Documentarian and cinema historian Gary Leva interviewed an impressive roster of Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers and experts in his short, “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001.” Released as a feature on the 2007, two-disc, special DVD/Blu-Ray edition of Kubrick’s masterful “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the documentary highlights how that one film redefined cinema for generations of filmmakers to follow. Leva recently uploaded the short to Vimeo, so even those of us without the special release can now view it.
Early on in the video, Sydney Pollack (who later starred in “Eyes Wide Shut“) states that Kubrick “was always on the cutting edge, technically,” of which ‘2001’ is perfect proof. It was a technological and aesthetic accomplishment unlike anything that had come before it. Attesting to this, George Lucas cites the movie as “hugely inspirational” to him; the visual nature of ‘2001’ lit a fire under the “Star Wars” creator, serving as motivation and assurance to him that he, too, could create such a visual film. These are but two of countless filmmakers for whom the rules of the craft were thrown out and rewritten when Kubrick released his masterpiece in 1968.
Yet, the short doesn’t solely touch on the technical importance ‘2001’ had on cinema. It also asks filmmakers to recall the first time they saw it.As much as people reminisce about where they were and what they were doing when a major national or international event occurred, interviewees including visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, sound designer and editor Ben Burtt, and legendary critic Roger Ebert, remember the experience of seeing ‘2001’ on the big screen the first day of its release. Their visits to the past remain so vivid in each and every case – each recalling in great detail what watching the film was like from their individual surroundings, and the mind-blowing trip the movie sent them on.
Lucas helps put this collective reaction into perspective. He explains, “It was the first time people really took science fiction seriously. A lot of the science fiction to that point—especially during the 1950’s—had been very B-oriented, which is, a giant monster, giant ant, giant this.” Screenwriter Jay Cocks (“Gangs of New York”) corroborates, “Adults weren’t really supposed to be interested in science fiction films. ‘2001’ changed all that.” Interestingly, Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s assistant on the film, states “Stanley wasn’t really a big fan of science fiction. He thought the ideas were good, but the characterization was inevitably deplorable.”
So how did someone with such a low view of science fiction turn out one of the genre’s definitive films? And how did it influence the likes of Steven Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and countless others? Set aside 21 and a half minutes and watch below to find out.