It was recently announced that Douglas Trumbull, the special photographic effects supervisor for Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction picture 2001: A Space Odyssey, has in his possession 17 minutes of never-before-seen footage edited out by Kubrick and presumed lost. While this is certainly of interest to cinema lovers and SF fans, the fact that it may herald a new, overpriced, redundant DVD release is mildly troubling; one can only hope that the new old footage isn’t incorporated into the existing movie and made the only available version in perpetuity (in the manner of a certain trilogy about Jedis).
With very few exceptions, such footage is edited out of movies for a very good reason: it’s usually either redundant or not very good. On the other hand, unless the extraneous footage is incorporated into the movie in such a way that you can’t watch the original version, it very rarely ruins the original, beloved classic. But I’m a bad person, so I thought I would try to imagine how the missing 17 minutes could, in fact, destroy 2001. Here are some ideas:
1) Ala Blade Runner, voice-over narration from David Bowman, overexplaining the mission to Jupiter, the conflict with HAL, and his ultimate fate in exacting detail (i.e. “As I approached the monolith in my space pod, it appeared to me as though the monolith was an interdimensional portal of some sort . . . would my trusty space pod protect me from what lay within?”)
2) A five-minute sequence near the beginning showing the troubles encountered by the alien construction crew installing the monolith on Earth, such as how frequently the union mandates breaks on nitrogen/oxygen-atmosphere worlds that are mostly water, and the rate of overtime.
3) A scene between Floyd and one of the other scientists containing the exchange, “Why, it’s as if technological advances may not be thoroughly advantageous!” “Are you saying that man’s reliance on machines makes him more machine-like?” “Yes, that would be one way to put it. I think that someday soon machines may be more human than humans themselves!” followed by a cut to HAL.
4) David Bowman and Frank Poole hanging out and exchanging male-bonding anecdotes; in one of these Bowman tells the story Arthur C. Clarke put in the novel of 2010 about watching helplessly as his brother drowned, thus making it “moving” when Bowman watches Poole tumbling out of control through space.
5) Finally, a scene toward the end where one of the aliens comes into Bowman’s “hotel room” and explains in exact, literal detail what has happened to him.
We should all, obviously, be grateful that I was not hired to punch up the script to 2001. And that Stanley Kubrick, in his vast-if-not-infinite wisdom, trusted his audience enough to figure out what was going on in his picture on their own. It’s worth not knowing exactly what’s going on at any given moment to have a movie so profoundly, inscrutably oblique exist.