What more can be said about 2001: A Space Odyssey? This month celebrating its 45th anniversary, it’s one of the most influential science fiction films ever made — with its DNA spliced and replicated in a host of other films from Blade Runner to Inception — despite being so very singular. It transformed sci-fi from the sex-and-monsters exploitation schlock that glutted the genre in much of the ‘60s and showed that sci-fi could be transcendent and spiritual. It baffled many upon its first release — Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffman were among its high-profile detractors, while Steven Spielberg called it the “big bang” for his generation of filmmakers. Its meanings have been so endlessly scrutinized and dissected that any further analysis seems redundant. And yet, there are so many details about its origins, production, and initial release that you probably don’t know. Here are 20 things about 2001: A Space Odyssey that we’re guessing you’ve never heard of before. You’re welcome.
1. Though 2001: A Space Odyssey and the novel of the same title were conceived at the same time, Kubrick didn’t think at first that sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke would be willing to take on the job. The science fiction writer was living in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and was thought to be a recluse. When his agent telegraphed him about the offer to work on Kubrick’s project, Clarke’s response was, “Frightfully interested in working with enfant terrible… what makes Kubrick think I’m a recluse?”
2. Alternate titles considered for the project early on were Journey Beyond the Stars, Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, Planetfall, and How the Solar System Was Won. The last was a reference to MGM’s 1962 epic Western How the West Was Won, which 2001: A Space Odyssey was originally going to copy by using that film’s three-camera super-widescreen Cinerama format.
3. Though the 2001: A Space Odyssey novel, released shortly after the film in 1968, only listed Clarke as its author, originally, the film’s screenplay was going to be credited to “Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke,” while the novel would list “Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick” as its authors.
4. In his book The Cosmic Connection, celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan wrote that Kubrick and Clarke asked him how they should portray extraterrestrial life. They had been thinking about showing the aliens that transform astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) into the Star Child as humanoid themselves. But Sagan said that the chances of alien life looking like humans would be so remote that to include human-looking aliens in the film would immediately render it false. So Kubrick and Clarke decided not to show the aliens at all.
5. HAL 9000 was originally to have had a female persona and to have been named Athena. A female HAL (named SAL, of course) does appear in the completely un-Kubrickian sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
6. There was originally going to be a lot of voiceover in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which would have made certain plot points much more obvious. For instance, the satellites orbiting Earth were originally to have been specifically identified as carrying nuclear weapons. That means that the famous million-years-spanning match cut of the bone the ape tossed in the air to the shot of the satellite wouldn’t have indicated how far humankind had come as how little it has changed, at least when it comes to our love of weapons.
7. 2001 was originally going to have ended like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, with the Star Child detonating the nuclear bombs that humanity has in orbit. However, a fireworks show of nuclear blasts was thought to be too similar to the ending of Kubrick’s previous film, Dr. Strangelove.
8. The Discovery’s final destination was originally going to be Saturn, but special effects guru Douglass Trumbull and his team weren’t able to make convincing-looking rings, so Jupiter became the last stop instead.
9. Pavel Klushantsev, a Russian documentary filmmaker of the 1950s, strongly influenced Kubrick’s vision of weightlessness in space — and the idea of a spinning space station — with his film Road to the Stars. 2001: A Space Odyssey, in turn, would influence Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky to make Solaris, which the director intended as a humanistic response to Kubrick’s film, which he thought was antiseptic.
10. For the famous shot of the astronaut running around the circumference of the cylindrical Discovery fuselage, Kubrick commissioned a 30-ton rotating “Ferris wheel” to be built, at the cost of $750,000, that would make it look like the astronaut was at times running upside down.
11. The movie was originally to have opened with a 10-minute black-and-white prologue featuring interviews with real-life scientists like Freeman Dyson discussing alien life. (Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will know Freeman Dyson for his work in hypothesizing a Dyson Sphere, a massive structure that theoretically could be built around and enclose a star.) After MGM execs balked, that beginning was deleted.
12. All the deleted footage other than the 17 minutes of scenes that Kubrick subsequently cut after 2001’s April 1968 premiere in Washington D.C., including that 10-minute documentary prologue, he had burned shortly before the director's death, in order to prevent posthumous reedits or “deleted scenes” to be included on future DVD releases.
13. Kubrick had all of 2001’s sets, props, and miniatures destroyed so they would never be able to be recycled for future movies, the way Forbidden Planet’s props surfaced in later films.
14. Unused Stargate footage from the end of 2001 made its way into the instrumental “Flying” sequence in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie.
15. Ray Bradbury shared Andrei Tarkovsky’s view that 2001 is anti-humanistic, suggesting that audiences don’t care, or aren’t supposed to care, when astronaut Frank Poole dies.
16. George Lucas stated upfront in 1977 that he thought 2001 was better than Star Wars. He said, “Stanley Kubrick made the ultimate science fiction movie, and it is going to be very hard for someone to come along and make a better movie, as far as I'm concerned. On a technical level, [Star Wars] can be compared, but personally I think that 2001 is far superior.”
17. As part of their legal defense that Samsung had not stolen Apple’s design for the iPad, Samsung’s lawyers pointed to the tablet computers used in 2001 as “prior art.” Specifically, their legal brief said the following: “Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. As with the design claimed by the [Apple iPad] Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor.”
18. Rock Hudson was among those mystified at 2001’s L.A. premiere at the Pantages Theater. Roger Ebert, in attendance, bears witness that Hudson said, upon storming out before it had ended, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?”
19. Malcolm McDowell’s Alex De Large sees a soundtrack album for 2001 when he enters a record shop in A Clockwork Orange.
20. Conspiracy theorists — like one featured in Room 237, the new documentary about the multitude of diverse readings that fans hold regarding Kubrick’s later film The Shining — suggest that NASA commissioned Kubrick to stage the moon landing footage after seeing 2001. However, they ignore the most important bit of evidence that debunks that idea: the moon footage would have looked a hell of a lot better if Kubrick really had directed it.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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It's one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries: what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 29, 1981 that resulted in the drowning death of Natalie Wood?
Thirty-one years later, we're still not entirely sure. The actress was one of the most successful to ever make the jump from child-star, in films like Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and The Ghost of Mrs. Muir (1947), to angsty teenager in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Searchers (1956), to accomplished adult thespian in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and West Side Story (1961). Wood and her movie-star husband Robert Wagner were one of Hollywood's true power couples. Since she'd never been a subject for scandal-mongers, her death at the age of 43 came as a true shock.
The incredible thing is that the tragedy has been back in the news the past year and a half, ever since the captain of the yacht on which Wood and Wagner were vacationing announced that he had lied to investigators about what happened that night. He said Wagner was "responsible for her death" because he allegedly refused to look for Wood when she went missing following an argument. Just this week, on January 14, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office released 10 additional pages to its autopsy report on Wood's body that suggested she may have incurred bruises before she went into the water. There's no way to conclusively determine that that was the case, but it suggests an assault may have proceeded her death.
It's a lot to make sense of, so if you're scratching your head about the details we've taken it upon ourselves to round up what we do know...and what we still don't.
What was the original account of the events surrounding Wood's death?
Wood had just finished shooting Douglas Trumbull's science fiction film Brainstorm with Christopher Walken, so she, Wagner, and Walken rented a yacht, the Splendour, to take a vacation cruise to Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast. According to the initial account given to investigators, the three of them ate at a restaurant on the island on the evening of Nov. 28, 1981. Afterwards, they returned to the yacht, and Wagner and Walken got into a major shouting match. Wood was dragged into it, and eventually she stormed off to her cabin. However, when Wagner, who had remained on deck drinking, went to join her in their cabin, she was nowhere to be found. The next morning Wood's body drifted ashore about a mile away from the yacht and was found near an inflatable dinghy.
What was the long-held theory about the circumstances of her death?
When the L.A. County Coroner's Office got the results back from a toxicology study performed on Wood's body, it showed she had a blood alcohol level of 0.14%. The legal limit in California is 0.08%. She also had taken two prescriptions: one was for motion sickness, the other a painkiller. Those would undoubtedly have amplified the effect of the alcohol. The theory was that Wood noticed the dinghy was getting loose from the side of the yacht, so she tried to tie it back up. And in doing so, fell overboard. That would explain the bruises on her torso and arms, and the abrasion on her left cheek. The official cause of death was listed as both drowning and hypothermia. The other possibility is that, enraged by the argument she had with her husband, she took off in the dinghy to head for shore and never made it.
Who was listed as being responsible for Wood's death?
No one. The Coroner's Office determined that her death was nothing more than a tragic accident.
So why was the inquiry reopened in 2011?
On the 30th anniversary of Wood's death, the Splendour's captain, Dennis Davern, announced on on the Today show that he had lied to authorities during the initial inquiry. He alleged that Wagner delayed reporting his wife missing, "didn't take any steps to see if [he] could locate her," and thus, in his opinion, was "responsible for her death." The initial autopsy concluded, based on the contents of Wood's stomach, that she had died right around midnight on the morning of Nov. 29. Wagner didn't report her missing until around 1:30 a.m.
L.A. Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, a semi-celebrity from his extensive testimony during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, reopened the case, as did LAPD investigators. They interviewed 100 new witnesses and reexamined the original autopsy report. Nine months after Davern's new allegations, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran changed the cause of death on Wood's death certificate to "drowning and other undetermined factors." Beyond that the LAPD had ordered the coroner's office not to divulge any further details of the new investigation.
Was there any indication of foul play?
For the past 31 years, the official answer to this question has been "no." However, on Jan. 14, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran released a ten-page addendum to the original autopsy report, which suggested that the bruises on Wood's torso and arms, and the gash on her left cheek, might have been the result of a struggle before she went into the water and not from her body getting carried by the tide after she'd drowned, as had always been assumed. There's no conclusive evidence to definitively determine when was those bruises were incurred. They could still just has easily have come after she was in the water, but it's not a certainty.
If there was foul play, is the LAPD circling suspects in her death?
No. The official position of the LAPD is that Wood's death was an accident, and that there are no pending charges or suspects in the case.
What's Robert Wagner's response to the investigation and Capt. Davern's claims?
The only response Wagner has had to the latest update in the investigation he released as a statement through his attorney, Blair Berk: "After 30 years, neither Mr. Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation, which was unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their mother." Additionally, The Los Angeles Times reports that Wagner has not agreed to grant the LAPD an interview regarding the new developments in the probe, and that he is the only surviving person who was on that yacht the night of Wood's death with whom they have not spoken since the initial inquiry in 1981.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Getty]
New Development in Natalie Wood Case
Natalie Wood’s Death No Longer Ruled ‘An Accidental Drowning’
Natalie Wood’s Cause of Death Changed to ‘Undetermined’
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