Part 4: Epic Cinematography of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick

Continuation of 2001: Space Odyssey Composition.

2001: Space Odyssey Compositions

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Epic leading lines

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Continuing from Part 3, we have one of my favorite scenes: The moment where DAVE walks through the corridor, with all these epic lines:

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Broken down, here is the leading lines I see:


Then going into the scene when he sees the space pods, note the epic use of the wide-angle (fisheye) lens, which really sucks you into the frame:


Then the next scene, you get a different angle, with great ‘bookend’ compositions with the two space pods (on the far left and the far right):


Super-epic layers

Then you have this scene when DAVE is about to enter one of the space pods, with one of the most sublime layered compositions:

First of all note you have the claws in the foreground which are out-of-focus (in cyan), and the layers of the space pods in pink:


The key is this: once DAVE is about to enter the pod, you can see he is framed in-between one of the claws. This is key because later in the movie the CLAWS is a key element: when DAVE tries to save his friend//also the claws are the metaphysical hands of DAVE, to open the hatch doors:


A closeup:


Lesson: When you’re shooting certain scenes, put your focus in the background, and put elements in the foreground which might foretell a future story (like the claws).

Scene shift: DAVE’s friend looks on

Then the next scene, DAVE’s friend (yellow astronaut) watches DAVE enter the pod:

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The composition is fantastic for the storytelling, because you can see the ‘bookend’ of the yellow co-pilot on the far-left of the frame (outlined in cyan), then you have HAL a little on the right-thirds of the frame:


Also study this composition and the spacing of the square-block-rectangle elements.

Shifting camera angle

Continuing from the previous scene, note the shift of the camera perspective– almost being ‘topsy-turvy’ (which makes sense for the sense of disorientation, because they are in space!)


Follow the pink lines to see the orientation of the man (I had to turn my head a bit):


Then the cyan lines perspective lines in the background:


Space parallax

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How do you get the sense that something is moving in space?

This is how Kubrick did it:

  1. Stationary spaceship (really small in white)
  2. Tiny stars in background (white dots), moving slowly to the left
  3. Big rocks (meteors) moving from the bottom of the frame, to the top of the frame, slowly getting bigger!

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Epic reflections from inside helmet

Note the subtle drama, seen from inside DAVE’s helmet, with the subtle shift of his eyes.

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Also note, this compositional technique will be used later in IRON MAN:

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Then a nice shift from a left-focused composition, then to a right-focused composition:


Dancing in space

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Then this absolutely breath-taking cinematography of DAVE spinning around and dancing in space.

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Slideshow below:

Lip-reading HAL

Then the next super-epic part of the film: DAVE and his co-pilot think that HAL (computer) is plotting to kill them. They try to sneak into a ‘quiet’ space where they can’t be overheard by HAL (inside one of the pods), yet HAL actually ends up being able to understand that they’re plotting to kill him (because HAL can read lips):

Talking HAL-1Talking HAL-2Talking HAL-3Talking HAL-4Talking HAL-5Talking HAL-6Talking HAL-7Talking HAL-8Talking HAL-9Talking HAL-10Talking HAL-11Talking HAL-12Talking HAL-13Talking HAL-14Talking HAL-15Talking HAL-16

Broken down, I like this framing in the beginning:


Note how the helmets on the far left and far right of the frame put the viewer’s focus in the center of the frame:


Leading lines in white:


Also note in the film, DAVE is shown as RED (helmet) and his partner is shown as YELLOW (helmet+outfit). This makes it easier for the viewers to easily determine which character is which– because two caucasian men in the film look somewhat similar.

The Evil eye of HAL

Talking HAL-3

Throughout the film, whenever there is drama — you see the evil (RED) eye of HAL, just calmly looking on.

Lovely framing // color palette of Red, Yellow, Blue:


I really like the framing here, and the colors.

First of all, note the pod on the far-right of the frame (outlined in pink):



Then note the yellow-lit corridor in the background (CYAN):


Which in theory; gives the viewer’s eye the opportunity to leave the frame (note white arrow in background):





Then — the lovely ‘INTERMISSION’ note (I think more films/art projects should do this–like they do in plays):




Great top-down, looking down perspective.

First note all the epic leading lines (white):


Now check out the epic palette, and a little use of ‘Gaussian Blur’ in Photoshop to outline the colors better:


Save yellow astronaut

Now the drama: HAL ejects the yellow astronaut friend into space (to die). DAVE goes on a mission to save him in a space pod, that ironically has HAL’s eye embedded in the front:

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Save yellow friend mission

Then the mission at hand: save his yellow friend. This scene literally took my breath away — I held my breath in the moments leading up to when he actually picked up his friend with the beautiful claw-like arms (like the arms of the Virgin Mary, holding Jesus — similar to the Pieta statue).


The rescue mission reminds me of a scene out of STAR WARS (probably where George Lucas got inspiration from, when the X-WINGS were attacking the Death Star with the Torpedos):

HAL kills passengers.

At this point, this is where shit starts going ‘cray cray’ (crazy).

Essentially he terminates the life support pods of the other astronauts on-board. Perhaps Kubrick is trying to warn us:

One day, if you have artificial intelligence (AI) controlling the life functions of humans– be very careful.

This is something Elon Musk is afraid of; thus he is funding OPENAI to make sure future forms of AI don’t kill humans (either accidentally or on purpose).

In terms of the cinematography, I love the 3 camera perspective/angle changes for all 3 astronauts:

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Note the background horizon with the pink lines, and the horizon of the astronauts’ faces in cyan:


Then this is absolutely brilliant– you see the perfect asymmetric (yet balanced) composition of the one astronaut on the far left (facing upward on the left of the frame in cyan), then the two astronauts on the far right (facing downwards), with the topsy-turvy leading lines of the scene:


Letting go of yellow friend

Then the part that nearly made me tear up — DAVE lets go of his yellow friend. He must do this in order to re-enter the spaceship. So he has the ethical dilemma: save myself or save my friend? He regretfully chooses to save his own life (I would have done the same in his situation):

letting go yellow friend

Here is a slow-motion of the letting of his friend. It is incredible… it really looks like human hands/arms letting go of someone. Like when we see in films like Titanic (Never let go jack!) or movies where someone is about to fall from a cliff…but unfortunately the hero loses his grip.

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Opening the hatch doors

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Note how delicately he opens the hatch, then an interesting cinema technique… Kubrick elects the pod to turn around 180 degrees, and then “back in” (butt in) to enter the spaceship.

This is interesting, because I think a lazier/less creative director would have just elected for the spaceship to enter nose-first.

Lesson: Great cinema is in the small details. (God is in the details)


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Then we have a nice little transition … DAVE needs to SHOOT himself inside the (very dangerous) capsule, which can kill him. He embraces for impact — look at the phenomenal face-acting of the actor:

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Small details I like: where he needs to push exactly 3 buttons. This is a good technique in all storytelling: 1, 2, 3 — go! Or when famous people give speeches, to say things in 3 is an easy way to structure things.


Also lovely colors: blue, burgundy, forest green, and red-orange of the suit:


Then epic leading lines to his face:



Then the next few scenes, note how it is ALL RED — once again, symbolism for danger:

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To be continued…

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