Film of the Book: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1968)

2001 eye gif

From the book review:

A tribe of man-apes is visited by aliens who use a strange artefact to stimulate their minds, thus setting them on a course to become fully human and develop the intelligence that will eventually allow them to dominate their world. Millennia later, mankind has reached the moon, only to find hidden another similar artefact, one that this time will send them on a journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system and perhaps beyond…

Well, it’s easy to see why this one is considered a sci-fi great. It has everything a good cult classic should have – lots of hard science, a just about feasible premise and a completely incomprehensible ending that leaves the door open for readers to make up their own interpretation, which they have apparently been doing with varying degrees of wackiness since the book was first published in 1968.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

This is a film I’ve tried to watch a few times in the past, and on each occasion have given up halfway through in order to prevent death from boredom. So I was intrigued to see whether reading the book would change my opinion of the film.

And, boy! Yes, it does!!

2001 monolith

What I never realised before is that both book and film were written simultaneously as a joint venture between Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. The film screenplay is credited to Kubrick and Clarke, in that order, and apparently the book was originally intended to be credited to Clarke and Kubrick, in that order, to highlight the specific influence of each man on each medium. They developed the basic idea together based on some earlier stories of Clarke’s, although the film does diverge somewhat from the book, especially around that mystical ending. The book, while still leaving much open to interpretation, tells the story much more clearly, while the film concentrates on visuals and effects to create a kind of mystical experience that, in Kubrick’s words, “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”

OK, then. That probably works for people who instinctively “understand” music and painting, but I’m strictly a words kind of gal, which is probably why the film didn’t initially work for me. But having read the book, on this viewing I wasn’t trying to work out what it all meant, or sighing with exasperation at the lack of dialogue. Instead, I was able to watch it as intended – as an amazing visual and sound experience that, once I could get into the flow, took me on a trip as acidy as anything that came out of the ’60s.

2001 man-apes

The first section, the dawn of man, works much better in the book in terms of giving a real insight into the society of the man-apes and how the alien monolith influenced their development. In the film, it’s beautifully shot with some truly glorious imagery, climaxing with the fabulous Also sprach Zarathustra music. The man-apes themselves do unfortunately look somewhat like men in ape costumes occasionally, but I suspect that’s because years of CGI have set our expectations too high. But knowing what was happening meant that it didn’t matter that the film perhaps didn’t get the full meaning across – the book was in my head almost like an explanatory (and unobtrusive) voice-over.

The section on the moon is probably the most dialogue-heavy part of the film, which helps to explain a little what’s going on. It also humanises the film a little, being almost the only place where we see people interacting with each other.

The space journey to Jupiter (unlike in the book, where Saturn is the destination) gives Kubrick the chance to play brilliantly with special effects, especially of weightlessness. The fact that these effects still work some half a century later is pretty amazing, and great to see how he interpreted Clarke’s detailed descriptions of how space flight works. Using Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz as the music during the space sequences is inspired – it works so well with the floatiness of everything that happens in and out of the ship. The film cuts a lot of the sciency stuff out, though – no sampling the crust of comets, nor sling-shotting around Mars and so on – but I did feel in the book that this section got a little bogged down in science, so the film worked well for me here in concentrating more on technical stuff and in moving the story along.

In the film, I’m not at all sure if I would have caught the reasons why HAL, the ship’s sentient computer, begins to malfunction but, again, the book explains this much more clearly, while the film makes it a rather more emotional sequence, I think. There’s very little opportunity for the actors to shine, since they don’t do much except turn switches on and off and talk to the computer, but actually I was impressed by Keir Dullea’s performance as Dave Bowman. In some scenes, the camera stares directly into his face for extended periods and, with little dialogue, he manages to get across a range of changing emotions very well.

2001 - Dave

But the star of the show (and in the past I’ve always given up before I got to this bit) is the surreal and truly psychedelic sequence in the fourth and final section. All done to some beautifully dissonant modernist music composed by Georgy Ligety, the effects are wonderful – a kaleidoscope of amazingly imaginative spacescapes, ever-changing but in a flow, creating a real feeling of infinity and the awful grandeur and possibilities of the universe. Then a totally surreal section by which, frankly, I would have been baffled if I hadn’t read the book, and finished with what seems like a fairly major variation from the book, but which, on reflection, is certainly within the same philosophical ballpark. I’m telling you, man, it totally blew my mind! Awesome!

My dear friend wikipedia (to whom thanks for all my newly acquired background knowledge) tells me that Clarke said “I always used to tell people, ‘Read the book, see the film, and repeat the dose as often as necessary’”. I heartily concur, and have an urgent desire now to read the book then see the film all over again. And next time I read the book, I’ll have the fabulous images and music from the film running in my head. Two parts that are differently great but which, together, become something uniquely wonderful.

★ ★ ★ ★★

And so, for the first and perhaps only time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

2001 both1



61 thoughts on “Film of the Book: 2001: A Space Odyssey

  1. I never knew that they were written concurrently, what an interesting thing. I generally don’t have the patience for films and I don’t think this one will change my mind but it is fascinating to hear your experience of it 🙂

  2. Glad I read your review. I admit I was bored by the film, because I saw it when I was much younger, and hadn’t read the book. So it bored me to tears. I saw it because it was on the top films list and had been directed by Stanley Kubrick. Perhaps if I had read the book, I would have appreciated it more.

    • Me too – couldn’t get past about the first forty minutes or so. I really wasn’t expecting the book to have such an effect on the experience of watching the film, but it changed me right round from ‘hate it’ to ‘love it’! Now I reckon it’ll be one of those films I watch again and again… and if they ever show it in the cinema, I’ll be lining up for it!

  3. Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed the film more having read the book, FictionFan! I suppose it’s because I really am sensitive to music that I ‘felt’ the sound track right away when I saw the film. It really added to it for me. I didn’t know that Kubrick and Clarke had worked together on the film, but I’m honestly not in the least surprised – at all. I think there’s a solid link between film and book that you see most often when the author of the novel is involved with the film’s production.

    • I’ve always enjoyed music, but especially with classical music I never have that feeling of ‘understanding’ it. Apparently, according to wiki, Kubrick commissioned an original soundtrack for the film, but used these pieces as an interim measure during the making of it. Then at the end he decided to ditch the new composition in favour of keeping these. I’m glad he did! The film would be unimaginable without them really…

    • I’m glad! It’s funny, because I really had low expectations of both the book and the film and they’ve both ended up in my all-time favourites lists. I think I’ll be watching the film again soon too…

  4. I’ve not read the book and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the film. No wonder I was confused and frustrated at everybody else’s opinion that this movie was “Like Wow!” You’ve offered a great solution here, FF — reading the book first, then seeing the film — and I thank you!

    • Yeah, the film was way too confusing for me… and boring, ‘cos I didn’t know what was going on. But after reading the book it felt like an entirely different film! And now it’ll be ine of those ones I watch again and again, I think…

    • I’d love to see it on the big screen – I imagine it would be even more mind-blowing, especially the surreal bits at the end. Hopefull, it’s one of the ones that will get re-released quite regularly. I loved the book too, though it does get a bit sciency in the middle section…

  5. hmm.. I’m not sure that this isn’t cheating but since I’m unlikely to watch the film (all the way through, although I have seen bits) or read the book… Like you though, I didn’t realise that this was done a simultaneous project which probably makes your conclusion correct!

    • Ha! I know – there should be a winner really, but I just couldn’t decide! Each made the other even better, and now I love them both – it would be like a mother deciding which of her twin babies was her favourite… 😉

  6. I was lucky to have read the book before I saw the film. I was a bit of a Clarke “groupie” so I tended to read his books as soon as they hit the library. I don’t think I knew at the time that the book and the film were worked on simultaneously, or jointly, although I think I do remember that there was talk of a film almost as soon as the book hit the stands, which wasn’t so usual then.

    • No, I hadn’t realised they were a joint thing either – a fascinating idea, really, and given the success of it, I wonder why it hasn’t been done more often since. I was amazed at what a difference it made having read the book – the film always bored me because there’s no apparent story in it for ages, but the book filled in the gaps. Great stuff!

  7. Whoa! My mind has been blown just reading your review! I must admit I love the film, despite confusion in parts. I think the choice of music and sheer visual ambition of the film made up for the *cough* ‘what the hell’s going on now’ bits. However, I had no idea that the book was written concurrently, and was meant to be read as part of the whole experience (actually, now I come to think of it, I’m not even certain I knew there was a book!) so I must rectify the situation forthwith, then watch the film again with fresh eyes. I’m so excited! 🙂

    • I must admit the film just bored me to tears any time I tried to watch it – it didn’t seem to be ‘about’ anything, and I need a story! But with the book filling in the gaps, wow! What a difference! I reckon they should have a warning on the DVD cover – Read the book before attempting to understand this! I don’t know how much you’ll enjoy the book for itself – it’s a bit heavy in the science in the mid-section – but it’s worth it for what it adds to the film! 🙂

  8. Interesting! I have to admit, I revisited this movie recently and thought it was dated. I suppose CGI is to blame for this, as well as, my lack of patience for the painfully slow beginning, but I did love it once and I should read the book. (btw, London was fabulous! We didn’t make our way to Scotland, but we visited Bathe and Salisbury and the countryside was beyond gorgeous! I was tempted to wait out our elections here, but was afraid of deportation. hahah! (Plus I need to vote.))

    • I don’t watch many of the big sci-fi blockbusters so I’m probably not as used to the better quality effects these days. I thought the effects in this held up well considering their age, and actually looked quite realistic. But it was the psychedelic sequence at the end I loved most – I doubt many directors would have the courage to expect viewers to watch a full ten minutes of basically flashing colours. Great stuff!

      (Ooh, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Did you get to see a show? Did you dance with Darcy in Bath? Carry out paganistic rituals at Stonehenge? It is lovely country – the one thing that can be said about our constant rain is that it makes the countryside pretty lush and green. Haha! You doubtless couldn’t miss the fever surrounding our own little referendum this week. Who knows if I’ll still be a European by this time next week? I’m beginning to think democracy should be banned…) Welcome back! 😀

      • Yes! Kept seeing the “I’m in!” and “Britexit!” splashed everywhere. I love how the Brits don’t mince their words. The subways don’t say “exit” they say “way out”. I found myself laughing at this for days! (It’s the little things.) Then we hit a breakfast place that had a “Assassinate Donald Trump” fund with a few coins in it. When they heard our voices, they were afraid they’d offended us. But we laughed heartily and I offered them my credit card number… Wonderful country! We loved everything, except the food. How many dishes of fish and chips can one person eat?! I even saw a haggish dish! But lots of international options. We ate Italian mostly. haha. We didn’t see a show, but we covered so much! The kids loved the Tower of London and the stories of the beheadings. The queen passed us on her 90th birthday parade. And we now know enough about Churchill to receive an honorary degree! I now possess many novelties with the British flag… I’m quite happy!

        • After Thursday, depending on how the vote goes, we may have to change all the signs to “Get Out!” Hahaha! Were you surprised by the strength of feeling over here about Donnie the Wig? I haven’t heard one single person saying they hope he gets in. Yes, we’re not noted for our cuisine, but on the upside that makes us pretty open to other people’s – most of us mostly survive on Italian, Chinese or Indian food! But deep-fried sausages in batter have a certain je ne sais quoi, you must admit!
          Oh yes! I’d forgotten you’d be there during Queenie’s birthday bash! We do put on quite a good show on these occasions and she’s a game old soul – not many 90-year-olds would stand upright in a moving car waving and smiling! Sounds like you had a great time – so glad you enjoyed it! 😀

  9. SO much I didn’t know, here. And now I’ve got to read a book AND watch a movie to experience this pairing before I die, something that will be life-changing. How can I say no?

  10. That is such a unique idea of having the book and movie support each other! It’s really a cool one, though. I’ve wondered about how movies and books theoretically ought to be able to bring out different aspects of a story and shouldn’t necessarily be set up as inherently antagonistic to each other, but I never before realized that someone had actually done it.

    • It worked so well too! It makes me wonder why, given the success of the idea, more people haven’t done something similar since. I often think when reading a book that the author has had one eye on a movie deal, but that’s not really the same thing. I’d love to see more of it, especially in sci-fi where sometimes I find the films concentrate too much on effects at the expense of a story…

    • Nope, nor me, till I went to wiki for help in understanding what it was all supposed to be about. Wiki didn’t exactly answer that question, admittedly, but it did give me a million pages of background info! The book totally changed my view of the film – a strange but great experience!

  11. How fascinating! I had no idea the book and film were a joint venture. I made it through about 10 minutes of the film before my eyes rolled back in my head & I gave up – you’ve almost convinced me to try again! Almost…

    • Yes, that’s what used to happen to me too any time I tried to watch the film! It still amazes me what a difference I found once I’d read the book and was able to fill in the story in my head. I do wonder why the blurb writers of both the book and the film don’t make it clearer the two are kinda complementary to each other rather than the normal ‘fillm of the book’ thing…

  12. I saw the film on the big screen in my young days, and while I didn’t fully ‘get it’ (except maybe at Kubrick’s inner level of consciousness), I did love it. I was even more open to the allusive in both literature and film then than now. A year or so ago, I saw the film again on the big screen, and it didn’t have the full mind-opening impact for me it had had the first time. It was so new (and I was so young…) then. It’s great to learn that reading the book can open up new levels of engagement with the film: I’ll have to read the book and then see the film again. I’m a bit reluctant to watch the film on less than the big screen though. It is such a larger than life experience.

    • I really wish I had seen it on the big screen – I do think it’s one of those films that would really work better that way. More immersive, and the effects, especially the surreal stuff, must be great. I always have found that books work better for me than either visuals or music – while I enjoy both, I don’t ‘get’ them the same way I get words. So this was an amazing experience for me to see what a huge difference the words in the book made to my appreciation of the film. I wish more authors and directors would get together – not to copy this one, but to try out similar ways of working.

  13. What a cool eye that is up there! *admires it lots*

    Now, what weird music it has. It’s almost like a concert hall sort of thing. And the main theme is odd…but very cool! If I was a man-ape, I think I’d go join Tarzan’s team. In the jungle.

    • Just one of the great effects!

      The music is brilliant – totally inspired. Apparently he commissioned an original score for it, but then decided to go with these instead – so glad he did. I’ve only listened to snatches of the original score, but it’s not a patch on the stuff he did use. Nah, you could have headed up your own tribe! And been the first man-ape guitarist…

  14. I am so pleased you enjoyed this film so much more after reading the book. I totally agree that the book and film are equally good – the book for its detail and the film for its stunning visuals, and in both of them HAL 😀

    If you want to continue the Stanley Kubrick theme, you could compare The Shining film and book. I think the film is great but I haven’t read the book – I’ve heard they’re quite a bit different.

    • What a difference it made reading the book – I’m still amazed at how I went from finding the film a major bore to absolutely loving it! I think the blurb writers for both the book and the film should shout about the fact that they should really be done together!

      Now that is a brilliant idea! I haven’t watched The Shining since I saw it in the cinema when it came out, and I’ve never read the book. I feel a Hallowe’en special coming on… 😀

      • I keep meaning to read the book, especially as I want to read the sequel Doctor Sleep too, but I haven’t been brave enough yet 😛

        p.s. watching and reading The Shining would be perfect for the R.I.P event too 🙂

        • I haven’t read much King, just some of his short stories and one of his recent ones, Revival, which to be honest bored me to tears. But I keep thinking I should read one of the early ones to give him a fair chance, so The Shining seems ideal. And I think I’ve enjoyed every film I’ve seen that came from one of his stories. Indeed! I assume the R.I.P. event coincides with the spooky season then? Must check…

          • Yes, R.I.P is for the autumn and Halloween season and includes the genres of horror, supernatural, crime and mystery 😀
            I haven’t read much by King either – I did love his epic fantasy series The Dark Tower though. However I have enjoyed many films based on his work and most recently I loved the TV series 11.22.63.

            • Oh, I didn’t know that had been done as a TV thing – I’m so bad at checking what’s on TV. Must see if it’s on any of the streaming channels…

              R.I.P. does sound very much like my kind of thing then. And another ideal opportunity to make lists! 😉

  15. I’m so glad you reviewed both, and I was eagerly awaiting this review. I saw the movie ONE time, and for the sake of my husband, who was the driving force in watching the film, sat through the whole thing. My husband is an IT and AV guy, but he also has a degree in Broadcasting & Cinematic Arts, so he knew LOTS about this movie before we watched it. He kept pointing out the various places that have inspired other sci-fi movies, namely Star Wars (the slow-moving ships across the screen, for example). Kubrick was WAY ahead of the game in terms of special effects, which you picked up on. However, the movie made zero sense to me, and thus drove me insane. I had no sense of how the apes connected to the people. Your description of the apes becoming human vs. the humans getting their minds blow in space, makes a lot of sense. Thanks so much for reviewing both of these, Fiction Fan! (do you ever tell us your name, or are you just Fiction Fan?) 🙂

    • Yes, I was spotting all kinds of stuff that had also turned up in Star Trek and Stargate, and about a million other sci-fi things. In fact, that’s one of the pleasures to me of sci-fi – spotting how they get recycled. It seems to be the one genre where it’s totally accepted to give a new spin on someone else’s story without it being seen as any kind of plagiarism, and I rather like that. I’m still amazed at what a difference reading the book made to my experience of watching the film – you really should try it!

      Haha! My real name is Leah, but I prefer to maintain anonymity online, mainly because I worked for years with boys with behavioural difficulties, many of whom will now be men with behavioural difficulties, so I prefer to keep a lowish profile.. Most people call me FF. In fact, more people know me as FF now than by my real name… 😉

      • Ohhh, makes sense. Maybe next summer we could get Cathy to host 10 books that have been made into movies, and we read/watch/review them. So far, I keep getting way behind on my challenge and then catching up. It’s intense! I also need to plan my fall courses that I’ll be teaching. One of them, remedial English for college students, is be for me. That will cut into my reading!

        • Ha! Poor Cathy! I don’t think she was anticipating quite how popular the 20 books might be – she may never want to do another one! 😉 I’m sure I saw a challenge in the past about movie adaptations, but I can’t remember where. It might be a fun one – I’ve certainly been enjoying doing the book to film thing. I’m way behind on the 20 books, but I knew I would be – June/July is too full of tennis for me to concentrate. But I’ll catch up once Wimbledon’s over…

  16. Wow–just finished reading the book–wish I’d read this review before writing one of my own (but since it’s been forever since I’ve seen the movie, It’s mostly about the book. I think I’ll be reading the book more often, though…and maybe someday, when I’m either on Nyquil for a cold or stone-sober and in the mood to absorb (preferably in a movie theater where I can’t escape), then I’ll give the movie an entire run without stopping…I’ll just have to wait til Dad’s out of the house because he hates the movie and turns it off every time I try to watch it.

    • Ha! Make your Dad read the book, then he’ll want to watch the movie! 😉 I really do encourage you to try the movie again though while the book’s still fresh in your mind – what a difference it made for me! The movie went from being one I’d never made it through to one that’s now a top favourite of all time – in fact, just talking about it with you has made me want to watch it again! I hope it has the same effect on you! Thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀

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