In adapting Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s ambition, as he expressed to Clarke in his introductory letter, was to make “the proverbial good science fiction movie.” That was in 1964, some years before the rehabilitation of genre cinema’s reputation by the critical establishment, a huge element of which was the movie the two gentlemen would end up releasing in 1968. With no exaggeration whatsoever, it is a simple fact that science fiction cinema would not exist in the form it does today without 2001.
The movie itself was not simple in any way. Kubrick’s initial interest in making a movie about extraterrestrials ended up evolving into nothing short of a story about humankind’s evolution from ape, to a point in the foreseeable future—one which we, in many ways, are living in now—where humans exist in a state of symbiosis with the technology they created, and where the possibility that one of those creations may surpass humanity in its humanity, and from there move to a point where, as Kubrick put it, they evolve into “beings of pure energy and spirit… [with] limitless capabilities and ungraspable intelligence.” This kind of ambition, and the amount of money Kubrick intended to spend realizing it, was unknown to science fiction cinema at the time. But, of course, Kubrick wasn’t particularly interested in doing something others had done before.