Every once in a while I read about a museum exhibition that sounds so tantalizing it motivates a desire to take a trip just to see it. So it is with an exhibit that is opening this weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York called Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey.
Of course, the exhibit is about 2001: A Space Odyssey — a masterpiece that is now generally considered one of the greatest films ever made. (The British Film Institute’s critics poll, for example, ranks the film as number 6 on the top 100 list of the greatest films of all time.) Anyone who’s watched the movie — and if you haven’t, you really should — has been mesmerized by the story, the soundtrack, and the many memorable scenes. From the early ape-like human ancestors stroking the colossal object and learning how to use bones as weapons, to the discovery of the object on the moon, to the docking of the shuttle and the space station set to the strains of The Blue Danube waltz, to the exploits of the murderous HAL computer on the voyage to Jupiter, to the final mystifying scenes with the Starchild and the Stargate, 2001 is a mind-blowing adventure and feast for the senses. And as you watch, you wonder: what in the world (or, more appropriately, beyond the world) is happening here? It’s hard to believe that many critics at the time of its release panned the movie and didn’t recognize its epic scale and greatness — but often the influential scope of books, movies, artistic movements, music, and other creative endeavors aren’t fully appreciated until years later.
The new exhibit offers a peek at the models used in the film’s ground-breaking special effects, the ape costumes worn by actors, and the spacesuits designed for the Jupiter voyage, but the real focus is on digging into what Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were trying to convey — and how they got there. When you get a chance to look at how a classic was created, how can you resist?