Open the Salt Mine Doors Please, HAL

Stanley Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist, often known to fine-tune his movies right up to the last minute, and sometimes beyond. For his masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, the director actually cut 19 minutes out of the film after its premiere screening. Until now, that footage was feared lost forever. In fact, legend had it that Kubrick burned all of the footage to ensure that it would never be seen again. However, new rumors are claiming that Warner Bros. has located the majority of it in a Kansas salt mine.

Since this news broke last week, I’ve been trying to track down the original source of the story. Mostly what I’ve found are a lot of blogs linking to other blogs linking to other blogs, ad infinitum. From the best that I’ve been able to determine, the story originated with this post on a ‘Space: 1999’ fan forum, in which a poster from Toronto talks about a special presentation that special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull hosted on December 9th.

Great presentation from Mr. Trumbull tonight. He showed many behind the scenes photos recently unearthed from the Kubrick archive that I’d never seen before ( no photography at the presentation were allowed but it was recorded for posterity ) – the Orion receiving final tweaks from a modeller with the “collar” of the 15′ Discovery on a shelf above his right shoulder. The Moonbus on its TMA landing pad with the support stand visible. A couple of shots of the Aries 1B with three model makers standing around – it looks almost finished but un-painted. Several shots of the 15′ Discovery in an earlier incarnation getting kit parts attached – Trumbull said that a bunch of art students were employed in shifts running around the clock detailing the models.

I got the feeling that many of these shots will appear in the upcoming book being put together by Dave Larson. Unfortunately, he informed us that Warners have pulled the plug on the 2001 documentary the he was planning – both financially and from a rights standpoint.

He also informed us that the 17 minutes that Kubrick cut from 2001 shortly after the film’s release have been found by Warners in their vault in a salt mine in Kansas. These cut scenes are perfectly preserved in CMY component negatives. Trumbull has no idea of what Warners plans to do with them.

While I’d love to take this account at face value, I’m still trying to dig up a reputable source who can confirm that the writer didn’t just misinterpret something that Trumbull said. I asked a friend who’s a film critic in Toronto, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to attend that night. He’s currently asking around to others he knows who might have been there.

As the writer mentioned, Trumbull had been working with filmmaker David Larson on a comprehensive documentary to be called ‘2001: Beyond the Infinite – The Making of a Masterpiece‘. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. recently canceled that project, so two men are currently compiling much of the research into a photo book instead.

As to what will happen to those newly-found 17 minutes of deleted footage from the film, that has yet to be determined. Presumably, Warner may reissue the movie on video (hopefully on Blu-ray) as a “Special Edition” with the material as a supplement. The studio may even try to prepare a longer cut of the film. This is just speculation, though.

IMDb has a list of what was cut after the premiere:

The film originally premiered at 160 minutes. After the premiere, director ‘Stanley Kubrick’ removed about 19 minutes’ worth of scenes and made a few changes:

  • Some shots from the “Dawn of Man” sequence were removed and a new scene was inserted where an ape pauses with the bone it is about to use as a tool. The new scene was a low-angle shot of the monolith, done in order to portray and clarify the connection between the man-ape using the tool and the monolith.
  • Some shots of Frank Poole jogging in the centrifuge were removed.
  • An entire sequence of several shots in which Dave Bowman searches for the replacement antenna part in storage was removed.
  • A scene where HAL severs radio communication between the “Discovery” and Poole’s pod before killing him was removed. This scene explains a line that stayed in the film in which Bowman addresses HAL on the subject.
  • Some shots of Poole’s space walk before he is killed were removed.

All of this begs the question of whether Stanley Kubrick would approve were he still alive. Kubrick was one of those filmmakers who didn’t like audiences to know the details about how movies are made. He believed that such knowledge destroyed the magic of cinema. When he worked with the Criterion Collection on the Laserdisc editions of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and ‘2001’ back in the day, he only approved the inclusion of supplements about the Cold War and the space race respectively – material that provided context for the stories but told nothing about how the movies were made. In fact, Criterion’s first pressing of the ‘Dr. Strangelove’ LD included a text copy of an early script draft that was radically different than the finished film. (It opened and closed with aliens in the distant future visiting the charred wreckage of Earth and excavating artifacts of our lost civilization.) When Kubrick found out about this, he demanded that Criterion pull the disc from circulation. Subsequent pressings dropped the script.

As a film lover, I’d like to see the footage anyway, regardless of Kubrick’s wishes. However, if Warner tries to make an extended cut of the movie itself, I would certainly hope that the Kubrick’s original theatrical cut remains the primary archival version of the film for posterity.

In case you’re wondering how that footage wound up in a salt mine in Kansas, it seems that salt mines are actually widely used as storage facilities. Once they’ve finished being mined, they’re humidity-free, have stable temperature, and are easy to control or limit access. As such, they make a perfect storage environment for things like government records or TV and film footage. One mine even runs an Underground Salt Museum open to the public with a great deal of movie memorabilia on display.

7 comments

  1. If true, it would be incredible news. I’m not sure if it’s something I’d like to see re-inserted as an alternate version (Though perhaps fun, as long as the original cut is always the primary choice), but I sure as hell would like to see the deleted footage. When it comes to older films, where behind the scenes or deleted material wasn’t kept for the reasons it is now, it makes it all the more fascinating to see. Especially in the case of a classic like 2001.

    It’s a damn shame that Warner pulled the plug on Larson’s documentary, especially since he was working with Trumbull. Here’s hoping they change their minds!

  2. On my parents’ first date, my dad took my mom to ‘2001.’ If I know anyone that wants this extra 17 minutes of footage to stay buried it’s her – I can’t believe dad got a second date.

    I’m fascinated by the idea of the extra material, but what really captures my imagination is the reveal of the salt mines. I might have to take a vacation to see the museum. After all, they’ve got Arnold’s suit from ‘Batman and Robin,’ and I need to know what its like to be in the presence of such greatness 🙂

  3. Robert Harris has confirmed that this is true on a couple of forums, although he’s also saying that nothing was really ‘rediscovered’. (Warner always knew it was there; Harris catalogued it himself twenty years ago.)

  4. As a Kansas resident, I’ve been down in the salt mine museum several times. It’s actually a really great experience… lots of fascinating movie memorabilia down there! Anyone who lives near Hutchinson, Kansas, should experience it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.