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

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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