Happy 55th Anniversary, 2001: A Space Odyssey!

Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface, near the crater Tycho. Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose still a total mystery.

Hey! It’s time to salute 1968’s other enduring classic science fiction movie. You know…the one without the talking apes. It’s perhaps one of the most discussed, debated, analyzed, respected, reviled, misunderstood and even frustrating films ever committed to celluloid, made all the more fascinating by the fact its director — at least at the time — basically told all of us, “Have fun with this shit, kids. I’m out.”

Following its world premiere in Washington, D.C., the night before, 2001: A Space Odyssey opened in wide release in the U.S. on April 3rd, 1968. Is there really anybody who’s not at least familiar with the film’s basic plot? In a nutshell, there’s some mysterious uber-peeps way out on Jupiter, who may well have muddled about here on Earth millions of years ago and thereby influenced the development of early humanity. These same peeps bury a benign booby trap of sorts on the Moon, and our finding and digging it up trips a switch that fires off a message back to Jupiter that–more or less–says, “The children are out of their crib and are snooping around.” We send a spaceship and some astronauts out to Jupiter to see what’s what, and…well…let’s just say things get weird from there, and that’s before the ship’s computer, HAL, loses its shit.

The film has been the subject and target of much scrutiny pretty much since the moment of its release. Countless theories abound as to its message(s) and meaning(s), and opinions are about as wide-ranging as the selections of beef jerky at a truck stop. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, 2001 has its genesis in a couple of short stories written by Arthur C. Clarke, most notably “The Sentinel.” Clarke and Kubrick developed the story behind the film, and Clarke also penned a novel which was released later in 1968. The novel does much to fill in some of the blanks Kubrick deliberately left in the movie, though it diverges from its onscreen sibling on one major point: in the book, the spaceship Discovery is sent to Saturn, rather than Jupiter. Saturn was the movie’s original destination, as well, but was changed when it became evident that special effects footage of the ringed planet would not measure up to the rest of the film’s opticals. The practical and visual effects–many of them employing techniques developed for 2001–still stand toe to toe with more recent and lavishly-budgeted FX-heavy films.

Speaking of the production side of things, there are numerous books, magazine articles and essays, and documentaries devoted to that effort. If you can find them, I recommend these:

The Lost Worlds of 2001, by Arthur C. Clarke
The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, by Jerome Agel
2001: Filming the Future, by Piers Bizony

And if you can find it, the German publisher Taschen released a lavish, oversized book, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in 2015. Formatted so the book resembles the Monolith, it is stuffed with gorgeous photographs, drawings, and notes from the film’s production. Good luck getting your hands on a copy, though, as it’s been sold out for years.

Clarke would revisit the setting he created with Kubrick with three more novels: 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), 2061: Odyssey Three (1987), and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). The first sequel, of course, was the basis for the 1984 film 2010, which actually works better on its own when/if you can set aside the fact it’s supposed to be a follow-up to “the greatest science fiction film ever made.”


To this day, 2001 continues to inspire, befuddle, and annoy viewers and critics, which is pretty much the most you ever can ask of any story. If you’ve not seen it, then you owe it to yourself to give it a spin. Same goes for Clarke’s novel; it’s definitely worth the read.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

4 thoughts on “Happy 55th Anniversary, 2001: A Space Odyssey!

  1. I’m sorry Dave I can’t do that. I agree Dayton there are parts of 2001 that do befuddle. I usually fast forward the first 20-30 minutes. The first time first I saw 2001 was on TNT when they showed old movies. I may have to rewatch it as it’s been a while since I’ve watched it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t appreciate this movie at all when I was a kid. Much like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other movies, I had to reevaluate my opinion of 2001 much later. It long ago became one of my very favorite films.


  2. It’s been too long since I’ve seen 2001 – thanks for the reminder! I just stumbled onto this clip from an interview with Star Trek (and 2001) VFX director Douglas Trumbull on how he created the stargate sequence….

    Liked by 1 person

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