In reading and collecting literature about celebrated works in cinema, there is rarely a single book or other kind of publication that serves as a sufficient canonical archive of that film's production and legacy. Just look at how many "Making of Star Wars" books that have been released over the years. Taschen Publishing's The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' isn't the end-all complete chronicle of Kubrick's masterpiece on its own, but the 562-page tome proves more than a sufficient anchor for any completist's collection. I've been reading an early copy of this book this week, wide-eyed and mouth agape at just how much insight into the film's production history is revealed on each page.
This book is a re-release of an ultra-limited collector's edition that Taschen published last year--which also instantly sold out. While this book doesn't have the film stills and original screenplay/production notes printing that the $1000 edition included, it's a treasure trove of production material pulled from the Kubrick archives. The cadence of the book is perfect as coffee-table fodder: dozens of pages of narrative tracing the origin, production, plot, reception, and legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey in academic detail, followed by full-spread and fold-out pages of photographs, production designs, and promotional artwork.
Concept art and storyboards from the likes of Robert McCall, Richard McKenna and Roy Carnon show how Kubrick united astronomy illustrators with recruited aerospace engineers to design the visual language of futuristic manned spaceflight--at the same time NASA was reaching for the Moon. You get a sense of where designs like that of the space repair pod originated (inspired by a 1960's Boeing drawing). That artwork is paired with photographs of miniatures, sets, and costumes, in various states of competition and use. For prop replica builders, photographs from the sets give a close-up look at switch panels, knobs, display systems, and label text. A mind-boggling amount of detail.
While it's unquestionably a treat for the eyes, I was pleased that the book isn't just a visual record of the film. Writer Piers Bizony (who has written numerous space history books) devotes numerous sections to the technical details of the special effects and innovative cinematography techniques used by Kubrick and his collaborators. We learn not only how specific shots were accomplished, but where those technical achievements stand in the context of cinema and effects history. Motion-control, front projection, matte masking, and the slit-scan machine get their appropriate dues. This book gets delightfully nerdy.