Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of the most purely visual films ever made, a marriage of images seemingly ripped straight from the subconscious, with groundbreaking sound design and philosophical noodling so heady and out-there, it’s easy to forget Arthur C. Clarke‘s role in the development of the movie.
While some declare the film to be Kubrick’s greatest, it unmistakably bears the creative fingerprints of its director, the roots of the head-spinning narrative also involve Clarke who developed the novel ‘2001’ in conjunction with Kubrick’s trippy magnum opus, which expands upon many of the themes and obsessions that remain opaque in the film adaptation. But where does Clarke’s novel end and Kubrick’s film begin? Were important elements of the text dashed by Kubrick in favor of a more cinematic, less literal approach? Were they rightfully discarded? A new installment of “What’s the Difference?”, courtesy of the dudes at Cinefix, is here to examine the disparities between Clarke and Kubrick’s vision, and it proves to be quite the journey into the past.
The differences in Kubrick and Clarke’s respective visions run the gamut from minor to quite substantial. It begins, as it should, with the original story’s stark opening passage, titled “Dawn of Man.” Clarke adopts the POV of one ape in particular as it learns to kill for food: an act that is not depicted in Kubrick’s film version, although we do see the ape briefly enjoying the spoils of its hunt. Where Clarke is painstaking in his attention to detail, Kubrick is detached and enigmatic in his approach – his attention to the group dynamics in “Dawn of Man” could almost be called anthropological.
There’s some other, more superficial points of contrast, including Clarke’s physical description of the monolith, (which he calls “transparent”), the origins of the story’s moon base and its ambiguously defined thematic connections to the Cold War, as well as what exactly H.A.L. stands for. There’s also a particularly fascinating digression that examines Kubrick’s famous dissolve of the spiraling animal bone into the space-borne satellite – a mesmerizing transition that bridges the gap between acts one and two – as a metaphor for the evolution of weaponry in the 20th century. The way it’s described brings to mind the artillery-fueled doomsday fantasia of one of Kubrick’s other masterpieces, “Dr. Strangelove,” but that might just be my curious-geek meter firing into overload mode.
What do you think? Is Kubrick’s film an improvement over Clarke’s book? Did the film leave anything out? Watch the videos and sound off below.