Studio 360

American Icons: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Part 1

It’s HAL’s world—we just live in it.

A drawing of a moon setting over a planet.
2001: A Space Odyssey, an American Icon.
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A half-century after it was released, 2001: A Space Odyssey is still supplying light amid the darkness. It’s considered not just a great film but an important and influential work of modern art. An astonishing marriage of sound and image, man and machine, there’s nothing simple or obvious—nothing monolithic—about it.

With no help from cinematic CGI, its vision of the 21st century and beyond seems uncannily prescient and profound. Before we’d even landed on the moon, 2001 showed us how privately operated spacecraft would one day take us there. Life’s biggest mystery—our place in the universe—would be an empty question were it not for Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of what comes next. There is no Star Wars without the Star Gate, no Close Encounters or Contact without the monolith. HAL was a perfect preview/early warning of Siri and Alexa and our A.I.-dominated near future.

In Part 1, we look at the film’s origins in 1960s New York when Clarke and Kubrick first met. We visit Kubrick’s former penthouse apartment, where the two believed they saw a UFO and then recall their trip to the 1964 World’s Fair. We explore the unorthodox production and try to discover how 2001 went from opening-night bomb to counterculture icon. We’ll hear from effects wizard Doug Trumbull; actor Keir Dullea; film critic Carrie Rickey; 2001 scholars Michael Benson, Piers Bizony, and Jarice Hanson; and superfan Tom Hanks, who has seen the movie more than 200 times.

American Icons is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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