Remember the early scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the newly-smartened proto-hominid beats the leader of the competing pack to death with a bone, throws the bone up in the air, and the bone turns into a spaceship? Did you know that spaceship was originally supposed to be an orbiting nuclear weapons platform?
I just though that was an interesting bit of trivia. The film originally set up a continued nuclear stalemate between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the first spaceship we see was meant to be a missile launcher. At the end, when Dave Bowman appears above Earth as the Starchild, he was going to detonate all the nukes in orbit, which I guess was meant to bring Peace on Earth. Or a massive EMP returning Earth to the Stone Age. One of those, probably.
Another holdover of discarded plot ideas is with regard to the famous match-cut from prehistoric bone-weapon to orbiting satellite, followed sequentially by views of three more satellites. At first, Kubrick planned to have a narrator state explicitly that these were armed nuclear weapon platforms while speaking of a nuclear stalemate between the superpowers.
This would have foreshadowed the now-discarded conclusion of the film showing the Star Child’s detonating all of them. Piers Bizony, in his book 2001 Filming The Future, stated that after ordering designs for orbiting nuclear weapon platforms, Kubrick became convinced to avoid too many associations with Dr. Strangelove, and he decided not to make it so obvious that they were “war machines”.
Alexander Walker, in a book he wrote with Kubrick’s assistance and authorization, described the bone as “transformed into a spacecraft of the year A.D. 2001 as it orbits in the blackness around Earth”, and he stated that Kubrick eliminated from his film the theme of a nuclear stalemate between the United States and the Soviet Union, each with a globe-orbiting nuclear weapons. Kubrick now thought this had “no place at all in the film’s thematic development”, with the bombs now becoming an “orbiting red herring”. Walker further noted that some filmgoers in 1968-69 would know that an agreement had been reached in 1967 between the powers not to put any nuclear weapons into outer space, and that if the film suggested otherwise, it would “merely have raised irrelevant questions to suggest this as a reality of the twenty-first century”.
In the Canadian TV documentary 2001 and Beyond, Dr. Clarke stated that not only was the military purpose of the satellites “not spelled out in the film, there is no need for it to be”, repeating later in this documentary that “Stanley didn’t want to have anything to do with bombs after Dr. Strangelove”.
Nothing in the film calls attention to the purpose of the satellites. James John Griffith, in a footnote in his book Adaptations As Imitations: Films from Novels, wrote “I would wonder, for instance, how several critics, commenting on the match-cut that links humanity’s prehistory and future, can identify — without reference to Clarke’s novel — the satellite as a nuclear weapon”.
The perception that the satellites are nuclear weapons persists in the minds of some viewers (and some space scientists). However, due to their appearance there are statements by members of the production staff who still refer to them as weapons. Walker, in his book Stanley Kubrick, Director, noted that although the bombs no longer fit in with Kubrick’s revised thematic concerns (thus becoming “red herrings”), “nevertheless from the national markings still visible on the first and second space vehicles we see, we can surmise that they are the Russian and American bombs.”
Similarly, Walker in a later essay stated that two of the spacecraft seen circling Earth were meant to be nuclear weapons, after asserting that early scenes of the film “imply” nuclear stalemate. Pietrobon, who was a consultant on 2001 to the Web siteStarship Modeler regarding the film’s props, observes small details on the satellites such as Air Force insignia and “cannons”.
In the film, U.S. Air Force insignia, and flag insignia of China and Germany (including what appears to be an Iron Cross) can be seen on three of the satellites, which correspond to three of the bombs stated countries of origin in a widely circulated early draft of the script.
They explored the whole theme of global nuclear destruction in the sequel, 2010, which seems silly now that 1991 has come and gone. It was still fun to watch Roy Scheider spat with a Russian-accented Helen Mirren.
Now that we’ve talked about 2001, I have to get Also Sprach Zarathustra out of my head (and into yours.) You can also learn a bit about the alphabet! This is from my first introduction to that musical piece, via The Electric Company: