Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece is not a straightforward ‘film of the book’, nor is it a ‘book of the film’. Arthur C Clarke’s novel was begun first, so that there was a story to base the screenplay on. The book and film were then produced simultaneously, with the film released first. I will say that the book is certainly a good read and puts the ‘science’ in science fiction, but that the film takes the story to a higher level and is altogether more elegant, mysterious and thought-provoking.
The concept of the story is famous, so I won’t summarise it, other than to say that it’s about events connected to an incredible discovery on the moon. The main characters are ape men (one of these is called Moon Watcher in the book), scientist Heywood Floyd, astronaut Dave Bowman and the HAL 9000 computer.
As you might expect, the book is quite similar to the film. The main difference is that the mission is not to Jupiter, but to Saturn’s moon Japetus. In the introduction to the book, Clarke says this was a good decision, not only because a convincing Saturn couldn’t be produced, but because this was before the Voyager craft brought us more detail about the planet. The representation of Saturn would have seemed rather dated in the film. Anyway, who the heck has heard of Japetus? As you might also expect (this being Kubrick) the film is more sinister than the book. It also brings the spaceship’s computer HAL more into focus and gives him more human-like emotions, which was a genius decision. The book and film deviate from each other more towards the end.
The psychedelic special effects towards the end of the film are fantastic. However, I prefer the descriptions in the book (which, I suppose, would not have been good enough as realistic special effects). After going through the star gate, Dave is alert and wondering at these recognisable visions of space, never before seen by human eyes, yet he’s sad that the ancient alien civilisations are gone. If you were confused at all by the events in the film, it’s worth reading the book, as Clarke makes it a little clearer.
Kubrick and Clarke were keen for the film not to have dated and I think their attention to detail paid off, because the film still looks great – even the ape men. You can tell by the women’s clothes and the funky chairs that it’s a 1960s film, and of course the year 2001 is now in the past. The authors chose that year because it was close enough for the audience to find relateable, yet far enough to be space-age futuristic.
Recently re-watching the film after re-reading the book, I decided that 2001: A Space Odyssey may be the greatest film ever made and that it’s probably my favourite film. Everything about it is truly amazing.
Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.