2001: A Space Odyssey affected my life in three different phases: my father took me to see it when it opened at the Ziegfeld theater in New York. I was a space fanatic, in part because my father produced the space flight coverage for ABC News. So I was totally amazed, and it became my favorite movie for years; I made my own little space movies with models hanging on wires. 10 years later, in high school, I saw an anniversary screening. I’m sure we had a deep conversation after that. It became very influential as I got into film and began to appreciate it technically. It took 40 years of visual effects to catch up with what they did.
When I met Christopher Nolan in 1998, I was very happy to learn that Kubrick was one of the things we had in common. I watched 2001 again around the time I did The Origin, and there are some similarities in the sets and the style. That last room where Pete Postlethwaite is dying is definitely reminiscent of the end of 2001. And 2001 was a huge influence on Transcendence, I was drawn to the script by the parallels: AL becoming a kind of God, and the question of whether AL is good or bad, reaching the conclusion that it is as good as the human being has.
I saw 2001 on a giant screen in Paris, and I was in awe. I knew it was set in space, but I wasn’t expecting that kind of reflection on humanity. She wasn’t sure she understood that mysterious philosophy, the black monolith, all that. But I accept everything. It is not possible to imitate something from 2001, it is a taboo, private territory. First of all, to do the special effects, models would have to be filmed in a kind of choreography; modern special effects are beautiful, but they don’t give the same physical impression. And space movies are no longer journeys into the unknown, science has come a long way since then. My own thinking had to prevail when making my sci-fi movie High Life: it would be stupid to use 2001 as a starting point. They are completely different: asking me about her is like asking myself if I prefer to eat a sandwich or go on a trip to Australia.
Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick shared the same thought: agnostic, curious, highly intelligent and in fear of the infinity of the universe. If a film managed to start from what 2001 built, it was AI, artificial intelligence, predicted the end of humanity. Stanley was convinced that we had no chance of survival in the long run, the way we behave, whether we exist for 50 or 500 more years, it doesn’t matter, it is a small moment compared to the grand time scale. It is a serious and deadly message wrapped in sweetness where robots outlive their masters. Does it mean that HAL wins? No, it is a completely different story born of the same spirit.
Every day I was excited to work on it. With the space race happening at the same time, I felt like we were working on something very important. I don’t think it directly affected the moon landing, which happened the following year, but I met scientists, engineers, and astrophysicists almost every week who said they continued their line of work because they saw the movie when they were young. It deeply affected that generation in believing that certain things would be possible and spectacular. Above all for the possibility of contacting intelligent civilizations.
I could connect where I am today with being a young man watching 2001. Kubrick let Douglas Trumbull explore and visualize things as needed, and that led to innovations and a level of immersion never before seen. The Wachowskis acted with me in the same way that Kubrick acted with Trumbull. He told me to find a way to make that concept resonate, which led to ‘bullet time’. And now I’m at Magic Leap working on augmented reality.
More about 2001: a space odyssey
HAL is really the first way to understand that artificial intelligence could exist. People building those interfaces use movies like 2001 as guides and influences. The movie is completely contemporary in its idea that AI could destroy us. We are five years from that moment. Not necessarily in that context of the story, but in the context of AI beating us on something important. The next step is the one that Spike Jonze took in Her. 2001 was about 20 years ahead.
The opening sequence of 2001 is one of the most immersive experiences in cinema: completely free of dialogue. I plunged into that world as if I were in a black hole. I was seeing in 3D before there was 3D. Not only science fiction changed, but also the way of making movies. I love the overall picture, but I also love the attention to detail, for example how the HAL letters are one space away from IBM (Empresa International Bussiness Machines).
Everyone in London in the filmmaking community was tremendously excited. It was the first thing we talked about. I was in awe of its visual splendor. Most of the blueprints in space impressed me and still haven’t. It is more miraculous if you don’t know how it was done. But he was baffled by the hallucinogenic ending. I still feel like he was trying to put a blanket over our eyes, he didn’t know how to finish the film.
It became the benchmark. When I was called in for an interview for the first Star Wars, I said directly to George Lucas, “You really don’t love me, you love Geoffrey Unsworth[2001 cinematographer].” Said, “He’s not available.” Later I got the job at [directordefotografíade2001)”Dijo”Élnoestádisponible”PosteriormenteobtuveeltrabajoenThe Empire Strikes Back. It was very different from 2001But the quality of Kubrick’s spatial plans was so high that it was impossible to get them out of our minds.
Did 2001 kick off the VFX arms race? I think so. Science fiction movies are always trying to outdo the latest, to push the limits. Nothing has been more impressive in cinema than 2001. I have seen Interstellar, but I have trouble remembering it. Blade Runner 2049 It was beautifully designed, but frankly a bit tedious.