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

11 Gifts for the Sci-Fi Fanatic in Your Life

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Amazon

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Science fiction has found its way into countless books, movies, TV shows, and video games over the years, making it tough to figure out which products are actually worth your time when shopping for a fan of the genre. We’re taking the thought out of it with these 11 recommendations for the sci-fi fan in your life.

1. Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series; $22

Abrams/Amazon

Topps trading cards were the essential collectible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—so it was only right that Star Trek would have its own set for fans to obsess over (though it actually debuted seven years after the original series was canceled). In this chunky coffee-table book from Abrams, high-quality scans of the fronts and backs of all 88 standard cards are featured alongside insights and essays from Trek experts Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Star Trek Socks; $25

Bio World/Amazon

Though you might not want your loved one to walk around the house in a Starfleet uniform, you should definitely get them these Next Generation socks to make their feet feel a bit more official. And whether they relate to the command, engineering, or science division of the Enterprise, there’s a pair here for them.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga; $28

Ace/Amazon

With a new take on the Dune movie franchise hitting theaters soon, there’s no better time to make sure the sci-fi buff in your life has the first three installments—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—in author Frank Herbert’s landmark book series.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Sci-Fi Book Cover Postcards; $21

Penguin Books/Amazon

One of the most striking aspects of the sci-fi genre is the imaginative, if not downright weird, book covers that come along with it. This collection of postcards features reproductions of 100 covers from publisher Penguin’s past, featuring work from H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. This set is ideal for any avid collector, especially ones that want to turn the postcards into unique crafts and decorations for the home.

Buy it: Amazon

5. and 6. The Making of Alien and The Making of Aliens; $31-$42

Titan Books/Amazon

If you ever want a comprehensive behind-the-scenes book about your favorite movie, look for the name J.W. Rinzler. He’s best known for his in-depth accounts of the original Star Wars trilogy, but he’s also dabbled in other franchises, like the first two movies in the Alien series. Packed with rare photos, unused concepts, original script drafts details, and more, these books contain all the anecdotes and details a fanatic could ever want.

Buy it: Alien (Amazon), Aliens (Amazon)

7. The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women; $20

The Library of America/Amazon

Some of sci-fi’s best women writers get the spotlight in this expansive anthology collection from the Library of America. The stories themselves range from the campier pulps of the '20 and '30s through the more thoughtful and serious evolution of the genre in the ‘60s. This is a crash course in sci-fi history, told through the lens of an often-unappreciated group of authors, including James Tiptree, Jr. (real name Alice Bradley Sheldon) and Leigh Brackett, who was responsible for the first draft of 1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Classic Sci-Fi Magazine 1000-Piece Puzzle; $22

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Though sci-fi is usually exclusive to novels and blockbuster movies today, it really got its start thanks to the plethora of genre magazines on stands during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And now, you can put together those striking—and impeccably surreal—covers to Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, and more in this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Cyberpunk 2077; $60

CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 has arguably been the most anticipated piece of sci-fi media over the last five years. CD Projekt Red already created one of this generation’s best games with The Witcher 3, and now the studio is throwing players into a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk world, where every choice you make will shape the world around you in different ways. Plus, you’ve got an arsenal of weapons and augmentations at your disposal. This one hits shelves on December 10.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films; $113

Criterion/Amazon

Godzilla’s unique charms resides in the way the franchise seamlessly alternates between thought-provoking and schlocky. And in this handsome, 15-movie Blu-ray set from Criterion, fans can revisit the series’s most influential installments, from 1954's groundbreaking original all the way through the campier later days of Megalon and Mechagodzilla. The set also contains both the U.S. and Japanese versions of 1963’s cringe classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. In typical Criterion fashion, the whole package is accompanied by hours of extras and a gorgeous hardcover book filled with original artwork.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Moebius Library: The World of Edena; $34

Dark Horse Comics/Amazon

One of sci-fi comics’ most important artists, Moebius helped define a visual style that would influence George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and pretty much every other major force in the genre for decades to come. In this collection, Moebius’s The World of Edna stories are reprinted in beautiful hardcover format, complete with lush colors that perfectly complement the strange worlds to which he transports readers.

Buy it: Amazon

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Boldly Celebrate the Holidays With This Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise Christmas Tree Topper

Hallmark, Amazon
Hallmark, Amazon

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From Baby Yoda Christmas ornaments to TARDIS string lights, there are plenty of geeky holiday decorations you can use to celebrate the season. If you're a Star Trek fan, this U.S.S. Enterprise tree topper, complete with lights and sound effects, could be the perfect addition to your Christmas tree.

This 10-inch-tall ornament from Hallmark looks like it flew straight out of an episode of the classic sci-fi series. The ship stays lit up when you plug it in, and you can press a button on the topper's base or on the included remote control to watch it put on a dazzling light show display set to the Star Trek theme.

Hallmark, Amazon

Whether you have a real tree, an artificial tree, or a Chris Pine tree, the Star Trek topper will add a delightfully geeky layer to your decor. You can purchase it for this year's tree, or leave it in its keepsake box and give it to a fellow Trekkie.

The Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise tree topper is now available from Amazon for $150. Here are more gifts to give the space-lover in your life this holiday season.

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