2001 Space Odyssey Cinematography-1

I just re-watched ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick, and holy shit– this movie is one of the best movies of all-time.


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I think I first watched this film when I was like 10-12 years old, from my Dad (who is an epic film buff).

Anyways, the book is inspired by the short story, ‘The Sentinel‘ by Arthur Clarke. This movie is most famous for the songs: ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ by Richard Strauss (inspired by Nietzsche’s book), and ‘The blue danube’ by Johann Strauss II. If you haven’t watched 2001 Space Odyssey, you’ve definitely probably heard these songs somewhere:

Significance of 2001 Space Odyssey

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The significance of 2001 Space Odyssey (which was filmed in 1968, nearly 50+ years ago!!!) is that it has inspired pretty much all modern sci-film films, including Star Wars, The Matrix, and Aliens/any sci-fi film by Ridley Scott.

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When watching 2001 Space Odyssey, I was blown away by the set design, the camera-work, the special effects, the philosophical questions on existence and human life, as well as the phenomenal cinematography.


Contact sheets from 2001 Space Odyssey

To start, let me share some thumbnails from the movie. I watched the film on my laptop, and took a screenshot whenever I found a scene which was interesting. Then afterwards, I used Lightroom to import the screenshooted PNG files, and used the ‘Print’ function in Lightroom and exported it as a ‘5×11 contact sheet’ as a JPEG image.

I took a screenshot whenever I was inspired by the cinematography, the framing, the facial expressions of the actors, or any other moment which I felt was significant:

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2001 Space Odyssey Philosophical Musings

Some philosophical musings:

Scene 1: The origins of human life

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Question 1: “What does it mean to be human?”

In the beginning of the film, you see a bunch of apes (our forefathers) living in the desert, barely staying alive, and working hard to simply procure food and care for their children.

In one epic scene, you see one ape accidentally discover the use of old bones from an animal– which could be used as a weapon. He later teaches his tribe this, and uses their bone-weapons to kill an opposing leader of another tribe.

Ideas/thoughts that ran through my head:

  1. We all descended from apes, and through millennia have become what we know as ‘modern day homo-sapiens’. ‘Homo sapien’ means that we are from the ‘homo-erectus’ species, but we are distinguished because we are ‘sapien’ (intelligent). Therefore first of all, it is humbling to know that even though we are insanely intelligent today, at our core, we are just primal apes. This explains a lot of our tribal-violent behavior today, even though we are intelligent.
  2. We are significant in our use of tools: In the movie, the first ‘tool’ was actually a bone-weapon. Therefore, the tribes/individuals that thrive and took over the world were the ones who could best effectively use tools/equipment/weapons. Much of human advancement on planet Earth was through warfare, and the civilizations with the best weapons are the ones that took over the world. Significance: In today’s world, the individuals who can best leverage materials/tools/equipment are the ones who can build the most power.
  3. Technically we aren’t the center of the universe: Through pure chance, humans became the kings of planet Earth. Our ability to terraform the Earth, procure food, and domesticate/conquer other species is what gave us our advantage.

This is where the movie gets a bit crazy: out of nowhere, you see this huge alien-like black stone-slab. Perhaps it was this alien civilization that first taught our ape-ancestors how to use tools?

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Scene 2: Advanced human technology

This cross-over when transitioning into Scene 2 was EPIC. Pretty much Kubrick cut between a bone in the air, with a spaceship in space:

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Significance: It is incredible how humans have gone from using bone-tools, to building spaceships!!!


Analysis: User Interfaces of the Future

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What I found fascinating was this is what Kubrick/other “futurists” from 1968 thought 2001 (or the future) would look like:

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I would have to say, I impressed with how futuristic they made the future look from (using 1968 as a starting point). Note — this was nearly 50 years ago — far before we had the internet, smartphones, and all these other crazy technologies on earth!

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Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Better to think of ‘first principles’ when thinking of the future, rather than by analogy. For example, the “mistake” that Ridley Scott made in 1968 was the future would look similar to their preset-day “high-tech” stuff. But today in 2018, “futuristic” technologies are more advanced than the colorful buttons, and simple line-user interfaces which are depicted in the film. I wonder– 50 years from now (2068) what interfaces will be in the future? It probably won’t be holographic, 3d — it will probably be something else we have no idea of.
  2. It is a little sad that for the most part, we haven’t evolved much in the last 50 years in terms of having flat-screen (2d) images.
  3. Looks like IBM might have had paid some advertising money to be placed in the film. Takeaway point: “Paid product sponsorship/placements” in movies have been around forever. And I’m glad– the budget needed to make 2001 Space Odyssey must have been insane by their standards. And now humanity has a film that will exist for a long time.

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Panning out // surprise

One scene I particularly love was when you first get a peek inside the international space station.

The first shot reveals the room and people on the bottom of the frame:

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Then the next scene, you reveal another room (on top of the frame), but the people are upside down!!! (of course, this is space):

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Then the last pan out: you see two additional rooms on the left and right:

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Lesson: Use strategic camera panning to surprise the viewer!


Scene: Checking in

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I love this first scene of the man checking into the international space station for ‘immigration’, for several reasons:

  1. Just how ‘retro’ the whole scene looks. For example the woman with the pink hat/beret.
  2. Why would you need ‘immigration’ while you’re in space?
  3. The beautiful color palette (burgundy red of the chairs, and the beautiful blue-cyan of the earth in the background), and the minimalist composition:

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I also love the details of these numbers on the side (I think great cinema is all about the detail– remember the saying, ‘God is in the details’):

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Then the next scene, you can see the great dynamic, and symmetrical composition:

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Leading lines:

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Random detail I like on the far left of the frame:

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Very subtle accent colors (burgandy-red in the far right), and the black table on left:

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Another nice detail of what language to dial in (with the funny retro buttons):

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List of languages:

  • English
  • Dutch
  • Russian
  • French
  • Italian
  • Japanese

The significance of the languages– these were the most ‘advanced’ countries (at least in 1968). Interesting how they couldn’t have predicted the rising of techno-giants like South Korea and China.

Curved composition/sets

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I love this scene, with the curved set, the composition, leading lines, and minimalist colors:

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More fun product placement (HILTON hotel) // also realizing — there will probably be hotels in space!

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Also another fun detail: COFFEE BAR (I guess humans will drink coffee forever, even in space). A great future industry to get into is “space-optimized coffee”:

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Going back to the scene, I love the placement of the people in the frame:

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Picture Phone

I love this imaginative (yet slightly silly, thinking of the ‘coin-operated public phone’ analogy) idea of an international ‘picture phone’:

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This is the scene where the man calls his daughter back home. A great detail in this scene is when he’s calling his daughter, you can see the earth in the background spin around in a circle:

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A phone call from the international space station to planet earth: only $1.70 USD!!! I wonder if audiences in 1968 would have gasped and said, “That is so cheap!” (also note the ‘Bell Telephone’ company as another paid sponsorship):

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Another random thought: I wonder if nobody ever thought that one day something like an iPhone would be invented– where you could ‘Facetime’ with your family back home, on your own device (instead of using a public phone).

A small detail I really liked was when he is talking with his daughter, and you get a closeup of his ‘pixelated’ daughter in the video screen, the color palette and combination is amazing!

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For example, note the colors in the background (purple, taupe, and blue), then the colors of the girl’s outfit (dark purple, burnt-orange, burgundy):

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Food on spaceship

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Kind of a funny scene: the spaceship ‘airline attendants’ getting food for the passengers:

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The surprise: you see the woman going upside down!!!

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In specific, I love this transition between the woman walking upside down, and then you see her walk into the cockpit (also upside down). Lesson: as photographers/videographers, we shouldn’t always feel the need for our subjects to be “right-side up!”

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And what can you eat while in a zero-gravity situation? Well according to international ‘PAN AM’ (the now defunct airplane), you can have “LIQUIPAK” foods in orange/strawberries, cheese, coffee, carrots, peas, corn, and fish!

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And it is convenient when you’re stuck in your seat! (what a creative idea):

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A random takeaway point: The fun thing about science-fiction is trying to figure out fun little solutions to (potential) future problems.

I also think what makes this future world-creation of Ridley Scott so convincing is that a lot of the scenes focus on the small mundane details of future space-travel (like what should you eat in space?)

Another fun scene, you have the pilot come over to talk to the man, and when he lets go of his tray plate, it floats in the air!

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Or another mundane question: How can you use a toilet in space (with zero gravity)??? (“Passengers are advised to read instructions before use): quite humorous!

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Note how the man is biting his fingernails, which shows his hesitancy to using it!

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Space landing

The next scene you see the crew landing onto the moon colony. Things I find interesting is that the spaceship looks like a face. Secondly, the way they were able to make the scene seem real is the ‘parallax’ movement of three surfaces: the moving spaceship downwards, the changing horizon of the moon surface, and the planet earth in the background):

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Then when you see the crew landing onto the moon colony, you can sense “movement” by the changing scene outside of their cockpit view:

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Opening of aperture eye

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This next scene is absolutely marvelous: you see the crew on the space, then you see the space station on the moon opening up — with the elegant aperture blades (almost like an eye opening up):

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Landing of spaceship

Then you get a nice scene of the landing of the ship (nice small detail of the cushioning of the legs):

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Learn more in PART 2: Epic Cinematography of 2001, Space Odyssey >

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