Recently celebrating its 50th birthday, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the landmark by which all sci-fi cinema is now compared. Still the subject of awe and intrigue, it’s the pinnacle of the ‘don’t complain, don’t explain’ attitude – Kubrick famously never discussed the ending, or what his intentions were.
Arthur C Clarke, whose short story The Sentinel was the blueprint for the script, explained, ‘If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.’
The plot? A mysterious monolith has been found buried under the surface of the moon, and a mission is undertaken to make sense of it – with a ‘foolproof and incapable of error’ computer, HAL 9000, for company.
Released in 1968, the year of the Paris student riots and The Beatles’ White Album, Kubrick would use 2001 to play with elements of the avant-garde, spiking the mainstream. Over half its nearly three-hour running time is dialogue-free, while spacewalk sequences are totally silent: there is no sound in space.
Historical themes also run throughout, from Renaissance interiors, spun into the future via illuminated floors, to a soundtrack pairing Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube with compositions by György Ligeti. Simply put, Kubrick was masterful at grouping elements together in a way that had never been considered before. Even as 2001 races towards its pension, it remains relevant: it’s essentially a history of humanity so far, from primitive to spaceman. Even in 2019, that’s still about as far as we’ve got.
Savile Row stalwart, dressmaker to the Queen and World War II spymaster Hardy Amies, created 2001: A Space Odyssey’s costumes, and the film holds plenty of fashion clout today. This is a movie that Raf Simons keeps talking about in interviews; an always-and-forever pin-up on the moodboard of his mind.
Most recently, for AW18, Jun Takahashi presented his ‘Undercover’ collection at Pitti Uomo, plastering the image of HAL 9000 on a waistpack and prints of error messages, the Discovery 1 spaceship and astronaut David Bowman on clothes.
As for advances in technology, the movie predicted video calling, tablet computers, voice recognition and artificial intelligence: everything we’re familiar with today, Alexa.
2001 is bursting with technology and ideas well ahead of their time. While the film was being made, NASA was madly trying to put men on the moon, so Kubrick and Clarke knew that their sets and props had to outstrip the new technologies being spawned or else rapidly become outdated or incorrect.
Their solution was to hire astronomical artists, aerospace engineers and ex-NASA employees, who advised on spacecraft design, control panels, display systems, communication devices and more. This close consulting not only created a sense of scientific accuracy, but also produced an array of visionary predictions about humankind’s future technologies, all based in real possibilities.
Watch the movie closely and you’ll see flat screen computer monitors, touchscreen tablets, robotics used in space, and, of course, artificial intelligence.
“I never considered 2001 as a strict prediction,” Clarke said later, “but as more of a vision, a way things could work.”