Yes sir, this was the late sixties / early seventies, all right.
This book is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the famed 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. A book like that, in itself, wouldn't be so unique, but I don't know if a book like this could be written about any other movie. It contains some of Clarke's short stories that inspired the plot, entries from his writing journal, a bunch of unused chapters from his 1968 novel of the movie (with very different versions of events), and some interesting personal reminiscences about director Stanley Kubrick.
I hadn't appreciated the true nature of the multi-year back-and-forth creative process that went on between Clarke and Kubrick to make this combined... thing. (Wikipedia calls it a "science fiction narrative" to convey the intertwined nature of the movie and novel.) I had it in my mind that Clarke's novel was kind of written "on spec" and Kubrick was calling all the phantasmagorical shots. In reality, it was a fascinating, tumultuous two-way collaboration. Early on, they planned essentially for the movie to say "directed by Kubrick and Clarke" and the novel to say "written by Clarke and Kubrick." (The lawyers didn't let them.) The initial impetus, though, was Kubrick's. According to Clarke,
"He [Kubrick] wanted to make a movie about Man's relation to the universe -- something which had never been attempted, still less achieved, in the history of motion pictures. Of course, there had been innumerable 'space' movies, most of them trash. Even the few that had been made with some skill and accuracy had been rather simpleminded, concerned more with the schoolboy excitement of space flight than its profound implications to society, philosophy, and religion."My own history with 2001 is kind of strange... I read the novel, and did a middle school book report on it in 1978, prior to ever seeing the whole movie. It was never about the phantasmagoria for me -- the novel explained many things that the movie left ambiguous and trippy. Even the final "beyond the infinite" part was set in my mind as strange sci-fi, but still solidly in the realm of "this could someday happen."
That brings me to the unused chapters from Clarke's novel, which take up much of the real estate in Lost Worlds. Like I said, the final version of the 1968 novel explained a lot more than the movie. These "lost" chapters go even further to reveal much more about the plans and motivations of the aliens that make contact with early hominids, then wait patiently for us to catch up. We often see events through their eyes.
I've got to say, though, that I was kind of surprised that the unused chapters felt so, well, 1950s-ish. Is that a word? Sci-fi readers will get my drift. The aliens who sent the monolith were humanoid. The astronauts were all standard issue scientist-heroes, smoking pipes and twirling ladies on the dance floor, prior to setting off in the Discovery. HAL-9000 was a robot. It was kind of amazing that Clarke, a leader in the sci-fi community, started out this project with such a hokey take on the material -- especially when so much New Wave experimentation was being done at the time by his colleagues. It was even more amazing that such a counter-cultural masterpiece of a film eventually came out of it. (Clarke kind of blamed a lot of the trippiness on the art department!)
Anyway, even though I'm glad that all the extra explanation and tired tropes were eventually pared away, it was fascinating to get such a complete and intimate peek at the origins of this classic story.
Oh, and that 1978 book report? It was accompanied by a presentation at a school book fair. Don't believe me, do you...?
Note, both in the poster behind me and on the table in front of me, that we "updated" the Pan Am space clipper from the movie to the real Space Shuttle that was just a couple of years away from its first launch. No 60s nostalgia there! :-)
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Pleae go even further beyond the infinite to visit the other blogs participating in this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse!