The year 2001, which was once well into the future, is now 13 years behind us.
And yet the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which director Stanley Kubrick started working on 50 years ago this year, still looks like a vision from a time yet to come.
A new book, “The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ” collects dozens of the film’s images in sharp, arresting detail.
Here is actor Keir Dullea, playing astronaut David Bowman, checking the circuits of some spaceship technology.
Here are the lunar scientists, fully garbed in spacesuits, staring at the movie’s famed moon monolith.
And there are Kubrick and screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke, looking distinctly out of place in the brightly lit space-shuttle cabin, their presence and some wires the only indication that this is a mid-’60s movie set.
“The realism of the designs is very striking. That’s why, 50 years later, they still look not only modern, but in some cases, futuristic,” said Piers Bizony, the author of the four-volume, coffee-table tome that includes photographs, interviews, a facsimile of the original screenplay and a facsimile of the film’s 1965 production notes.
Indeed, Kubrick had detailed models and forms made of almost everything in the movie. Though “2001” does make extensive use of what were then cutting-edge special effects — courtesy of Wally Veevers, Con Pederson and Douglas Trumbull — many of the items in the film were actually built, not computer-generated.
“Everything was done physically,” Bizony said. “What you see on screen, there really is a model there — or in some cases, a full-scale set. This stuff was physical, and you can tell it was physical when you look at the screen. Today you know that most of what you’re looking at — castles in the sky — is CGI. With ‘2001,’ you just knew that that stuff was real, and that makes a big difference in audience appreciation.”
There are even some items never seen in the film, all part of Kubrick’s desire for verisimilitude.
One photograph in the book shows a portable picturephone, though “portable,” in this case, means the size of a suitcase. Another image is of a miniature television from RCA that appears to be slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. Both are rare examples of “2001” props that actually look dated in our iPhone age.
Bizony pored through hundreds of images — many taken by Kubrick, who began his career as a still photographer — in assembling the book, and he accompanied them with interviews he conducted for the “2001” Blu-ray release several years ago.
Even with all his knowledge of the film, he still found some surprises.
One is that Kubrick — who was much more improvisational than generally believed — and Clarke pondered how to explain the breakdown of HAL, the computer that oversees the movie’s space mission. Kubrick decided that HAL could have an evil twin.
“I thought it was a ridiculous idea, and I’m glad to say it was scrapped,” Bizony said. “But there again, it demonstrates that filmmaking is a creative process, and creativity means trying lots of different ideas and chucking away the ones that don’t work.”
Today, “2001” is considered by some critics to be Kubrick’s greatest work. In the most recent Sight and Sound poll of film critics and historians, it was ranked the sixth-greatest film of all time.
The overall impression of the film remains one of awe and wonder, a visual spectacle that places the viewer right in the heart of mankind’s evolutionary voyage into the infinite.
For Bizony, who has seen “2001” countless times, the experience is why the film has lasted. Even his “jaded” children, who are in their early 20s, were affected, he said.
“They’ve seen everything under the sun, and they came away goggle-eyed,” he said. “My daughter said, ‘How the hell did they do that?’ And my son was saying, ‘Oh man, what a trip at the end.’ ”
— Todd Leopold, CNN