The 2001 File: Harry Lange and the Design of the Landmark Science Fiction Film

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The 2001 File: Harry Lange and the Design of the Landmark Science Fiction Film. Christopher Frayling, text and co-editor, with Tony Nourmand. Joakim Olsson, art direction and design. London, UK: Reel Art Press, an imprint of Rare Art Press, Ltd., 2016.


Harry Lange was one of three credited production designers for Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

From the legal disclaimer at the front of the book (all capitals in original): "This book consists of Harry Lange's archive, including preliminary drawings, paintings and designs at NASA," the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration,[1] "and for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, except where specified …." This is a substantial volume of 334 numbered over-size pages (29 x 24 cm) on production design, including a brief Bibliography; copious illustrations; and sections on "The 2001 File" (on initial recruiting for production design), "The Novel" and "The Screenplay" (quotation and discussion of the portions significant for production design), "The Harry Lange Archive" of drawngs, with stills from the film (in three parts: Odyssey I Into Space, Odyssey II To the Moon, Odyssey III Towards Jupiter), and "Odyssey's End," giving posters for the film.


Important work for studying how the film (and novel) deal with "Not just 'Man's relationship to the universe,'" quoting a recollection by A. C. Clarke on Kubrick's intention for their film, "but his relationship with technology and material culture and the future of evolution […]" (p. 16). The File lacks notes, and has only a Bibliography (p. 334), so we don't get the exact source of the quotation, but working with early drafts of the script[2] and Clarke's novel of 2001 and follow-up works The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1972)[3] and one or more of the essays collected in Report on Planet Three (1977) — which may be a reissue: Report on Planet Three (And Other Speculations) is from 1973 [4]File presents important background.

Citation issues aside, Frayling and Nourmand very usefully bring together the evidence for the original meaning of the match-cut where Moon-Watcher's bone weapon dissolves into a satellite: a nuclear weapons platform in early drafts. (Rich Erlich speculates that, similar to the climax of the novel, that satellite was the one destroyed by Star-Child in the antepenultimate cut of the film.) In initial conception, the First Weapon evolves into The Ultimate Weapon; in the final cut of the film, Moon-Watcher's bone lays the groundwork for technology more generally.

There would, though, still be a nod towards Dr. Strangelove in the original treatment for Journey Beyond the Stars [working title for 2001]. Part II, in space, would begin with the thought [in voice-over] that there were by now thirty-five nuclear nations, and 'it was estimated that the world stockpile was now sufficient to move the entire crust of the earth'. This survived into the 'production notes' of 1st June 1965: 'An Orion III spacecraft is making its way from Earth to Space Station-1. It passes two orbiting nuclear Space [sic on capital] bombs — one belonging to the USA, one to the USSR — circling the Earth' at an altitude of 250 miles. And even into the screenplay of 2001 dated October-December 1965, just before shooting began. 'Part II Year 2001' begins with a shot of Earth from 200 miles up, then of an orbiting thousand-megaton bomb, with Russian insignia and CCCP markings. Over successive shots of 'American thousand megaton bomb', the French, then German, then Chinese; the narrator spoke of 'the absolute and utter perfection of the weapon':
"Hundreds of giant bombs had been placed in perpetual orbit above the Earth. They were capable of incinerating the entire earth's surface from an altitude of 100 miles. Matters were further complicated by the presence of twenty-seven nations in the nuclear club. There had been no deliberate or accidental use of nuclear weapons since World War II[,] and some people felt secure in this knowledge. But to others, the situation seemed comparable to an airline with a perfect safety record; it showed admirable care and skill[,] but no-one expected it to last forever."  But the narration, so similar to that in Dr. Strangelove, and nearly all — not all — the shots of orbiting bombs, were to be deleted from the finished film version. Just two unexplained pieces of equipment in space. As Arthur C. Clarke was to put it, in the end, 'this was not really spelled out in the film': the celebrated cut from bone to orbiting bomb platforms still represented some four million years of weapons development and showed that the human race had not advanced that much. The movement from bone to bomb […] was one of redescent not ascent. But Stanley Kubrick had decided not to make 'an issue' of it." 


File is highly valuable for bringing together documents and discussion on the development of central themes in the film. On early work with IBM: "A crucial role for the corporation was to develop concepts for the the female-voiced 'Athena' computer aboards Discovery — mother of the voice-activated HAL 9000 — operated by Bowman (and Poole) from inside the machine itself." The final rendition of HAL was nothing like the original sketches in appearance, but the idea of the crew being inside the machine itself remained, to strong effect.

Before he turned to a serious reading of the text, Chad Dresbach examined thoughtfully the sketches and noted that the birth motif routinely mentioned in discussion of the film (e.g., by Richard Erlich in a film class taken by Chad Dresbach).

[T]he film starts (literally) with the ‘Dawn of Man.’ The flight of the Pan-Am shuttle into the space wheel (the dart [sharp, masculine] that is enveloped by the circular wheel [feminine]). The descent of the Orion lander into the depths of the moon, with a very pronounced red/pink glow (the egg, I guess, into womb), and finally the imagery of the Discovery in the long profile shot, essentially being a sperm-like structure.
So: but in the [Lange File] book - the Orion craft is probably the most ‘direct’ in terms of initial concept to finished piece. Discovery seemed to start off as something quite different. […] Point is: if, in early discussion, Kubrick had said, or hinted at “this whole big thing is about birth/rebirth” I’d think the early designs of those vehicles would’ve started off from a very different standpoint. But, they went through their own developmental process, and came from distinctly different (initial) designs." (E-mail, 18 October 2017) 

Dresbach's point is reinforced in the File text: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY did indeed develop, including in such basic ways at what the film was to be about, with births from "The Dawn of Man" to the quasi-mystical final birth of the beyond-Nietzschean Star-Child superman.[5]


The rest of the volume deals with less weighty matters but offers copious illustrations — literal illustrations and metaphoric — of technology in the film and the care taken to get the technology 'right': technically right and esthetically appropriate, and often quite beautiful.


RDE, Initial compiler, with thanks to Chad Dresbach, 17/VII/17, 17Oct17, 5Nov17