Wide-Angle | Update : 20.12.18 . 1:17 PM

Once upon a time, it was "2001".

film still of  2001 : A Space Odyssey

film still of 2001 : A Space Odyssey © DR

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick unveiled his resolutely pessimistic vision of humanity in a visionary feature film of inordinate ambition. Fifty years after its release, 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to enthrall film lovers with its abstract contours and technical attention to detail. A look back at the beginnings of a film that changed the world of science-fiction filmmaking forever.

After the success of Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick launched into the development of a highly ambitious film he had long dreamed of, preparing in secret by devouring sci-fi films and scientific essays on space exploration. This was early 1964, and the filmmaker reached out for support to Arthur C. Clarke, a British novelist and specialist in the genre, whose theories Kubrick respected. For nearly two years, the two men worked together to construct the plot of the feature film. Their discussions were sometimes endless and high-powered.  The duo rapidly decided to co-write a book, which was then adapted for 2001. At the heart of the story lies the idea that Earth is perhaps not the "only haven of life".


To add some flesh to his script and irrigate it with the latest scientific advances, Kubrick also sought out several recognised experts, some of whom worked at NASA. As a perfectionist, the director set himself extremely high aesthetic and philosophical objectives. Above all he wanted every last scientific detail to be legitimate. At the same time, he enrolled several dozen technicians to make the models and sets of 2001. Their realism was breathtaking. While the filmmaker then began to devote himself entirely to his work, Arthur C. Clarke kept refining the screenplay. In total, the script only has around 40 minutes of dialogue – in a film lasting 2 hours 44 minutes!

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The shooting of 2001 began on 29 December 1965. In two years, Kubrick, a tyrannical demiurge, faithful to his reputation, exhausted the initial budget for his film – overspending by 4.5 million dollars – and his teams too, who he called on constantly for their services. The MGM studio, which had hoped to bring out 2001 at the end of 1966, had to postpone its plans so that 2,000 innovative special effects could be added, which remain benchmarks in filmmaking to this day. The editing began in early1968.


The film was first shown a few weeks later, on 2 April, in 70mm and in a panoramic format. But the screening was a disaster, with some viewers walking out. Critics lambasted the pretentiousness of the work and its length. In the wake of this failure, the filmmaker decided to shorten certain of the film's sequences – edited scenes which still form part of the film's legend and the wildest rumours. Despite all this, 2001 proved to be a great success in cinemas over the following months. Fifty years later, it continutes to enthrall film lovers around the world.

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Written by Benoit Pavan

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