Michael Benson Takes us to the Inception
Speaking in relative terms, cinema hasn’t really existed for all that long, barely stretching past the hundred year mark recently, evolving from grainy silent films to a modern galore of special effects and inventive storytelling techniques. Along the way a few movies have set themselves apart as landmarks which helped push the art of filmmaking in its development, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is arguably one of the more important ones. Coming out in 1968, it had the massive distinction of being philosophically-profound as well as realistic in its imagery and depiction of technology. Decades later people are still dissecting and debating the movie, analyzing it frame-by-frame and constantly evolving new theories on its content. In his book titled Space Odyssey, Michael Benson throws his two cents into the pile, attempting to chronicle the magnanimous effort which resulted in one of the most memorable movies of all time.
His approach to telling the story of how the movie came to be is pretty simple and straightforward. He goes along in chronological order from the very first inception of the idea (which came in the form of an Arthur C. Clarke short story) all the way to the movie’s release and its effects on the industry decades later. Along the way we get to learn about the many people who surrounded the creators of the project, the ones who made it all possible behind-the-scenes. Many of his materials include interviews with people who were actually working on the project back then, including Kubrick’s widow, Christiane. Through their accounts Benson attempts to provide an all-encompassing view of the path traversed by the legendary movie, unearthing in the process many interesting stories which would have remained untold otherwise.
The Depth of the Movie Industry
To begin with, I’d like to establish my personal views on the movie in question. While objectively-speaking I can recognize the mastery involved in terms of visuals, storytelling and philosophical implications, I personally find the movie suffers quite a bit from its tremendously slow pace and seems to revel in vaguery a bit too much for my liking. However, this is only my personal opinion, and I have to say it surprisingly did not hinder me from enjoying this book one bit. Whether or not you would call yourself a fan of the movie, loving or hating it, one cannot deny how special of a project it is. From a moviemaking perspective, there is a wealth of interesting information to digest for anyone who considers him or herself a fan of film in a general sense.
The book offers many interesting little details, sometimes on the technical front, about how Kubrick managed to achieve what he did on camera, creating one of the very few movies we can safely say still holds up in the modern era. There are tidbits on the difficulties they had to overcome in a more technical sense, the clever workarounds they eventually came up with, and essentially-speaking, what goes on behind the scenes in the creation of a big-budget movie. We become privy to all the writing, rewriting, design, special effects, stunts, and music coordination processes.
Additionally, it offers a very compelling look into how an idea can blossom from a seed into something much greater than it could have ever hoped for. In my opinion, Benson did a remarkable job in showing us the evolution of a vision, how slowly but surely it all came together with careful development and nurturing. I think it serves as a welcome reminder of the fact that even the most ambitious projects began on the smallest of levels.
The People Behind the Screen
While Benson does pay a lot of attention to the technical elements of making this movie, he dedicates an equal, if not greater amount of effort to acquainting us with all of the people who actually made the realization of the idea a possibility. The author did a splendid job at gathering information, going above and beyond the necessary with his many interviews of the people who were actually working on the project. The tales they recount are often laden with honesty and nostalgia, demonstrating the human side hiding behind the mask of a big production. While I do realize many of their stories aren’t truly essential to understanding the making of this movie, they do add emotional elements which ultimately make the book a more enjoyable read.
More than anything, the author provides us some rather intriguing insights into the mind of Stanley Kubrick, a very intense artist who wasn’t always the easiest person to work with. Benson doesn’t pull any punches in telling things how they were when describing the relation between the director and everyone else around him, from the actors to the extras and various crew members. He takes the time to delve into the more negative aspects of undertaking such a massive endeavour, in the process helping us understand the inner workings of perhaps one of the greatest movie directors of all time. As a matter of fact, I would argue the interviews found in this book offer us quite a bit more information than most of the other biographical works available on him.
The Final Verdict
To conclude, if you are a fan of cinema, science-fiction in general, or the movie itself, then I will just bluntly say Space Odyssey by Michael Benson is a book you owe yourself to read. The amount of information it has on Kubrick, his crew, the cinematic industry and the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey is simply unrivalled.
Michael Benson is an American writer, artist, filmmaker and exhibitions producer with a BA in English and a minor in photography at the State University of New York at Albany. His life has led him to working in journalism, the movie industry, and book authorship. The various books he has written include Beyond: Visions of Interplanetary Probes, Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle and Planetfall: New Solar System Visions.