By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE 1968 RELEASE OF STANLEY KUBRICK’S 2001: A Space Odyssey is generally recognized as a kind of fork in the road for science-fiction cinema, a point beyond which tales of space travel ceased to be the exclusive domain of bug-eyed monsters and disintegrator rays. Certainly, space films would continue to be made with the kiddie market in mind, but Stan’s Cinerama epic demonstrated that, for all time, that such movies could, actually, be about something.
Perennial oddball/control freak that he was, Kubrick resisted early requests to preserve the models and props that had contributed to “the ultimate trip” (as it was billed in the Age of Aquarius) by either ordering MGM to warehouse the things or see that they were destroyed, apparently out of a belief that the movie’s mystery would be diminished the more that audiences saw what lay back of the miracle. The missing pieces, of course, were thus catapulted, by this decision, to Holy Grail status among collectors, and discoveries of the original treasures remained few and far between for nearly half a century.
The lone surviving model of the Aries 1-B Lunar Landing Shuttle, produced for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, fully restored and on permanent display at the newly opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles ( Image by the author )
With the 2021 opening of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, however, 2001 fans have been given one of their first-ever chances of actually gazing upon one of the movie’s key players….a surviving model of the Aries 1-B landing module that carries earth scientists to the lunar surface to see, ya know, what all this “monolith” business is about. The prop’s strange post-film voyage begins with Kubrick apparently trading it to an art teacher in Hertfordshire, England in exchange for lessons for one of his children. As a consequence, before surfacing at an auction in 2015, the Aries model had spent some forty years in said teacher’s garden shed. The catalog in which the model appeared caught the attention of director Christopher Nolan (Batman trilogy, Inception, etc) and some guy named Tom Hanks, who contacted Kubrick’s original special effects wizard Doug Trumbull, who, in turn, verified the authenticity of the find. Hanks and Nolan then proceeded to pool $344,000 to purchase the model.
From there, since, as Hanks remarked, “I didn’t have room for it in my living room” it was decided that the shuttle was at least as vital to the history of Hollywood as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and so it was turned over to the curators-to-be for the museum being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (where Hanks sits on the board of trustees), who disassembled it, cleaned off scabs of ancient glue with cotton swabs and razor blades, restored missing components, even studied drawings of kits for submarines and tanks, both of which were idea sources for Trumbull’s design crew. Finally, the now-pristine model was artificially made un-pristine again, the better to simulate the worn/used patina it had in 2001, allowing the Aries 1-B to again trigger memories of The Blue Danube as visitors imagined it descending slowly to the lunar surface.
The protection of photographic history is part creation, part re-creation, part curation, and part sacred duty. Or as the Hal 9000 so eloquently put it, “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do…”