BFI Classics: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Author: Peter Kramer

Released in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has become a landmark film in the science fiction genre. Peter Kramer’s book gives a full account of pre-production, a detailed analysis of the film itself and concludes with the future effect it had on the genre.

MGM announced in 1965 that Stanley Kubrick would be working with science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke on a family-friendly space epic called Journey Beyond the Stars. Kubrick had directed three films in the 1960s, all of which had proved to be either financial and/or critical successes. The book details the early production phase of the project as Clarke and Kubrick worked in tandem on the story. The actual novel wasn’t even written when they began the project and was due to be published just after the film would be released. Kramer’s book details the slow change in the project as Kubrick decided to take things in a totally radical direction away from the family film first announced.

Following the pre-production details, Kramer moves on to analyse the film in different sections: from the dawn of man, to the moon, Jupiter and finally the star child. He details the degree of loneliness that exists in the film, drawing attention to the Haywood Floyd (William Sylvester) character in particular. Floyd arrives at the space station having been entirely alone on his transfer shuttle. When calling home to wish his daughter a happy birthday there is a staggering level of disconnect between the two. The later sequences aboard the spaceship are also filled with solitude as astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are left with nobody but the ship’s computer HAL to converse with. Critical problems with HAL leave Dave stranded alone in space confronting the possible answer to the monolith.

Kramer also focuses on the much debated meaning of the film, with emphasis on the final image of the star child. The release of the film coincided with an increase in the use of LSD in western society which, in turn, resulted in much drug-driven musing about the film’s message. The book states that, according to Kubrick, the film was designed to speak to people individually allowing for any number of interpretations. Kubrick wanted his audience to take whatever they wanted from the film with no fixed explanation.

Kramer finishes off by considering the impact of 2001 on the sci-fi genre immediately afterwards and into the future. He rightly points out that except for The Planet of the Apes (1968) the genre didn’t actually perform as hoped for following the release of 2001 in 1968. It would finally come of age in 1977 when both Star Wars and Close Encounters dominated that year’s box office (Lucas and Spielberg both stated that 2001 had a strong effect on them when released and undoubtedly influenced their own films).

This book is filled with valuable information about 2001: A Space Odyssey and should satisfy any fan, new or old. The analysis is also excellent as Kramer brings with him a great deal of insight and knowledge. An excellent addition to the BFI Classics collection of books; author Peter Kramer has done an excellent job.

Aled Jones

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