Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey made in collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke proved visionary, infuriating and here’s the crucial bit… open to interpretation. Two viewers sitting side by side could leave the film having different feelings and ideas. For instance, they might question the cycle of life, whether extra-terrestrials exist, or they might fondly recall the most indelible character. Neither man nor woman, HAL 9000 made machines topical.
When a “behind the scenes” book comes along, the quality ranges from the downright disappointing (Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel) to the unputdownable (Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films). Happily, Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece occupies the latter camp.
This marvel of research and analysis places the reader into a time capsule i.e. 1964-68. Benson’s prose style conveys the minute-by-minute, restless decision making that went into every frame behind 2001: A Space Odyssey. Such insights pinpoint who was responsible for which department. Also, there’s a cool Easter egg revealing who operated the camera as the ape bone was thrown into the sky.
People are quick to react. For example, my father detests the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He considers it a lengthy indulgence. I agree with him because such a dialogue free exploration favours colour over substance. Also, it’s important to remember the youth culture of 1960s cinema. They probably found the combination of LSD and the Star Gate sequence hard to ignore.
While reading Space Odyssey, I remembered a similar tome which dealt with high end special effects: Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek The Motion Picture by Preston Neal Jones. Essentially, what the latter got wrong and Space Odyssey does right was comedy. There are numerous anecdotes in Michael Benson’s book which resonate via human error. As such, humour makes it more enlightening.
As I would happily read this wonderful tome again, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece receives my highest recommendation… five stars.