended the film’s 1968 premiere. North’s score would eventually be released on CD in 1993, and more recently received a limited-edition vinyl release on niche collectible record label Mondo.

11. HAL's death song came from a real-life experience.

The scene where Bowman deactivates HAL, who is singing “Daisy Bell,” was inspired by a visit Clarke made to Bell Labs in the early '60s to see a demonstration of an IBM 704 computer singing the very same song. It gave credence to the idea that “HAL” is a sly reference to “IBM,” since each letter in the evil computer’s name is one alphabetical letter away from the letters in the computer company’s name.

Clarke remained resolved to the fact that HAL, whose character was originally a female persona named Athena, stood for “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer,” and any connection to IBM was pure coincidence.

12. Kubrick supposedly burned all of the extraneous footage, but it was found decades later.

Kubrick was legendarily secretive about his movie, going so far as to have all the props for the movie destroyed so replicas couldn’t be made. He also didn’t want anyone seeing extra footage he deemed unworthy of being in the final movie. Extra footage was only included in the film during the first premiere, which caused Kubrick to cut 19 minutes of footage from scenes like the “Dawn of Man” over pacing issues, after which he ordered all of the negatives of those sequences destroyed.

The complete extra 19 minutes was thought lost until 17 minutes of footage were found, preserved in a salt mine in Kansas, in 2010. Special effects supervisor Trumbull hopes to feature never-before-seen images from the once-lost footage in an upcoming behind-the-scenes photo book.

Additional Sources: The Making of Kubrick's 2001, by Jerome Agel

Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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