Total Film



In a film comprising images and effects that startle and wow at every turn, the biggest jaw-dropper of all is the set that is variously referred to as the Ferris-wheel set or the rotating set or the centrifuge set. It is the crew’s compartmen­t within the spaceship Discovery One, bound for Jupiter, and it was constructe­d at the whopping cost of $750,000 – about $6.5m in today’s money.

Kubrick insisted on absolute verisimili­tude in 2001: A Space Odyssey, from each button and bolt to every scientific doctrine, and Discovery One was constructe­d on the theory that artificial gravity could be created through centrifuge. As such, interior shots were filmed to give the illusion of the spaceship spinning, and British firm VickersArm­strong Engineerin­g Group spent six months constructi­ng a set that was 38 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 30 tons in weight. It could rotate at three miles per hour.

For the famous shot where Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) jogs circuits of the wheel, he was in fact running on the spot, like a hamster taking exercise, as the set revolved around him. Naturally the items in the room were affixed to the wheel to hold them in place as it turned, much as a similar technique had been used in the 1951 musical Royal Wedding to allow Fred Astaire to dance up the walls and across the ceiling. Rotating sets would later afford memorable scenes in three classic horror movies of the 1980s – Poltergeis­t, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Fly – and allowed for the headspinni­ng corridor scrap in Christophe­r Nolan’s 2010 action-thriller Inception.

But 2001 is the daddy, its various set-ups eliciting numerous gasps. For scenes containing characters on opposite sides of the wheel, one actor was always seated so they could be buckled in place and literally hang upside down. Meanwhile, two camera set-ups could be used depending on the effect required, with the camera either rooted in one place as the set glided past, or bolted to the moving set so it turned circuits; a 360-degree tilting platform allowed for the camera operator to remain upright as he span.

Filming of the centrifuge scenes took place in March 1966 at the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwoo­d, Hertfordsh­ire. Kubrick, a legendary perfection­ist, was, for once, pleased with the results. “It’s nice to get two minutes of usable footage after two days of filming,” he beamed.

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