2001: A space odyssey (1968) is a cinematic epic. Partially Inspired by Arthur C.Clarke’s ‘The Sentinel’, the screenplay was written by Arthur with Stanley Kubrick, who went on to direct and produce the film. The film deals with strong themes of human evolution, artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial life. This is portrayed through pioneering special effects and spectacular depictions of space and technology.
The film is a feast for the eyes and ears with its vast views of space and ’soon to be’ technology, partnered with large, powerful orchestral scores, they come together to form a science fiction spectacular. The visuals have a lot to be admired but I argue that Stanley Kubrick’s famous attention to detail, in regards to the use of sound is what has projected this film to the level of acclaim it holds.
The film can be divided up into four distinct sections, all of which, except for the second, are introduced via a title imposed onto the screen. I find for me it will be easiest to take these sections in the order they occur on screen and after a brief explanation of that part of the story I will go on to talk about the soundtracks that link these sections as well as any other interesting audio features the scenes carry.
Kubrick in a few of his films was known to prepare records that would be played before, after and in the intermission at the theatre, showing an interest in sustaining the feeling of the film for the audience as they get up and walk around. So concerned about these details, he sent scouts to theatres to check these conditions had been met. I recall seeing a letter regarding Kubrick’s drama ‘Barry Lyndon’ sent to the projectionist discussing similar conditions.
So before we reach the first section of the film and as the lights go down in the theatre, Kubrick begins to prepare the audience. In the now dark theatre, a small part of Gregory Ligeti’s ‘Requiem atmospheres???’ plays for the next 3 minutes. Without any visual, the audience is left to sit in darkness and take in this unsettling soundtrack.
After quickly being eased by the showing of the MGM logo, the captivating sound of Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ sets the tone alongside the alignment of the sun, earth and moon as the intro credits and title show. Strauss’s build from a rumbling out the depths of the orchestral register, to horn, accompanied by the emergence on screen of the spheres from behind each other suggest both the beginning of time and of music.
Michael Chion discusses the 2 scores that begin the film, in having a sonic ambiguity – instances in which sounds do not immediately sort into ‘sound’ or ‘music’. A mass of sound that causes a position for the audience of disorientation, stating:
‘’Both Ligeti’s and Strauss’s works in the opening of 2001 are apt to inspire the spectator to wonder, what is that?’’
A trait that would prove useful again and again as the soundtracks reoccur through out the film.
The Dawn of Man