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Even if we're well past the year it made famous, this being the fiftieth anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey has led to more looks back at the movie. News of a new book about its making did get my attention; I am aware that a good bit of what I think the film's imagery has been cadged from various print sources, starting with Arthur C. Clarke's novel but going on from there. At book sales over the years I've turned up vintage copies of Jerome Agel's The Making of Kubrick's 2001, a sort of scrapbook but as much about period takes on the movie (some of them even thoughtful and different from what had wound up seeming set reactions) as its actual production, and Arthur C. Clarke's The Lost Worlds of 2001, selected chapters of various takes on the constantly developing story, interesting in the same way I've found "the early drafts of Star Wars" that drift around online, and knit together with personal reflections (although Clarke wound up distant from the film production). I also remember finding a copy of Piers Bizony's mid-1990s 2001: Filming the Future in a used book store. The only problem is that when I think about the book, its "plus side" brings to mind a drawing of how the interiors of Discovery shown on screen could fit inside that spaceship's forward sphere (with plenty of room left; following up on a whim, I turned up competing cross-sections online), but its "minus side" includes a closing chapter with a rather sour judgement of both real life and all other science fiction movies since for not living up to the on-screen example. That does make for a rather unbalanced impression.

Those thoughts did add to my interest in reading Michael Benson's Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. I did, though, flip through its last chapter in a bookstore before committing to asking for it for a birthday present; Benson dismissed the sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact with very faint praise but otherwise didn't seem too negative about the half-century following the original film. Once I'd started reading my own copy of the book, I did notice a brief early note pondering HAL's efforts to remove men from the mission to Jupiter, but from there found myself devouring its story at a rapid clip.

Both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke come across as complex characters in this book, although Benson seems to do his best to present both of them in essentially positive ways. I also noticed some brief appearances by Carl Sagan, who Clarke was friendly with (later, he optimistically mentioned an elderly Sagan still lecturing on extraterrestrial intelligence in a post-monolith world at the start of his novel 2010: Odyssey Two); Kubrick, however, seemed to get off on the wrong foot with the young scientist and kept finding ways to ease him out of the picture. I suppose it's always possible to look at the book and see Kubrick as by turns demanding, opaque, and maddening as performers risk suffocation inside space helmets and under "man-ape" appliances, even as Clarke bankrolls Sri Lankan movies (including a James Bond spoof) and worries about his finances.

As for the major motion picture of the book, I can admit to imagining certain contemporary spins might make great use of a full-blown auteur's work including massive sets and optical effects (involving risky storage of live-action negatives for moment-of-truth combinations; the model shot that went awry because of the 1966 World Cup final was able to be redone, though). In the end, though, I was fine with accepting Benson's presentation of it, although I did get to wondering if the word "editorialising" only comes to my mind when I disagree with the opinions being presented. I did ponder Kubrick working his way towards a final vision (which included casting a monolith-sized block of clear plastic and a great deal of work on the "man-apes") even as he was filming, but perhaps I still have to shake the effects of certain proclamations that seemed to amount to "the best way to make a movie is to plan everything out to start with"; being able to think ahead to "changing opinions" shouldn't be all bad.

The book did have me thinking about trying to make the time to watch the movie itself again. To this date, I haven't been fortunate enough to see 2001 at the movies the way some people talk about it, but I do have a few interpretations I'd like to consider again. They do come in large part from the more perceptive contemporary reviews included in Agel's old book, and perhaps amount to "sublimated sour grapes," but I am interested in considering the idea that Kubrick was presenting mankind as reaching into space yet grinding to a halt "spiritually" amid banal dialogue and much use of "grip shoes" in weightless conditions (which did, of course, cut down on the need for wire work). It might even tie into the official reaction to the discovery of extraterrestrial life being to declare it top secret, something that itself got to feeling a sterile invocation of paranoia before the turn of the millennium. I've even got to pondering what might have happened had the artificial intelligence humanity had already created got to Jupiter by itself.

February 2019

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