'2001' in 2008: A Cinematic Odyssey

Tomhanks_l"You can look at it over and over and ponder its meaning," said Tom Hanks, referring to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. "And it’s a singular meaning for each person. Thank God Kubrick never laid it all out for us."

Noted space-exploration enthusiast Hanks was speaking at an Academy-hosted forum marking the 40th anniversary of the landmark sci-fi saga. While most of the nation waited to find out who’d be crowned the next American Idol, about 1,000 cinephiles crammed into the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wednesday night for a unique behind-the-scenes look at the making of the groundbreaking 1968 film.

The event was hosted by the Apollo 13 star and special-effects legend Douglas Trumbull (pictured, left, with Hanks). It was truly Trumbull’s night — he created a presentation on his Apple laptop of never-before-seen photos, videos, and diagrams that explained how many of the film’s pioneering, Oscar-winning effects were accomplished 40 years ago.

Hanks, enthusiastically waving a laser pointer, served as the layman interpreter of Trumbull. While Trumbull plunged into the overwhelming technical data for all of the machines, motors, and models used in the movie, Hanks offered comedic commentary and continually expressed his admiration for Kubrick’s classic.

"I can hardly imagine the studio notes Kubrick would have gotten today," Hanks added. "Um, could we have a face on the monolith that tells the apes to pick up the bone?"

Here are some of the behind-the-scenes details that Trumbull revealed:

addCredit(“Douglas Trumbull and Tom Hanks: Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.”)

  • Kubrick hired Trumbull after seeing his effects work for the 1964 documentary, To the Moon and Beyond. Many of the effects in that film were based on shots from a 1960 Canadian documentary called Universe. Trumbull screened a portion of Universe, and its outer-space effects were so impressive that Hanks exclaimed, "Canadians made this?"
  • The ape costumes used in the "Dawn of Man" sequence were soconvincing that many moviegoers assumed Kubrick simply trainedreal apes. This perhaps explains why the film didn’t receive an Oscarnomination for its costumes.
  • All of the computer-screen images in the film were actually 35mmmovies that were rear-projected onto blank screens (since, of course,such computer screens weren’t available in the 1960s).
  • For the computer-screen shots of the Discovery One’smalfunctioning equipment, Trumbull actually constructed a largewire-frame model of the device and photographed it multiple times.
  • All the shots of the astronauts floating in outer space (outsideof the Discovery One) were accomplished by dangling a stuntman from thesoundstage’s ceiling and then tilting the camera upward toward him.
  • Before Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) goes on his psychedelic"Stargate" trip near the film’s end, his space pod was supposed totravel through a thin slit carved into one of Jupiter’s moons. The shotnever made it into the final film.
  • The "Stargate" sequence itself was created by filming a massiveart mural through a narrow slit that had been cut into a slide ofglass. I suggest checking out the Wikipedia entry on slit-scan photography and this site, which "unwraps" some of the shots from 2001.
  • Kubrick considered a variety of alien designs before decidingthat it’d be better if we never saw any aliens, period. One trippydesign included a man completely covered in a polka-dot outfit.

The audience got a kick out of seeing this stuff, especially thefellows sitting right behind me (one man brought in a large doll ofDave in his yellow spacesuit, while the other guys talked about thespaceship models they kept in their garages).

But, I didn’t mind behind surrounded by those whom you would commonly call "geeks." After all, 2001is one of the most awe-inspiring films you can watch, and it wasexhilarating to see so many people gathered together to grovel at itsmagnificence.

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  • RTA

    I would also recommend reading the late, great Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001” novel that he wrote AFTER the movie was made. Excellent in every way.

  • cimagato

    Thanks. Wish I’d been there.

  • Eric Friedmann

    2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY continues to be my favorite film of all time from my favorite director of all time. Oddly, though, when I first saw it at the age of 16 nearly 25 years ago, I hated it! For a kid raised on the sci-fi speed of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Moonraker, etc., watching the slow-paced 2001 was like an experiment in pain.
    Well, a second look and many, many viewings later, I could finally see the genius behind the story and it’s awesome effects. If you can find the opportunity to see this film on screen, take it! But for those who crave speed and lack the cinematic patience required, stay far away. You probably won’t get it, nor will you want to.

  • birdgirl39

    I saw this movie when it first came out; I was 4 years old and thought there were four different movies….the monkey movie, the “sitting-around-and-talking” movie, the “two-guys-in-space” movie, and the trippy “man-in-strange-room” movie. Ah, the perception of children…
    It is still one of my favorite films.

  • Al Fredo

    I agree with cimagato; wish I could have been there to listen in and appreciate. I am still trying to resolve whether subsequent books/movies (2010) in which certain things are explained ultimately is a wise move, or better to simply ponder the why (in addition to the what) from 2001.

  • wh

    My 2001 memory: In the benignly neglectful parenting style of the 60s, our parents sent the usual group of neighborhood kids off to see a matinee. Usually something fascinating like the Three Stooges meet Snow White. But this time, the theatre was packed–with adults! We had a hard time trying to sit next to each other, and it was our job to be sure we didn’t lose one another. As the oldest, around 9 or 10, I was still walking down the aisle, counting heads when the movie started and that weird choral music filled the theatre. There were apes and bones and stupid things. But the scary music! It still creeps me out. We ended up sitting on each other’s laps, we were so scared. But it turned out okay. There were space ships, floating things and futuristic costumes. Not as good as Santa Claus and the Martians. Didn’t understand a bit of it. Parents freaked out when they realized what they sent us to. Matinees were never the same-more adult movies played during the weekends. Innocence lost.

  • Eric Friedmann

    wh, you’re dead on about the music. The atmospheric classical piece that accompanies all three Monolith sequences is quite haunting and eerie. The film may be rated G for everyone, but that music would have given me nightmares if I’d seen it at such a young age.

  • Jeff Legg

    No word on if this was filmed? I’d pay good money to see this on DVD . . .

  • stale

    “My God, it’s full of stars.” My favorite movie line, ever.

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