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c. 1968

Creating the masterpiece that is “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Open the pod doors, HAL

camera
Actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood listening to director Stanley Kubrick.
Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

2001: A Space Odyssey was an epic film in terms of both subject and creation, and is today regarded as a landmark in cinematic history.  Yet at its release, critics and audiences were undecided as to its merits—or lack of them.

Introduced to Arthur C. Clarke in 1964, auteur Stanley Kubrick chose Clarke’s short story The Sentinel from the six Clarke suggested. Morphing it into a shoot-able screenplay took two more years.  Both Clarke and Kubrick saw resonance between the project and cinematic Westerns, referring to the film as How The Solar System was Won.

But Kubrick also wanted to transcend the science fiction genre by creating as realistic a depiction of space exploration as possible. Early educational films about space had a significant influence on his concept.  Kubrick remained minutely involved in every aspect of the production—even choosing the costume fabrics himself. Filming itself took 18 months, with two further years spent on special effects. And all this racked up dollars, a cost of $10.5 million, against a budget of $6 million.

After the film’s premiere on April 2nd 1968, Kubrick deleted 19 minutes of running time before general release. But whatever its length, people were unsure what to make of the film.  Some raved about it, others raved against it. Actor Rock Hudson left the New York premiere muttering “What is this b***s***?”  No matter. Today 2001: A Space Odyssey is almost universally regarded as a masterpiece.

1966
Actors Keir Dullea & Gary Lockwood listening to director Stanley Kubrick on set.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
An overview of the set used for anti-gravity scenes.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
Kubrick looking through a lens in 1966.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
Kubrick uses a polaroid camera on set.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
Kubrick takes a snapshot while filming.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
Kubrick with movie camera.
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1966
Lining up a shot during the penultimate scene.
Keith Hamshere / Getty Images
1966
Kubrick surveys the bedroom set.
Keith Hamshere / Getty Images
1966
Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1968
Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull attend the London premiere, May 10, 1968.
Bunny Atkins / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1968
Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, light a cigarette at the New York premiere, April 2, 1968.
Ron Galella / WireImage / Getty Images
1968
Joanne Woodward and daughters at the New York premiere.
Ron Galella / WireImage / Getty Images

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