Monument Valley is a series of sandstone structures located on the Arizona-Utah border region of the Colorado Plateau. The area is defined by multiple sandstone monoliths, the tallest of which reaches one thousand feet in height.
The formation is featured in scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The science fiction film opens with humanity’s ancestors discovering a black monolith that gifts them with the knowledge to establish their dominance in the region. The film then immediately cuts to the far future when an identical black monolith is discovered by humanity on the moon, which in turn leads to Dr. David Bowman and his fellow scientists being sent to Jupiter. During the voyage, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), named HAL, goes rogue and kills the scientists and crew. After making his way to the ship’s A.I core, Bowman manages to disconnect and kill the rogue A.I. Bowman then learns of the mission’s purpose through a recorded message of a scientist involved with the moon monolith. After arriving at the planet, Bowman discovers a monolith in orbit, investigates, and is drawn into a portal where he sees visions of alien worlds. After this interpretive sequence, Bowman is transported into a series of bedrooms where he sees his future selves and becomes them. In the film’s final scenes, a bedridden Bowman reaches for a monolith at the foot of his bed and becomes a fetus like creature orbiting beside the Earth.
Although not directly referenced as being Monument Valley in the film, the image used portrays a vast alien landscape. The stargate sequence that the formation is featured in is already abstract in its presentation, and the oddly colored vistas aid in creating the atmosphere of the scene. The panning aerial shots involved flying low over Monument Valley’s desert landscape to avoid dangerous winds. The Director of Photography for this area of the shoot was almost involved in a helicopter crash during the process.
The use of Monument Valley and other western landscapes in film as alien worlds has been directly compared to how the West has been viewed itself. Kubrick specifically requested the use of the Valley, but later regretted using such a recognizable landmark. In Kubrick’s film, and other films hoping to depict space exploration, the Western frontier landscape has featured heavily as both an effective visual and metaphorical tool to reflect exploration in a wide-open alien landscape. Monument Valley has also featured in several other science fiction productions: TV’s Doctor Who and Back to the Future Part III.