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Monday October 15th 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey | 1968

Minster Court, Mincing Lane, London EC3
2001: A Space Odyssey location: ‘The Dawn Of Man’: Spitzkoppe, Namibia | Photograph: iStockphoto / wayne10810

Stanley Kubrick’s acknowledged classic, representing a giant step forward in the way space movies looked, was made mostly at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, southeast England. The studio closed in 1970 and has been demolished to be replaced by housing.

The first scenes to be filmed, though, the visit of Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) to the mysterious monolith on the moon, had to be shot at Shepperton Studios, southwest of London, where there was a soundstage large enough to accommodate the vast set.

The backgrounds for ‘The Dawn Of Man’ sequence were shot in Africa but, avoiding the cheesy look of back-projection, the perfectionist Kubrick came up with a sophisticated system of front projection using a screen 100 feet long and 40 feet tall. Notice how the director cleverly keeps the hominids in shadow against the dazzling background.

The landscape shots were filmed in Namibia, southwest Africa, the world’s second most sparsely populated country is famous for its desolate beauty – Namib actually means ‘open space’ in the Nama language.

The area is the Spitzkoppe Mountains (Spitzkoppe is German for ‘sharp head’), is a group of bald granite peaks, or bornhardts, between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert. The peaks stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains, the highest standing about 2,300 feet above the desert floor. The rock arch is the famous Grosse Spitzkoppe Bridge, 12 feet high and spanning 78 feet.

The spectacular landscapes can be seen again in Roland Emmerich’s wonderfully daft prehistoric fantasy 10,000BC.

The alien planet surface seen as Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) passes through the Stargate are optically distorted shots of screen favourite Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border north of Kayenta, and the rocky coastline of South Harris in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.