The Lost Prologue of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick intended to start 2001: A Space Odyssey off with a very different intro.

Space Station in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Photo: WarnerMedia

Everyone who has ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey remembers how the film begins: following the majestic images of the Earth, Moon and Sun as Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” plays on the soundtrack, the movie segues into an opening segment showing how a tribe of primitive ape-men were inspired by the appearance of an alien monolith to pick up tools for the first time.

But that’s not how director Stanley Kubrick originally intended to start his groundbreaking 1968 sci-fi epic. While doing his extensive research and pre-production for the film, Kubrick filmed interviews with leading experts in the fields of space, science, religion and other fields.

While using these discussions (shot in black and white) for his own information, Kubrick also intended to edit them together into a 10-minute prologue.

The mini-documentary would feature Kubrick’s interview subjects speaking on the topic of extraterrestrial life, with the idea being that this introduction would ground the movie in real science and theory, before leaping into speculative fiction for the bulk of its running time.

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Kubrick did apparently create this intro and included it as part of a workprint of 2001 that he screened for executives at MGM Studios. After the screening, however, the prologue was among the first of a number of scenes that were cut from the film in order to get it down to a 160-minute running time (Kubrick eventually cut it by another 19 minutes, after its premiere, to the 139-minute final cut we see today).

The footage has never been seen and is now considered lost, although the text of it was transcribed for Jerome Agel’s 1970 book, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (selected excerpts can be found here).

2001: A Space Odyssey is already a fairly long film and a methodically paced one, so there’s no telling how this prologue might have worked had it survived. But it remains an intriguing part of the film’s legacy and its complex creation.