Being a fairly hardcore space nerd it’s my opinion that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the greatest science fiction film ever made. With good science fiction movies rather thin on the ground, I thought I’d look at the lessons2001 can teach modern filmmakers about how to make a great sci-fi film.
1. It doesn’t need to be an action movie
Sure, explosions can be fun to watch, as can mech-suit battles. But it’s always disappointing when a promising plot devolves into a generic action movie.
2. There are visionary sci-fi authors everywhere. Use them
Arthur C. Clarke’s short story ‘The Sentinal’ was the jumping off point for 2001, Clarke worked with Kubrick on the screenplay and wrote an accompanying novel at the same time. Clarke had brilliant ideas about what contact with alien life would be like, and what the future of computers would be. Kubrick took these concepts and wrapped them up in his unique vision. There are so many great authors in the science fiction genre these days that it’s almost criminal how under-utilised they are in science fiction cinema.
3. Special effects aren’t the most exciting part of the movie
George Lucas once said that ‘special effects are a tool’ (many years later he became a special effects tool himself). While the look of the film has to be right, it shouldn’t be the sole reason for the film’s existence. Space effects can be very cheap and easy, and there are some model shots from 2001 that hold up to this day.
4. Think about what our future may be like, don’t just make stuff up
One of the strengths of 2001 was that Kubrick and Clarke thought about and researched the future, rather than just imagining a new society. They thought about what the space program would look like and what life in a space-faring society would resemble. And sure, they may have been off by quite a few years, but their predictions about what a manned mission to Jupiter would look like could still come true.
5. Accurate space scenes are more thrilling than inaccurate space scenes
The scene where Dave Bowman tries to rescue Frank Poole takes places in darkness and silence, and is still 100 times more thrilling than the opening space battle of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
6. Aliens don’t need to be evil
Too often in Hollywood movies, we meet aliens with a similar desire for resources that we have, and a similar military structure, and war ensues. Or the aliens are horrific monsters that just want to kill everything. But surely a race of beings that have mastered interstellar travel are interested in more than just mining and warfare?
7. In fact, aliens don’t even need to be understandable
They are aliens, so why can’t their motivations be just as alien as their appearance?
8. The audience doesn’t need everything spelled out for them
2001 has one of the greatest endings of any film, an ending that is still talked about and debated almost half a century after it was initially released. While there is a clearer version of what happened in the 2001novel, the film is hugely ambiguous and leaves it up to the audience to interpret.
9. Space is beautiful
The opening moment of 2001 is an image of the sun rising over the Earth rising over the Moon. It’s silent, slow, and reveals the beauty and majesty of the universe around us.
10. Science fiction stories can take a long time to unfold – that’s where the awe kicks in
2001 takes place at the ‘Dawn of Man’ and concludes with an idea about the next phase of evolution. The time span from the discovery of the monolith on the Moon to the conclusion of the Jupiter mission is years. Space is big, and evolution is slow. There’s no magic chamber that speeds things up, no warp drive that makes the distances in space seem negligible. And the result is that you get a sense of the age of the universe, what it means to grow as a species, and just how isolated astronauts can be when things go wrong.
So here’s hoping that Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Christopher Nolan’sInterstellar can live up the 2001 legacy.