If it is difficult to fathom that it’s now been five decades since the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey, consider this equally mind-melting fact: Stanley Kubrick’s film used absolutely zero computer-generated effects, with every visual trick done in camera.
That detail may be thuddingly obvious given the film’s vintage, but it is nonetheless astounding to consider while watching the film today – especially if you’re lucky enough to catch an upcoming screening of the film at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere, which will this week host a special Imax 70mm print of the film, with a restoration overseen by Christopher Nolan. Or, for those hoping to experience some 2001 nostalgia in the flesh, there’s next week’s Fan Expo, a celebration of all things “fandom,” where 2001′s stars, Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole) will appear to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary.
Ahead of their journey to Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, The Globe and Mail spoke with Dullea and Lockwood to talk about marketing, CGI, and an ironic fear of air travel.
What was going through your heads as you watched the film’s premiere in Washington, back in 1968?
Keir Dullea: It simply blew me away. I never went to the rushes [where daily footage is shown on-set], so I never saw a foot of film. Everything was a big, extraordinary surprise.
Gary Lockwood: Well, I actually had seen quite a few rushes, and I can only say I saw a lot of things there that were so fantastic, but never made it to the final cut. I think Stanley determined that certain surreal shots didn’t belong in the first section of the film until later on, when Keir is going through the stargate. But watching it during the premiere, it was everything I thought it would be and more.
Did you have any sense of how influential the film might become?
Dullea: Gary is a lot smarter than me, so he’ll tell you his reaction, but I just assumed it would get a lot of attention because it had this big promotional budget from MGM and Stanley was a big name. But you may not remember, the reviews over all were quite terrible. At the New York premiere, for example, 250 people walked out. Within two months, though, there were younger people – the generation who were protesting the Vietnam War – they were lining up for blocks. I think MGM had an idea that this audience was, well, they were smoking let’s say funny cigarettes. So they came out with a new poster two months later that said, “2001: A Space Odyssey: the ultimate trip.”
Lockwood: I was an artist as a kid, a painter, so I’d like to say I had an eye for, I don’t know, symmetry and art. And after watching The Killing, I knew Stanley was way beyond anyone else. So I knew this would be something memorable. When I got the offer to appear in 2001 from my agent, I said to my agent, “How much do I have to pay to be in this movie?” But yeah, when we premiered in Washington, and then New York, no one seemed to like it. But when we were heading to California, and I was sitting on the plane next to Arthur C. Clarke, who told me he couldn’t believe how brilliant Kubrick was, I knew it’d just be a mater of time.
What was it like working with Kubrick on the set? He has a reputation for being mercurial, to say the least …
Dullea: He was meticulous, there’s no question about that. He had an eye for detail beyond anyone else. But I loved every minute working with him. He was always calm, and never raised his voice. He was always also open to suggestion. It didn’t mean he’d use it, but you never felt like you were stepping on his toes.
Lockwood: Hail, hail Caesar! Yeah, I can only say that making a great film is an accident.
What do you think about the evolution of outer-space cinema since then. There’s Gravity, and of course Interstellar by Nolan himself.
Lockwood: To me, I can tell CGI, and it doesn’t ever quite work. I know it takes a lot of money, and people do a good job. But there’s a certain lack of reality about it. In 2001, it was models, it was all in front of the camera. I think no one will ever make something better. Well, in time somebody may, but I haven’t seen it yet.
You’ve both been making the rounds on the convention circuit for the past few years. Does it ever get overwhelming to keep revisiting that point in your careers?
Lockwood: Well, I also was in the pilot for the original Star Trek, so I’ve done a lot – a lot – of conventions. You get to see some actor friends, people you haven’t seen in years. Mostly it’s a piece of cake. The only thing I don’t like is flying to the venues. I don’t like to fly very much.
That’s a bit ironic given your most iconic role was as an astronaut …
Dullea: When we did 2001, there were actually three people who wouldn’t fly: Stanley, Gary and me. For the world premiere of the film, we all took one of the RMS Queen Mary’s across the ocean. Stanley was editing on-board the ship.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
2001: A Space Odyssey screens in Imax 70mm at the Ontario Place Cinesphere Aug. 24 to Sept. 14, except Sept. 8; Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood will appear at this year’s Fan Expo in Toronto, running Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.