A fascinating, detail-rich account of the long slog to make the science-fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), writes Benson (Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, 2014, etc.), was a slayer of genres. He reinvented film noir, the costume drama, the horror film, and the war movie. With 2001, over the course of seven years of hard work, he aimed to put his mark on science fiction, with his own unmistakable twist: “Kubrick’s method was to find an existing novel or source concept and adapt it for the screen, always stamping it with his own bleak—but not necessarily despairing—assessment of the human condition.” He found his sources in two places: the work of British science-fiction writer and technologist Arthur C. Clarke and the Homeric Odyssey. In the end, as Benson capably demonstrates, both those sources faded into the background. The Odyssey is perhaps best echoed by the deaths of all the crew members of Discovery, prompting Clarke to write in his journal, “after all, Odysseus was the sole survivor.” A couple of years after the film was released, Clarke recalled that it reflected 90 percent Kubrick’s genius, 5 percent the work of the special effects crew, and 5 percent his own contribution. That assessment was too modest, but Benson runs with the notion that this was Kubrick’s film through and through, and each minute of screen time reflected weeks of work and thought as well as many missteps and rethinkings (voice-over narration throughout, anyone?). The author turns in some memorable phrases—for instance, in his telling, the space between the known and the unknown is “that place science is always probing like a tongue exploring a broken tooth.” More importantly, it is the often fraught episodes of interaction between Kubrick and a phalanx of collaborators and contributors, most of them now forgotten, that drive this endlessly interesting narrative.
Essential for students of film history, to say nothing of Kubrick’s most successful movie.