To celebrate 50 years of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, distinguished film and TV creators spoke to EW about the movie’s influence on Mad Men, Blade Runner 2049, and more. With this kind of an impact, the legacy of the sci-fi classic is anything but monolithic.
One of the most influential legacies of 2001: A Space Odyssey is not what you see, but what you hear — or rather, don’t hear — in the film. The dramatic scenes in Kubrick’s 2001 were predominantly soundless, accurate of what space is really like. In Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) walks through a toxic, orange-glowing Las Vegas before finally encountering Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). To accompany the scene, the sound editors created a stifling, deserted soundscape by recording themselves dropping dust with their fingers. “There’s big explosions and loud vehicles and spinners, but we also have utter silence and bleakness and no sound events at all,” film editor Joe Walker said. “That comes very much from, if not 2001, then the films inspired by 2001.” For the baseline test in Blade Runner 2049 that gauges replicants’ emotional responses, Walker said it was “very hard not to think of HAL” as a computer eye “looks” on at Officer K while a faceless voice asks him questions. “Somehow just by pointing a camera at a fish-eye lens with a red light behind it, there’s nothing else going on with HAL but the coolness of that shot. If you could show somebody’s face in the reflection or what you cut to, you can show emotion,” Walker said.
Among the most striking images of Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral sci-fi film Arrival is the deep, heavy breathing of Amy Adams’ linguist, Louise Banks, as she enters the monolithic spacecraft to face the alien heptapods. “When she goes into those chambers for the very first time, that’s all you’re hearing — her breath quite close up and the hissing of the air inside her helmet,” film editor Joe Walker said. The scene echoes that of Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) in 2001 as he exits the pod and steps into space, unaware that HAL is about to send him tumbling into the deep, dark void — the only sound being Poole’s deep, measured breaths inside his helmet. “A murder scene is accompanied by just breaths. It’s a really breathtaking — sorry, that’s a bad pun — astonishing use of sound in that film,” Walker said.
In the seventh season of Mad Men, Don Draper & co. paid tribute to 2001 in the episode “The Monolith.” The IBM computer being installed in the office is called a “cosmic disturbance,” and the technician notes, “These machines can be a metaphor for whatever’s on people’s minds.” It’s a thematic nod to Kubrick’s exploration of technology’s relationship to humans. “2001 is designed for people to project their own interpretation of what’s happening to Dave,” said episode director Scott Hornbacher, referring to 2001’s lead character, played by Keir Dullea. IBM dominated computer sales in 1969 — the year the episode is set — but it’s also the same brand that played a key role in Kubrick’s film. Visual cues, including a scene in which Don (Jon Hamm) enters the office faced with a set of black elevator doors that resemble the titular monolith, point to Kubrick’s film. “It sort of evokes Dave alone on the spaceship,” Hornbacher said. “Some of this stuff is emotional or intuitive, not necessarily intellectual or visual. The approach on the show in general was not to hit the audience over the head with references, and more about tipping your hat to it.”
Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey many times in his life but purposely chose not to watch it as he concocted 2013’s Gravity. “I knew that it would paralyze me,” he said. But, he added, “It’s clear that its ghost was haunting me,” even as he tried to reference only real footage from space for his quiet, intimate tale of an astronaut trapped in her craft. “With his obsessive attention to detail and meticulous research, Kubrick was replicating reality, but by doing this he was creating a new reality,” Cuarón said. There are fleeting 2001 homages in Gravity, like a floating pen in the spacecraft, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) spinning out of control into space, and Ryan later taking off her suit and sinking into the fetal position in zero-gravity, reminiscent of 2001’s iconic star child, a symbol of rebirth. 2001 and Gravity share quietness as well as sparse dialogue: Ryan talks mainly to herself, to her equipment, and to the dead. “It’s not only a legacy of 2001, it is a legacy of all Kubrick’s work that, like many other film masters, he believes in the power of cinema as an experience that can convey themes through its own language,” Cuarón said.
No show has thrown in as much subtle and not-so-subtle homage to 2001 as The Simpsons has in its nearly 30-year history. Homer discovers how to goof off as an ape in front of a black monolith in “Lisa’s Pony”; during “Deep Space Homer,” after Itchy expels Scratchy into space, he chases after his nemesis in an EVA space pod; and in “Lisa’s Wedding,” Lisa makes a call on a videophone modeled after 2001’s contraption. Also, in November 2001’s “Tree – house of Horror XII,” Marge buys the advanced home-helping robot Ultrahouse 3000, which closely resembles HAL and comes armed with red camera lenses and the silky, calming voice of Pierce Brosnan. “The whole thing was a satire, where you have a HAL-like character in the house and he has a crush on Marge so he wanted to kill Homer,” showrunner Al Jean said. And don’t expect the 2001 references to stop anytime soon — there’s a scene from the Kubrick classic that Jean has recently taken a shine to. “In [the movie], you see two ape tribes warring with each other and then you cut to Russians and Americans talking in the spaceship and they’re obviously supposed to parallel the apes … That’s my new favorite scene, the Russians and the Americans acting really snooty to each other.”