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How “2001: A Space Odyssey” Changed Cinematic Design

The author of Taschen’s new book on Stanley Kubrick’s classic tells us why the film changed movies forever.

From the sun breaking over a black alien monolith to the trippy, transcendent space baby, there are few films which have imprinted themselves upon imaginations as strongly as Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, book giant Taschen is releasing a sumptuously designed and exhaustively researched tome dedicated to the sci-fi masterpiece.

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Designed by M/M Paris –who previously designed Taschen’s book Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made–after the same scaled-down proportions as 2001’s monolith, The Making Of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey aims to be the most authoritative reference on the subject ever written. First published last year in a limited-edition run of only a couple thousand, it’s now available for everyone.

We asked author Piers Bizony some questions about the experience of writing the book, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey’s lasting contributions to cinematic design. Here’s what he told us.

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and how this book got off the ground?

When I saw 2001 as a kid, there was nothing to compare it with. It was utterly new and unexpected. I am just one among countless thousands of people whose imaginations were fired up by seeing it. Even today, after nearly half a century, so much of this film looks more convincing than modern science fiction CGI extravaganzas. The sheer physicality of the sets and special effects is extraordinary. The film got me interested in science and cosmology, and also introduced me to photography and the visual arts. Kubrick was, and still is, a fantastic creative mentor.

What was researching and writing this book like?

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Frustrating and exciting in equal measure. I spent countless long days at the Kubrick Archive in London, looking at images and trawling through documents. It was several weeks before I got a handle on the film’s early scripting process, or the sequence of events during 2001’s four year-long production phase. But then there would be days when an anonymous stack of brown envelopes would turn out to contain pristine large format negatives, or a document wallet would have this fabulous handwritten note from co-screenwriter Arthur Clarke to Stanley, and so on. Amid the hard slog of research, there were frequent rewards of stunning treasures. Writing the book came from an urge to share these discoveries. Enthusiasm for your subject helps nudge you toward a well-crafted paragraph.

What were the challenges you faced in writing this book? Were there any specific layout challenges that need to be addressed?

The M/M design company in Paris suggested making the book the same shape as the black alien monolith that appears in the film. In conventional book design terms, this was crazy, because the monolith’s proportions are too tall and narrow to accommodate anything like a normal shape of page. Sometimes, when you are faced with something that the world tells you shouldn’t be done, that’s a great reason for doing it. The layout problems were a real headache, but the result is a book whose pages you often have to unfold in complicated ways in order to get at the larger images and visual layouts. It’s like unpacking the mysteries of the monolith itself. The entire physical structure of the book is insane, and that’s why it’s wonderful.

What do you think the most important contributions that 2001 made to cinematic design?

One of the qualities that sets this film apart is its insistence on visual and auditory storytelling at the expense of dialogue. 2001 was resolutely cinematic. There are no warm, cuddly heroes to root for. The astronaut characters in 2001 are pretty bland as people. For this reason, the film is often thought of as cold and clinical, but the grandeur of its images, and the thrilling power of its philosophical questions, often leaves audiences breathless with emotional excitement. 2001 is like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it.

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If there was one thing you think everything should know about 2001 that isn’t common knowledge, what would it be?

For many months, Kubrick and his team tried to figure out some way of showing alien creatures at the end of the film. They build costumes that looked like giant insects. They dressed actors in glowing polka dots, and created alien cityscapes that looked like nighttime Las Vegas filtered through an acid trip. The boldest decision any visual artist can make is deliberately to not show something, and this is where Kubrick eventually ended up. By not showing the aliens, he gave them an immense presence in 2001.

What is the enduring legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Every modern SF film that we see, from Star Wars to The Martian, draws inspiration about what the future should look like from 2001. Yet this incredible, important film went into pre-production nearly half a century ago. What a strange thought. It’s as if the real world is still trying to catch up with what Kubrick showed us.

You can order Piers Bizony’s The Making Of Stanley Kubrick’s *2001: A Space Odyssey at Amazon here.

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