Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Through the use of the written word mental images of places and landscapes (real and not real) are developed in books. These worlds can then be presented in a visual/aural medium such as film. 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick is based on the book, The Sentinel, written by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke’s use of descriptive words, mental images of landscape & elements, all assist in the journey of the story. Kubrick uses the combination of visual images, music, graphics and technology which allows the not real to become real. The film takes the viewer on the journey described by the author but with the use of other creative means to expand, elaborate and embellish the story told by Clarke.



Book: The Sentinel (Arthur C. Clarke), 1951
• Mental Images of Landscapes & Elements that assist the Depiction
• Use of Descriptive Words
• Real vs. Not Real

Film: 2001-A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) 1968
• The Combination of Visual Images and Music
• Graphics & Technology Used To Create the Movie
• Real & Not Real




2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is an epic film based on the book called The Sentinel written by Arthur C Clarke in 1951. Arthur C. Clarke when comparing the book to the movie is quoted as saying; “it is like comparing an acorn to the resulting oak-tree”. This quote is very true to how Kubrick has taken Clarke’s words and developed them into a classic movie of the era.

Book: The Sentinel (Arthur C. Clarke), 1951

The Sentinel (1951) written by Arthur C. Clarke is a science fiction book about a geologist, Wilson recalling his role 20 years earlier as a leader of a lunar expedition to a massive plateau, the Mare Crisium. During the expedition the explorers discover an artefact left behind by extra terrestrial’s eons of years ago.

Mental Images of Landscapes & Elements that assist the depiction

The descriptions of moon landscapes as told by the scientist are vivid and detailed in each element. The use of technical terms and depth of knowledge shared with the reader gives a real sense that you are observing, experiencing and part of the discoveries and the situation of those making those discoveries.

The book describes the geography of the moon in a level of detail that educates, informs and assists in building a deep visual picture of the environment they are facing. Through the use of colours (“blue-white iridescence as the sunlight” / “glittering enigma”); distance (“only a mile or two away”); size (“those mountains were tens of thousands of feet high”); height (“a six hundred foot drop”) and direction (“southern horizon”/ “thirty miles to the east”); all allow the reader to build a visual map to assist them in the journey of the story.

It is this map that the reader builds in their mind that takes them on the journey of the discovery of the Sentinel with Wilson.

Use of Descriptive Words

The book is written from a personal perspective and in the first person. This enables the writer to share the feelings of the discoverer. It immediately draws the reader into the excitement and trepidation that the scientist is feeling and the dangers he is facing. Where he states, “there are times when a scientist must not be afraid to make a fool of himself” indicates a level of honesty taking the reader on an intimate and personal journey. It makes the reader curious of the adventure and what the scientist will find, discover and fear.

The use of highly descriptive language enhances the visual image for the reader. For example, “the slow but ceaseless bombardment of space” enhances the visual understanding that the surface of the moon has been severely fractured by meteors over a long period of time, but Clarke has captured it with more poetic language. Another example of this which promotes an understanding of the physical and geographic environment through the use of descriptive language is “we never knew, as we rounded the capes and promontories of the vanished sea, what new splendours would be revealed to us”. It also creates a feeling of awe for the unknown, and a curiosity of what we (Wilson) will find in our endeavours.

Clarke also uses simple words to paint a mental picture of the lunar landscape. The description of moon landscapes as told by Wilson are detailed and comprehensive in each element covered. The use of simple descriptive words in explaining the geography and Wilson’s feelings, connects the reader with the experience, for example, “One could never grow tired of those incredible mountains, so much more rugged than the gentle hills of Earth.”

Developing Wilson’s characterization and the use of dialogue throughout “The Sentinel” are very minimal despite the book being written in the first person. The reader is told hardly anything about Wilson other than his name and none of his credentials as an explorer are shared. The other only other named character in the story is Garnett and the reader is not enlightened on any details of his involvement in the narrative. The minimal use of characters and dialogue emphasizes the theme and mood of the story. Despite this, the author shares Wilson’s emotions as he realises that his hunch was correct (that there is something up in the mountains that is catching his attention) – he is taken with the moment and forgets all else as he includes his companion on the expedition. This leaves the reader with the understanding of the enormity of this discovery.

Real vs. Not Real

In the era that this book was written space exploration had not yet begun and mankind had not landed on the moon. Any knowledge the author had of space travel and the moon had to be assumed was gained by the telescopic evidence available in the period before the book was published (1951). The author shared his use of imagination and highly descriptive geographic story telling to elaborate and take the original reader (back in 1951) to a place no one knew was real.

To every one of the time of the book’s release, the moon and its landscape was not real. This is in the sense no one had ever stepped foot, explored, or taken samples of sediments on the moon. It was a light in the sky that for years has been a thing of wonderment and scientific curiosity. It was and is a part of storytelling, history and magic. The moon is still not real to most humans other than that light in the sky, but there is plenty of proof and far more scientific information now than was available in 1951. The author has displayed the ability to transform the not real, the unknown into a personal reality with a sense of being present on the journey through the use of descriptive words and first person language and first person perspective.

Film: 2001-A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick is an epic science fiction film. The film contains major themes such as human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial life. The movie uses incredible visual storytelling with a combination of amazing music for dramatic effect.

The movie, like the book was filmed and released prior to the first landing on the moon by mankind in 1968. The film takes the viewer on the journey described by the author but with the use of other creative means to extend, elaborate and embellish the story told by Clarke. Kubrick has used Clarke’s 1951 book “The Sentinel” and expanded on it to produce the film. Arthur C. Clarke is quoted as saying; it is like comparing “an acorn to the resulting oak-tree”. As mentioned previously this is a true summation of the way Kubrick has taken this story and developed it into a 141 minute movie and made it an all time epic movie that won Academy Awards.

The combination of visual images and music

The stark visual images used in any of the three sections (Dawn of Man, TMA-1 and Jupiter & Beyond the Infinite) of the film are accompanied by strong music or the use of silence. This engages the viewer to think and allow them to observe the stark isolation of the moon’s environment.

The impact of strong and stunning visual images is a major part of the film. During the first and last twenty minutes of the movie there are no words spoken, just brilliant visual images combining with engaging music and sound effects. Within the story of the apes the use of music during this sequence grabs the viewer’s attention. Music is critical in creating the emotion of the scene where the ape first discovers tools. This is the moment when mankind stands apart from other animals in the evolution of nature on earth. The scene concludes with the ape throwing the bone into the air accompanied by exhilarating and triumphant music. Kubrick then cleverly cuts to the next part of the film in outer space with a fitting musical track.

The pace of the film appears slow but this was quite deliberate by Kubrick as it was to illustrate to the viewer the physical realties of space. In one scene where the docking of the spacecraft took approximately 15 minutes shows a more accurate reality of space travel. This pace is continued throughout the film to enhance the effect and notion of the exploration and silence of space.

The pauses used through the use of a black screen with silence during the movie add to the drama of the scenes. Kubrick uses this technique to grab the viewer’s attention before the next sequence.

Graphics & Technology used to create the Movie

The graphics and technology used to create the movie were considerably advanced for the time. It appears the movie was produced through the use of a set rather than CGI. Developments in computer graphics have improved dramatically in movies produced today. However if created using the technology available now there wouldn’t be considerable difference in the end product. This is in terms of the depiction of the lunar landscape as the set created for the film’s production in 1968 was of such a high standard. The quality of the reproduction was far ahead of its time.

Real & Not Real

At the time the movie was created mankind had never set foot on the moon. Kubrick uses his imagination and Clarke’s book to create something that is not real. We are in the fortunate position 38 years later to know what the moon looks like and Kubrick has done justice to the knowledge that was available at the time to make the moon’s landscape as real as we know it to be today.

The film’s depiction of space travel, which at the time had not yet taken place, takes the viewer on the journey to a destination that wasn’t real at the time but turned out to be very realistic.

Kubrick was able to look to the future and presented many technologies that are a reality today but in 1968 would have been innovative and created a drama. From the webcam, video messaging and to the design of the International Space Station. However the interesting area he did not see would change from the present of 1968 was the clothing the characters wore, it was very much the fashion of the 60’s and there were little advancements or changes in this area.


In conclusion, both the book and film provide images of places real and not real but in different communication mediums. Clarke’s use of descriptive words to enhance the mental images of the landscape, first person language and first person perspective all assist in the journey of the story. In doing this he transformed the unknown into a personal reality with a sense of being present on the journey for the reader.

The film takes the viewer on the journey described by the author but with the use of other creative means to extend, elaborate and embellish the story told by Clarke. The books graphic and detailed description has assisted Kubrick’s ability to create such a film. Kubrick created the lunar landscapes as described in the book and generated the not real to be real leaving the viewer with no doubt his depiction could one day be our reality. His use of audio and visual elements also added dramatic effect to the film. Kubrick has taken the short story of the Sentinel and made it an all time blockbuster movie.



The Sentinel, Arthur C. Clarke, 1951


2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968






http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_(film) )