8th November 1998
The making of 2001: A space Odyssey: part two
By Richard Boyle
In the summer of 1965, Stanley Kubrick's pre-production team began moving across the Atlantic to the MGM studios at Borehamwood, north of London, taking with them the design and research work already completed in New York. Meanwhile, Arthur Clarke returned to Ceylon after more than a year away. But a month later, in July, he travelled to London to join up once again with Kubrick. Clarke says his time there was "equally divided between the apparently never-ending chore of developing ideas with Stanley, polishing the novel and almost daily consultations at the studio."
Clarke, in a letter to Mike Wilson dated September 10 1965, reveals that the film's original budget had been torn up after just a few months. "Went to the studio yesterday and emerged stunned. This is no longer a six million dollar movie. I think the accounts department has thrown in its hand: the guess I heard was ten million." In fact the film was to cost half a million in excess of that figure. Today, more than 30 years on, a budget of such size would barely cover the fee of a leading Hollywood actor.
In his letter, Clarke goes on to describe the elaborate and large-scale construction of a set - which, incidentally, hardly appears in the film and gives an indication of why the budget had escalated alarmingly. "It's not really a vital scene, and takes place inside a 750-foot diameter disc-shaped space-station. Yet they're building a full size section of the rim - it's a circular arc 150 feet long and 30 feet wide - the size and shape of a ski-jump. Actors at the far end will have to learn to walk tilted."
One of Kubrick's main aspirations was to break new ground with the special effects in the film. He was anxious also that they should be entirely realistic. "I had to invent all the time," Kubrick relates. "It was necessary to conceive, design, and engineer completely new techniques." The special effects are supposed to have cost over six million dollars, more than half the entire budget, and taken some eighteen months to perfect. But it was worth it, for Douglas Trumbull and Wally Veevers won an Oscar for their extraordinary contribution to the film's impressive special effects.
"In early September, 1965," writes Neil McAleer in Odyssey: The Authorised Biography of Arthur C. Clarke (l992) Kubrick was thinking about a major story change. He wanted to substitute the planet Saturn for Jupiter as the destination for the Spaceship Discovery. Kubrick's desire for the change was based on aesthetics - the beauty of Saturn's rings and the many spectacular special effects that could be created as the spaceship flew among them." Clarke was happy with the idea and made the necessary changes. However, it proved to be beyond the capabilities of the special effects team, which was already under extreme pressure.
Kubrick chose lesser-known actors for 2001. The main roles were of the two Discovery astronauts, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole. Keir Dullea, who had acted in Hoodlum Priest (1961), Mail Order Bride (1964) and Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), was selected for the role of Bowman, while Gary Lockwood, who had appeared in Splendour in the Grass (1961), was selected for the role of Poole. The only other part of any significance, that of Heywood Floyd, was played by William Sylvester.
Although most of 2001: A Space Odyssey was shot at the MGM studios in Borehamwood, filming began at Shepperton because it had the only studio in England large enough to accommodate the huge set of the excavation site on the Moon. After many delays, work commenced on 29th December 1965. Clarke was on the set that day and watched as the monolith was dropped into place with the aid of a crane. Originally it had been made from a three-ton block of lucite, the largest ever cast. However, it looked unconvincing, so a slab of the same dimensions was substituted and painted black. Clarke noticed that the paint had been smudged and pointed this out to Kubrick, who flew into a rage.
Filming may have begun, but Clarke was still bashing away at his typewriter, desperately trying to finish the novel to Kubrick's satisfaction. On January 8 1966 he wrote the dramatic confrontation between Hal, the 9000 series computer, and Bowman, instantly realising he was creating probably the most exciting scene in the book. "These emotions were transferred from print to film in the scene showing Hal's slow death," writes Neil McAleer. Film critic Andrew Sarris in particular was most enthusiastic about the scene's intensity: "I have never seen the death of the mind rendered more profoundly or poetically," he declared.
Clarke and Kubrick managed to work out the remaining details of the plot by mid-January. A few days later Clarke completed the first draft of the last chapters . But although he felt the end was in sight, it wasn't . Prior to departing for Ceylon for a short break in early February 1966, he viewed a demonstration film which Kubrick had produced for the MGM executives. "I reeled out convinced that we had a masterpiece on our hands - if Stan could keep it up," relates Clarke.
In mid-April, Clarke returned to London accompanied by Mike Wilson. The Dawn of Man sequence was being planned, and Wilson introduced to Kubrick the actor Dan Richter, who ended up playing the difficult part of the Moon - Watcher ape. That these scenes should be convincing was of vital importance. Clarke had already consulted with eminent authorities such as Dr. Richard Leakey and Ceylon's Paul Deraniyagala. Every effort was made as well to study the real thing.
On April 23, Clarke recorded in his diary: "Drove with Roger Caras and Mike Wilson to an excellent private zoo near Nuneaton, which had all the big apes. Mike had a very hard time filming the chimps, who kept dashing around and throwing themselves at the camera. I was a bit nervous of the baby guerrilla as it was inclined to nibble with most impressive teeth.... An enjoyable day, and I hope it's given me some ideas about Moon Watcher and Co."
Mike Wilson got to know Kubrick quite well during the production of 2001 - well enough, I believe, for him to borrow £500 from the director. Wilson also used the opportunity afforded by this friendship to seek Kubrick's advice regarding his own film career. It will be remembered from my article on the making of Sorungeth Soru ("Jamis Banda"), that the period 1966-67 was a significant one in the history of science fiction cinema. Not only was it the period in which was conceived the greatest science fiction ever, but also when the greatest science fiction film project never produced - "The Alien" - flowered and died. And Clarke and Wilson were the factors common to both projects.
Wilson had the greatest respect for Kubrick and took immense interest in his film projects subsequent to 2001. When the topic of conversation did shift in Kubrick's direction, Wilson would invariably quote one of the film-maker's favourite aphorisms: "The only problem is, what to do next." In his unpublished manuscript on meditation titled The Dawn of the Arahants, Wilson tells the time of 2001, quotes this pithy saying and infers that Kubrick possessed "deep insight."
"Stanley Kubrick is one of the wisest men that I have met," Wilson states in his manuscript. "In one of our talks, he looked at me his eyes twinkling; he was smiling through his beard - and he said - 'You know, there really is only one problem. And that's what to do next?" Or perhaps he said, "The only problem is, what to do next." This statement is worth some meditation since it is manifestly produced by a deep and penetrating insight into things as they really are. Kubrick points directly here to the need, more than the desire, that the average human being has to engage himself or herself in doing something. The only question is, what should be done?
When Wilson and Ray fell out over "The Alien" project, Clarke wrote to Wilson at the behest of Ray urging him to stop arguing about who was right or wrong in the matter. "The real question, as Stanley is fond of saying is what to do next," Clarke reminded him. It transpired that what to do next was to be a major problem for Wilson at this juncture.
Wilson mentions Kubrick's beard. All his life Kubrick had been clean-shaven, but while he was struggling to realise 2001 he grew a full beard, giving himself that rabbinical look which has been part of his image ever since.
Although the Dawn of Man sequence was originally to have been filmed on location in Africa, it was actually shot in the studios in England, using the newly-developed large-scale front projection system invented by Murray Leinster. Clarke recalls how impressed he was when Kubrick demonstrated the system to him. "We stood at one end of the set, facing the huge screen of retroreflective ('cats-eye') material covering the far wall. Stanley lit a match - and its image came back at us, its brilliance apparently undiminished after a journey of more than a hundred feet." This was another innovation first used in 2001.
The only scene in 2001 that was filmed on location and not in the studio was the one in which Moon-Watcher learns to use an animal bone as a tool. He methodically smashes a pile of animal skulls and bones and then throws his tool into the air. The memorable transition in the film from twirling bone to similar-shaped spaceship becomes what Clarke has called "the longest flash-forward in the history of cinema - three million years!"
However, this scene was not filmed at some exotic location, but in a mundane field in the vicinity of the studio, with traffic roaring along closeby. When Kubrick was satisfied with Richter's performance, the crew started to walk back to the studio. Kubrick began to throw bones up in the air. "At first I thought this was sheer joie de vivre, but he started to film them with a hand-held camera - no easy task," relates Clarke. Thus was created perhaps the most stunning transition and shot juxtaposition in the 100 years of cinema.
One of the most expensive and important pieces of hardware was a giant centrifuge, which weighed 40 tons and was capable of rotating at 3 mph. It cost $300,000 and took six months to construct. The interior was 8 feet wide and everything had to be bolted to the floor. The time and expense paid off, however, because the centrifuge presented Kubrick with an entirely new range of photographic effects for the interior of the Discovery. By all accounts it was a dangerous set. Roger Caras recalls: "During one shot, the camera, which was travelling around inside the centrifuge tore loose and fell 30 feet to the floor and nearly killed the actors in there."
It appears that much of the dialogue in the original script was superfluous (as indeed is most of the dialogue that was retained) and as the filming of 2001 advanced Kubrick cut more and more lines. "He was, after all, trying to visualise for his audience an experience beyond words," declares Neil McAleer. Only a third of the film has dialogue (46 out of 140 minutes) and nearly half an hour elapses before the first banal words are spoken by a receptionist aboard Space Station V to Heywood Floyd: "Here you are sir, Main level, please."
MGM had commissioned a promotional film, called The Making of 2001 which was screened to film distributors and executives in high-tech companies who could lend expertise or some other form of support to the production. It was the first indication of what Kubrick had been up to since Dr. Strangelove.
"It is the year 2001," begins the film's narration. "You are on your way to a space station on routine business. You have been travelling less than an hour and have remembered to call your office. Now you transmit your thoughts across space electronically. You receive your answer transmitted directly to the built-in television screen in your case. This is but one example of what life will be like in the year 2001." Not a bad description of a laptop and e-mail, don't you think?
Arthur Clarke has informed me that one Sri Lankan worked on the production of 2001. His name was H.R. Premaratne. The late Mr. Premaratne was a former Director of Public Works and a highly accomplished model-maker, a talent much in demand by the 2001 production team. Curiously, Premaratne was mentioned by Clarke recently in a letter to the Colombo Press in which he suggested that fibre glass replicas - such as the ones of Gal Vihara Premaratne made for a Commonwealth Institute exhibition some years ago - could be used to protect the country's archaeological treasures from pilferage.
It is remarkable that despite going way over budget, the principal photography of the film - which had been completed during the first half of 1966 - was only one week over schedule. However, there was still much post-production work to be done, especially the laborious, painstaking task of designing and filming the special effects. Most of this work was carried out during the second half of 1966, the whole of 1967 and for the first few months of 1968, before the film was released.
(Part 3 next week)
How do 2001's creators perceive it? Clarke says, "It poses metaphysical, philosophical and even religious questions. I don't pretend we have the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about. 2001: A Space Odyssey is about man's past and future life in space. It's about concern with man's hierarchy, in the Universe, which is probably pretty low. It's about the reactions of humanity to the discovery of higher intelligence in the Universe."
Kubrick, on the other hand says: "I don't like to talk about 2001 much, because it's essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to feelings than it does to the intellect. I think clearly that there's a basic problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They're listening. And they don't get much from listening to this film. Those who won't believe their eyes won't be able to appreciate the film."
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