Watch Oscar-Nominated Documentary Universe, the Film that Inspired the Visual Effects of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and Gave the HAL 9000 Computer Its Voice (1960)

Before astro­nauts of the Apol­lo 8 mis­sion took the Earth­rise pho­to in Decem­ber 1968, the world had nev­er seen a clear col­or image of Earth from space. That is if we dis­count the stun­ning space pho­tog­ra­phy screened months ear­li­er to the tune of the “Blue Danube” in Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film “used visu­al effects and imag­i­na­tion (both to a still-impres­sive degree),” as Col­in Mar­shall wrote here in a recent post, to make audi­ences believe that what they saw was indeed our blue mar­ble of a plan­et and oth­er col­or­ful points of inter­est in the solar system—on the way to a jour­ney into unchart­ed, psy­che­del­ic ter­ri­to­ry.

Eight years ear­li­er, film­mak­ers Roman Kroitor and Col­in Low used sim­i­lar tech­nol­o­gy, “real­is­tic ani­ma­tion,” writes the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da, that takes us “into the far regions of space, beyond the reach of the strongest tele­scope, past Moon, Sun, and Milky Way into galax­ies yet unfath­omed.”

Their short doc­u­men­tary, Uni­verse, may not be much remem­bered now—and may have been far out­shone by both real and com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed footage—but in 1961, it claimed a nom­i­na­tion at the 33rd Acad­e­my Awards for Best Doc­u­men­tary Short Sub­ject. “Upon its release in 1960,” notes Liam Lacey at The Globe and Mail, “the Nation­al Aero­nau­tics and Space Admin­is­tra­tion ordered 300 copies.”

Anoth­er of the film’s admir­ers also hap­pened to be Kubrick. Biog­ra­ph­er Vin­cent Lobrut­to describes the auteur’s first encounter with Uni­verse:

Kubrick watched the screen with rapt atten­tion while a panora­ma of the galax­ies swirled by, achiev­ing the stan­dard of dynam­ic vision­ary real­ism that he was look­ing for. These images were not flawed by the shod­dy mat­te work, obvi­ous ani­ma­tion and poor minia­tures typ­i­cal­ly found in sci­ence fic­tion films. Uni­verse proved that the cam­era could be a tele­scope to the heav­ens. As the cred­its rolled, Kubrick stud­ied the names of the magi­cians who cre­at­ed the images: Col­in Low, Sid­ney Gold­smith, and Wal­ly Gen­tle­man.

The film was in black and white, not the eye-pop­ping tech­ni­col­or of Kubrick’s mas­ter­piece, but he saw in it exact­ly what he would need when he began work on 2001. “After study­ing Uni­verse for much of 1964,” writes Kubrick schol­ar Michael Ben­son, “ear­ly in the new year Kubrick decid­ed to repli­cate the film’s tech­niques.” He tried to hire Low, who declined because of his work on “his own ambi­tious project: In the Labyrinth,” Lacey writes. He did suc­ceed in hir­ing Wal­ly Gen­tle­man, the spe­cial effects artist who brought Uni­verse’s wiz­ardry to Kubrick­’s film.

Kubrick also hired Uni­verse’s nar­ra­tor, Dou­glas Rain, the Cana­di­an actor who passed away this past Novem­ber but who will live on indef­i­nite­ly into the future as the chill­ing, affect­less voice of the HAL 9000 com­put­er, ances­tor of Siri, Alexa, and the many voic­es of GPS sys­tems every­where. Hear Rain’s cool, detached nar­ra­tion in Uni­verse, above, and see why this extra­or­di­nary film—with the Richard Strauss-like pound­ing tym­pa­ni of Eldon Rathburn’s score—would have inspired Kubrick to make what may rank as the most mes­mer­iz­ing­ly cin­e­mat­ic, dra­mat­i­cal­ly com­pelling, of sci­ence fic­tion space films to this day.

Uni­verse will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1966 Film Explores the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Our High-Tech Future)

How Stan­ley Kubrick Made His Mas­ter­pieces: An Intro­duc­tion to His Obses­sive Approach to Film­mak­ing

Stan­ley Kubrick Explains the Mys­te­ri­ous End­ing of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a New­ly Unearthed Inter­view

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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