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Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About 2001: A Space Odyssey That Might Make You Want to Say "Open the Emmereffing Pod Bay Doors, HAL"

By Cindy Davis | Seriously Random Lists | May 21, 2012 | Comments ()


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Though initial reviews conflicted, the years have been kind to Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction masterpiece. I can hardly think of another film that captures so perfectly what most of us can only imagine. 2001 immersed us in the silence, the sterile emptiness, and the beauty of space; it enveloped us with Bowman’s terror as he lost control and a sense of wonder as he “evolved.” Looking back, it’s mind-boggling the film wasn’t a Best Picture nominee, of four nominations, it won only the Academy Award for Visual Effects. This recent revisit filled me with the same sense of awe and wonder expressed by its stars (and providers of the DVD commentary), Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (originally called Journey Beyond the Stars) is partially based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The Sentinal, first published in a fantasy magazine (1951). Collaborating with Director Stanley Kubrick, the Clarke expanded the story into novel form as they worked on the film and its script.

2. Keir Dullea (The Good Shepherd, The Accidental Husband, Alien Hunter, Bunny Lake is Missing, “Witchblade, Damages”) was working on a film in London when he received a call from his agent, who told him to sit down—he’d just been offered the lead (Dr. Dave Bowman) in Stanley Kubrick’s next film. Dullea couldn’t believe his ears. A fan of Kubrick since his drama school days, Dullea recalled seeing Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory and being blown away. “I had never heard of him before, but then I watched everything and knew he was a contender for being one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.”

3. Co-star Gary Lockwood (Splendor in the Grass, Night of the Scarecrow, “Barnaby Jones, Murder She Wrote, Dark Skies”), who played Dr. Frank Poole, grew up on a cattle farm and at sixteen, saw his first Kubrick film (The Killing). It was the first time he ever walked out of a movie house and went to look at the poster in the lobby to find the director’s name—he never forgot it. When Paths of Glory came out, Lockwood remembered waking to an unbelievably hot, terrible day. He was supposed to attend football practice at UCLA, but instead went to his coaches and told them he’d gotten a ticket, and had to be in Santa Maria for a court appearance. His coaches were angry. Lockwood “…walked out a complete liar and all I could think of was getting to Hollywood Boulevard, to see it—I parked at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and remembered seeing a sign with a penguin and a block of ice, meaning the theater had air conditioning. I saw it three times and that was it (he was a lifetime fan).”

4. Kubrick didn’t like to fly, so for the Dawn of Man sequence, he sent the Second Unit crew to Africa. Lockwood said the director had at one time obtained a pilot’s license, but then he realized all that could go wrong and never flew again—he took boats. The crew took all still shots, communicating with Kubrick over a land line telephone connection to get the shots he wanted. Lockwood called the DoM scenes a great example of plate glass photography and front projection; the reflective stills provided the background against which the ape-man actors (professional mimes) performed live and were filmed.

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5. Lockwood’s explains the Dawn of Man thusly: Who belongs at the water hole? One group fights off another, but unable to do so, they lose the battle. The alien force that moves throughout the planetary system, comes and drops a monolith and when the group that was defeated is exposed to the monolith, it alters their thinking. The actor toured the country, speaking about the film and was quizzed by audiences—What’s that big black thing? Lockwood deemed it “…an allegory of extraterrestrial intelligence—nothing more, huge block of wood, painted black (originally translucent lucite). (Kubrick used) a symbol of intelligence rather than create a being to look at. It screws up a lot of sci-fi because different environments would give birth to different types of creatures, so it’s hard to say what aliens would look like. They might all look like Rock Hudson or Bela Lugosi.” Lockwood calls the last part of the DoM “…one of the incredible moments of movie history. When the man-ape pitches the bone, he sees the mechanical advantage of when it hits another bone—this may be man’s first progressive thought. He cocks his head; there’s something going on in there that wasn’t before. Of all his directors, Lockwood “…enjoyed Kubrick most—he gave no direction at all.” Dullea concurred, “I don’t remember a lot of direction; I liked him so much.”

6. “When he cast the bone in the air, his first man weapon, comes back as an armed satellite. A lot of people thought that was the space station, but it’s not. It is a weapon to weapon cut.” (Lockwood)

7. Both Lockwood and Dullea were aware they were working with “a genius.” Kubrick invited them to his home a few times; “He lived in a palatial mansion in North London, his wife was gracious, and he often had such interesting guests from other walks of life—scientists, artists, painters, sculptors. What was fascinating is that Stanley was as versed in their specialty as his own.” (Dullea ) Lockwood called Kubrick “…a very smart man” and “a unique human being with various facets. He used various pieces of classical music throughout the film, a good choice so the film was never dated by the music of the moment.” The actor noted Kubrick first used Strauss’ The Blue Danube—“His signature piece, I think—in Paths of Glory: “When the colonel says someone fired on his own troops, he’s going to report it…goes to the ballroom and opens the door to leave the room and Blue Danube comes pouring through the door. It works beautifully in this sequence. It’s quiet and slow in space, everything is slow—the docking. I once met Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin—saw them practicing docking—saw how beautifully Stanley did the docking.”

8. Dullea is most often asked about Kubrick doing a lot of takes. The actor said, “He does, but it doesn’t bother me—it’s mostly for technical reasons. Stanley was a photographer for Look magazine at sixteen.

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He would take fifty Polaroid shots testing lighting, it took hours and hours to light them (scenes). Filming is always hurry up and wait, but more so with this than any other film.” Dullea and Lockwood discussed both having things they’re proud of, but to be a part of this film, “there’s nothing like it. We were part of a film that established the vocabulary of filmmaking. This really allowed such films such as all the Star Wars— it paved the way for big budget sci-fi films to be made.”

9. “The special effects were all done physically, chemically or mechanically.” (Dullea ) The giant centrifuge was built “in the North of England” by Vickers Aircraft and was “about 50 tons and 60 to 70 feet high,” (in actuality, 30 tons). In this shot, the centrifuge wheel does turn, but once the stewardess steps forward and begins walking up, it is the camera—on an axis—turning.

10. On his many promotional autograph tours around the world, Lockwood found an interesting “absolute constant. Men about fifty-five, or even in their 40s would say ‘My father took me to see this movie when I was very young and I ended up going into computers.’ (This movie) influenced a massive, massive amount of people around the world. The youth of world all reacted and wanted a computer of some kind, or went into computers—because the movie was made with so much care and artistic realization. None of it really existed, but Kubrick created the image of it being real.”

On meeting people who disliked the film: “When someone says they didn’t like it, it was too long, it never ended—I don’t really dislike the person, but I know it is someone—I’ll never have much to say to them. Unless it’s a very attractive woman, I’ll make an exception. Lot of people didn’t like the movie.” Dullea agreed, noting that “One of the most important critics at the time, Pauline Kael hated it. Newsweek panned it, and a few months later the critic said he was wrong.” (Dullea may have been referring to Andrew Sarris, who wrote for The Village Voice).

11. Production Designer Tony Masters (Dune, Papillon) and Special Photographic Effects Supervisor Doug Trumbull (Tree of Life, Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind created all the models from Production Designer Harry Lange’s (Moonraker, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Dark Crystal) drawings. Introduced to Kubrick by Clarke, Lange had worked at NASA (along with Wernher von Braun) and his designs required security clearance by the agency. After first insulting Lange by saying that he could get other artists (to work for “peanuts - they’re a dime a dozen”), Kubrick added “but they don’t have your NASA background,” hiring and providing Lange a studio in New York City. To fulfill Kubrick’s need for perfection, the artist spent six months on drawings, then moved to Borehamwood (England) to continue designing for over two years at the MGM studio. The Production Design team, including Masters, Lange and Ernest Archer (Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only) won the Best Art Direction Academy Award and BAFTA.

12. The moon location was built on set at Pinewood Studios. Lockwood described the floor as having been “excavated;” the floor was cut out—they really dug it up—and later put back. Dullea has been told that somewhere in the sequence, a reflection of Kubrick can be seen on his (Bowman’s) visor.

The director did two handheld sequences; this and later when Bowman dismantles HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) 9000 (CARL, Cerveau Analytique de Recherche et de Liaison (Analytic Brain for Research and Communication) in the French version of 2001.

13. According to Lockwood, Kubrick originally conceived HAL as “Athena,” with a woman’s voice. Next he thought of using Martin Balsam (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Psycho, 12 Angry Men), but decided Balsam’s voice had too much emotion and a New York accent. Actor Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons, Chariots of Fire), but he was “too British,” so he was paid off and Kubrick said he’d worry about the voice in post-production, giving the task of finding a voice to Assistant Director Derek Cracknell (Aliens, A Clockwork Orange, Batman [1989]). Douglas Rain was dubbed in because, “…We had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like, and Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid-Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part.” (Kubrick) Rain only worked one—nine hour—day.

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14. Lockwood on the complicated shots of Poole boxing and jogging inside the centrifuge: “Very few people knew I had this capability to defy gravity, though I was always arrogant. The camera was on a thin titanium mount, riding down the line (between his feet) in the middle of the centrifuge.

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This was giving the appearance of running up and down. When the camera was traveling with him—normal tacking; when the camera was on a mount in a fixed position, it appears Poole is running around the ship.” Dullea : It was like a giant ferris wheel, enclosed, with the lights on the outside.”
Lockwood noted that “The ferris wheel was two to three stories high and could be separated—like taking a yo-yo apart—so Stanley could shoot angles. A fifteen to twenty second shot of Kier (Dullea ) walking toward me took a week to shoot, that’s how complicated it was.”

15. The food eaten was developed by NASA. Scientific Consultant Fred Ordway, who had worked at NASA before the film, pooled the newest information and technology for Kubrick. “During nearly six months of preproduction planning and design work at our New York Polaris Productions base, six major space vehicles evolved: the Orion III Earth-to-orbit shuttle, Space Station V located in orbit around the Earth, the Aries IB Earth-orbit-to-lunar surface shuttle, the Rocket Bus used to transport men and materials from one part of the Moon to another, the huge Discovery interplanetary spaceship, and its small Space Pod auxiliary reconnaissance-maintenance and local exploration craft. Each of these vehicles was designed with extreme care, for we would later be dealing with full-scale interiors as well as reduced-scale exterior models all of which had to appear absolutely realistic. We insisted on knowing the purpose and functioning of each assembly and component, down to the logical labeling of individual buttons and the presentation on screens of plausible operating, diagnostic and other data. In accomplishing this work, we relied heavily on advice and material provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and by a considerable number of private companies and universities.” (Ordway)

16. Dullea commented that during Poole’s chess scene with HAL, “…real chess mavens have said there’s a mistake regarding the moves. Stanley, being a chess hustler—he used to play in Washington Square Park—purposely put in a mistake in the moves to see if anyone would catch it. I don’t know if that’s true.” (HAL reports his move as “Queen to Bishop three” instead of the correct “Queen to Bishop six.”)

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17. At one point during filming, Lockwood thought he might have been fired. They had been shooting a scene (later cut) where Poole becomes testy with HAL; they’d gone through various shots and circumstances that don’t appear in the movie—different things with Poole being upset with HAL. At some point Kubrick says, “Lockwood, you look like you’re a little bit bored or something with this.” Lockwood replied, “Yes, I’m a little bit bored”—Stanley said, “That’s it,” and he closed the set. Lockwood left, exercised and headed into the city—they had wrapped so early because Kubrick was pissed. “I thought I might get fired. Cracknell knocked on my door and said ‘They want to see you.’ I asked if I was fired; Cracknell didn’t know. I had never been summoned like that before. I went to Stanley’s rooms, there was a small bar and behind him, maybe five hundred albums—vinyl. Stanley looks at me and said ‘Can I make you a drink?’ …asked if I like music, pulls out a Polish concerto and puts it on. I said, ‘Let me just cut to the chase, am I fired?’ (Stanley says) ‘No—apparently you feel off base or something? We’ve been working on paranoid Hal—I think there’s another way to do it.’” Kubrick asked Lockwood to go back to the city; if he had any ideas, let him know. Lockwood called that night and said he had an idea that they’d go to the pod and do various things, and then the computer would find out they’d been talking about disconnecting it. They would get all kinds of conversation out between the two actors in a scene—the best kind of exposition would either be visual or conversational. (Associate Producer) Victor Lyndon came up with the idea that HAL could read their lips. “Kubrick said, ‘We can go in the pod and as we get on screen, say “Rotate the pod HAL”—he rotates to where eye is looking into pod —Kier (Dullea ) disconnects and rotates the pod—nothing happens. HAL then chooses not to rotate the pod back.’ Stanley says you never know who’s going to have the idea that triggers other ideas that make things work.”

18. Dullea : “After HAL denies him entry, Bowman has to force himself into the ship through the emergency hatch by pressing the pod against the hatch—the are explosive bolts that will explode him into the ship—we see him being sucked into the ship. For a moment he’s in a vacuum. It was researched, and a scientist told Stanley that a human being could last x amount of seconds in an air lock and survive it, as long as it isn’t more than x (he thinks 15?) seconds.” Dullea was worried for weeks because “…it was such scientific gobbledegook—lines were cut, but his memory still works (Dullea began reciting the lines). The actor said he’d never memorized lines so hard in his life, and they were never used in the film.

The hatch was actually the ceiling, with a camera on the floor shooting straight up. I am headfirst, two stories up so when I’m propelled in we used gravity. There was a cable in my crotch, which goes through hatch door, outside of the set, woven into a rope going to a platform—the top of which was parallel to the top of the set. There was a circus roustabout who had heavy gloves on his hand; the rope was measured and had knots tied at places he was supposed to cinch it. What happened was, the the roustabout let the rope run through his gloved hands full speed until he reached first knot, equivalent to his being two feet from the lens. Then he jumped off the platform. He was heavier than me and I went shooting toward the ceiling. Then when his feet hit the ground, he let go of the rope again and I went plummeting to the ground again. Full speed. He grabbed another knot. So when you see me propelled, just imagine that he is waiting to dive headfirst and plummet two stories down toward the camera. We only did the stunt once and I wouldn’t have done that for any other director. We couldn’t use a stunt man because I was being dropped toward the lens and my face was right up in camera. This was the most spectacular special effect I was involved in. Now Stanley is holding the camera, the whole sequence. He is very deft with the handheld, there’s a lot of tension. No cuts. (He went) all the way, with this big, awkward Panavision camera, turning his body as he films.”

(scene at 59 second mark)

19. Dr. Floyd’s (William Sylvester) daughter was played by Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian.

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She also appeared in Full Metal Jacket, The Shining and Barry Lyndon.

20. Dullea called the bedroom “…the most remarkable set of all, the way it was lit from floor. Every set was a bit like Disneyland, but something about this set was special. My interpretation (of the scene)— he’s under spell of the higher intelligence, so advanced and sophisticated that they have the facility to go inside the brain, and play the brain like a tape recorder…extract what it needs to. And maybe he walked through a museum, they arbitrarily saw a habitat and built this for him.” Of the accelerated aging process, Dullea suggested to Kubrick, “…though he may have thought of it on his own—why don’t, when you see the older version, the younger version just isn’t there? He hears a noise, a man in black, the younger version disappears. Never cut back to this person in black, only to the next, older person. The glass drop, that was my idea. Each version of him hears something, then cut to the even older person in the bed. That make-up took twelve hours; the sequence was all shot in one full day.”

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Lockwood: “Stanley was never specific about where the world was during events of that time. In the book, both powers have nuclear weapons in orbit around Earth. The next evolution of man nullifies all the nuclear weapons. Kubrick knew his films so well, I knew he’d be the coolest guy I ever met. I asked one day why he chose me, he said ‘You could do a lot without doing a lot.’”

Dullea : “I was in awe, working with the man who’d blown me out of my seat. He told me, ‘Kier, you’re a wonderful, wonderful actor. I feels a little badly I’m not able to help you more.’ He sensed I was in awe and handled it.”


Cindy Davis knows the stars hold her destiny.



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