The New Yorker magazine published four articles on 2001: A review of the film, a review of the book, a Profile of Stanley Kubrick, and the following “Talk of the Town” article when Kubrick and Clarke were well into preproduction discussion and writing.
“I must say you guys have come up with something.”
by Jeremy Bernstein
To most people, including us, the words “science-fiction movie” bring up visions of super-monsters who have flames shooting out of at least one eye while an Adonislike Earthman carries Sylvanna, a stimulating blonde, to a nearby spaceship.
It is a prospect that has often kept us at home. However, we are happy to report, for the benefit of science-fiction buffs—who have long felt that, at its best, science fiction is a splendid medium for conveying the poetry and wonder of science—that there will soon be a movie for them. We have this from none other than the two authors of the movie, which is to be called Journey Beyond the Stars—Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. It is to be based on a forthcoming novel called Journey Beyond the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick*. Mr. Clarke and Mr. Kubrick, who have been collaborating on the two projects for over a year, explained to us that the order of the names in the movie and the novel was reversed to stress Mr. Clarke’s role as a science-fiction novelist (he has written dozens of stories, many of them regarded as modern science-fiction classics) and Mr. Kubrick’s role as a moviemaker (his most recent film was Dr. Strangelove).
Our briefing session took place in the living room of Mr. Kubrick’s apartment. When we got there, Mr. Kubrick was talking on a telephone in the next room, Mr. Clarke had not yet arrived, and three lively Kubrick daughters—the eldest is eleven—were running in and out with several young friends. We settled ourself in a large chair, and a few minutes later the doorbell rang. One of the little girls went to the door and asked, “Who is it?” A pleasantly English-accented voice answered, through the door, “It’s Clarke,” and the girls began jumping up and down and saying, “It’s Clark Kent!”—a reference to another well-known science-fiction personality. They opened the door, and in walked Mr. Clarke, a cheerful-looking man in his forties. He was carrying several manila envelopes, which, it turned out, contained parts of Journey Beyond the Stars. Mr. Kubrick then came into the room carrying a thick pile of diagrams and charts, and looking like the popular conception of a nuclear physicist who has been interrupted in the middle of some difficult calculations. Mr. Kubrick and Mr. Clarke sat down side by side on a sofa, and we asked them about their joint venture.
Mr. Clarke said that one of the basic problems they’ve had to deal with is how to describe what they are trying to do. “Science-fiction films have always meant monsters and sex, so we have tried to find another term for our film,” said Mr. C.
“About the best we’ve been able to come up with is a space Odyssey—comparable in some ways to the Homeric Odyssey,” said Mr. K. “It occurred to us that for the Greeks the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery and remoteness that space has for our generation, and that the far-flung islands Homer’s wonderful characters visited were no less remote to them than the planets our spacemen will soon be landing on are to us. Journey also shares with the Odyssey a concern for wandering, exploration, and adventure.”
Mr. Clarke agreed, and went on to tell us that the new film is set in the near future, at a time when the Moon will have been colonized and space travel, at least around the planetary system, will have become commonplace. “Since we will soon be visiting the planets, it naturally occurs to one to ask whether, in the past, anybody has come to Earth to visit us,” he said. “In Journey Beyond the Stars, the answer is definitely yes, and the Odyssey unfolds as our descendants attempt to make contact with some extraterrestrial explorers. There will be no women among those who make the trip, although there will be some on Earth, some on the Moon, and some working in space.”
Relieved, we asked where the film was to be made, and were told that it would be shot in the United States and several foreign countries.
“How about the scenes Out There?” we inquired.
Mr. Kubrick explained that they would be done with the aid of a vast assortment of cinematic tricks, but he added emphatically that everything possible would be done to make each scene completely authentic and to make it conform to what is known to physicists and astronomers. He and Mr. Clarke feel that while there will be dangers in space, there will also be wonder, adventure, and beauty, and that space is a source of endless knowledge, which may transform our civilization in the same way that the voyages of the Renaissance transformed the Dark Ages. They want all these elements to come through in the film. Mr. Kubrick told us that he has been a reader of science-fiction and popular-science books, including Mr. Clarke’s books on space travel, for many years, and that he has become increasingly disturbed by the barrier between scientific knowledge and the general public. He has asked friends basic questions like how many stars there are in our galaxy, he went on, and has discovered that most people have no idea at all. “The answer is a hundred billion, and sometimes they stretch their imaginations and say maybe four or five million,’’ he said.
Speaking almost simultaneously, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Kubrick said that they hoped their film would give people a real understanding of the facts and of the overwhelming implications that the facts have for the human race.
We asked when the film will be released.
Mr. Kubrick told us that they are aiming for December, 1966, and explained that the longest and hardest part of the job will be designing the “tricks,” even though the ones they plan to use are well within the range of modern cinematic technology.
When we had been talking for some time, Mr. Clarke said he had to keep another appointment, and left. After he had gone, we asked Mr. Kubrick how Dr. Strangelove had been received abroad. It had been shown all over the world, he told us, and had received favorable criticism everywhere except, oddly, in Germany. He was not sure why this was, but thought it might reflect the German reliance on our nuclear strength and a consequent feeling of uneasiness at any attempt to make light of it. He said that his interest in the whole question of nuclear weapons had come upon him suddenly, when it struck him that here he was, actually in the same world with the hydrogen bomb, and he didn’t know how he was learning to live with that fact. Before making Dr. Strangelove, he read widely in the literature dealing with atomic warfare.
We said goodbye shortly afterward, and on our way out a phrase of J. B. S. Haldane’s came back to us: “The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.”
The New Yorker, April 24, 1965; p. 38
* Journey Beyond the Stars was the working title of 2001: A Space Odyssey