“2001: A Space Odyssey” Opening Scene — How Stanley Kubrick Directed the Iconic “Dawn of Man" Intro

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A video essay that examines the key film directing decisions Stanley Kubrick made to create a "cinematic moment" in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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00:00 - Intro
00:44 - A Closer look at Kubrick
01:55 - Chapter 1 - Screenplay
03:34 - Chapter 2 - Breakdown
05:55 - Chapter 3 - The Shots
08:53 - More resources

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick crafted a sci-fi classic that asks big questions about human civilization. From our humble beginnings as nomadic hominids to our interstellar travels to Jupiter and beyond. In this video essay, we’ll step into Stanley Kubrick’s shoes (and what mighty shoes those are!) to see if we can understand the specific directing choices he made. Let’s look at the Dawn of Man prologue from 2001: A Space Odyssey through Stanley Kubrick’s eyes.

Before we can make any decisions in film directing, we need to look at the script. How do we take words on a page and turn them into images? For example, the black monolith that suddenly appears in the hominids’ world. In the screenplay by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke initially describes it as a translucent cube that acts like a television screen. Of course, this is not what the black monolith looks like in the final version of 2001 — this is a much more ambiguous and mysterious design.

As our lead hominid Moonwatcher sits playing with a pile of bones, the influence of the black monolith clicks. Moonwatcher takes a leg bone and discovers the power of man’s first weapon. To mark the significance of this moment — the literal Dawn of Man — Kubrick shifts the visual style completely. From static, wide and objective shots, we suddenly jump into more abstract and subjective imagery. Slow motion is added to the effect, amplifying the moment’s monumental status.

In 2001 A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick took a wordless prologue and crafted an unforgettable cinematic moment. In film directing, there are endless options at your disposal, including the framing, lens choice, music, and production design. If we can learn anything from how Stanley Kubrick directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, it starts by isolating each decision being made and understanding the role it plays in the overall presentation.

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