Weird Crap in Mike’s Place, #5
In 1968 Popular Science magazine ran an article on a new film by the always enigmatic but brilliant director, Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was known for taking on very few projects, but the ones he did would force people to sit up and take notice. Serious notice. His latest “picture” (as Kubrick and indeed directors of old would refer to their medium), was as enigmatic if not more so than Kubrick himself. Based on a short story by noted science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, the picture, er, film titled ‘2001-A Space Odyssey’ burst on the scene over 8 months before the first manned flight to the moon, and 15 months before Neil Armstrong’s “small step.”
It depicted a space faring nation of massive orbiting hotels, regularly scheduled flights to the moon and manned exploration to the outer planets. For the derision the overall story garnered from the press, Kubrick’s vision of the future of space travel was admired for its vastly different and imaginative look than the more traditional tin-rockets and loud blasts of flame in the vacuum of space that people learned to expect. For where others saw great power, he saw beauty. His spacecraft were beautiful, and the waltz they would engage in when docking with a space station or landing on the moon was as carefully choreographed as anything on a dance floor. Setting it to the Blue Danube heightened that vision. (Kubrick always wanted to use existing music for the film, but MGM told him that since they paid for a composer, to use him instead. Kubrick pretended to comply, but never used the the delivered theme opting for his original plan. So what happened to that music that was written for the film? It can be found on compilations of movie music, and with one listen it’s obvious why it was never used.)
The article I cut out and read over and over, showed among other things, the giant spinning centrifuge where the crew of the Jupiter-bound Discovery would live with simulated gravity, video emails, hibernating crew, and a main control center strangely devoid a traditional chaotic display toggle switches, meters and flashing lights (by comparison, the Apollo Command Module would sport over 550 switches and 24 other various instruments). Their computer, the infamous “HAL-9000,” would handle the various duties on its own from basic systems monitoring to major events such as Jupiter Orbital Insertion.
The family of spacecraft depicted remain as iconic now as they were in those first pictures, both in how realistic they were due to engineering driven designs, as compared to the stock SF vehicles. A total of six main spacecraft where created: the Pan Am Orion Space Clipper, the Space Station Hilton, the spherical Aries moon transfer shuttle, the moon bus for traveling from the Clavius moon base to the Tycho monolith, the grand and stately Discovery, and its spherical art-deco-ish space “pods.”
Of course with my interest in space and astronomy, my dad got us advanced tickets to one of the still operating great movie palaces in San Francisco. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but we had, quite literally, front-row-center seats. Made the monolith scenes just that much more creepier. And since the film was shot in 70mm Super Panavision, it was in effect, IMAX before there was IMAX.
But as much as the story bewildered me, the spacecraft beguiled me. During its run, the (now defunct) Aurora model company brought out models of both the moon shuttle and the Orion. Both are extremely rare, the moon bus in particular as it was on sale for a few weeks at best. But my interest has always been with the Discovery and its pods.
Many years ago, I learned of the “boutique” model shops that produce the kits that no one would touch due to complexity or limited markets. One such shop is Atomic City Models run by Scott Alexander, himself a former Hollywood model craftsman. And “craftsman” is exactly what he is. His models are highly prized and for advanced builders only. In particular he likes “studio scale” models, that is models large enough to be used in movies, and that typically means: huge. One such project was to do the entire suite of 2001 spacecraft in studio-scale. These would not be kits, but fully built as the interiors and many other details would be too complicated for all but the most advanced builders (as if his pod kit isn’t??).
He created two versions of the Discovery; one was 5 ½ feet in length. That was called “Little-D.” And why is it the “Little-D?” Why it’s the small one of course! That’s because his “Big-D” was twice the size, at 11 feet in length. Wow! Neither were cheap, the Little-D was originally offered for $2500 when announced in 2000, but now is available for $4500. Fully built of course. I understand James Cameron has one himself. A Big-D was on display at the San Jose Tech Museum in the year 2001, with their movie retrospective.
I had the good fortune to find one up for sale on eBay at close to the original price last year, so had to bite. Sorry for the poor photos. It’s hard to do the model justice without a good studio. But you can see that the Discovery is spectacular.
Should you want to order a discovery or some of his other models, mostly kits, be prepared to wait. Scott is a perfectionist in the extreme, and refuses to put a kit up for sale until it is perfect or as close to perfect as it can be. But the wait is worth it.
The only remaining model from 2001 that remains untouched is the Hilton. Scott’s just finished a kit of the large-scale Aries, in design for about 5 years, and is working on a kit of the Big-D command module (hmmm…if he’s doing a kit of the trickiest part of the model, can he resist doing the entire model?) Visit his news group at: http://atomiccity.yuku.com/directory#.Uy-kM9y5Vb5
Oh, and one thing Scott discovered as many others apparently have: the interior of the Discovery was far larger then what the spherical command-module could hold. So the actual “size” of the actual vehicle is often debated.
Anyone know how I could cat-proof the thing?
Oh, and the movie? It is typically ranked as one of the all time greatest films ever made. Depending on who makes the list, 2001-A Space Odyssey is invariably within the top-5, sharing the spotlight with the likes of Citizen Cane, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind and The Godfather.
So, where are the actual models? Any props and costumes from 2001 are extraordinarily rare. Prop collecting wasn’t nearly as popular in ’68 as it is now, and Kubrick insisted that all of the movie’s costumes, sets, props and models be destroyed when the movie was completed to avoid having them reused on other films as was very common practice. However a few photos shows the demise of the Space Station Hilton have surfaced (break out the hankies):
And here’s a scene in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. See anything familiar?
Now, where can I get a full-scale model of the monolith?