Release Date: October 20, 2007
Rating: 4/5 /
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter and Douglas Rain
Based on stories by Arthur C. Clarke
Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke
Produced and Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
2001: A Space Odyssey deservedly holds a place on most top ten lists of science fiction cinema. With this film, Stanley Kubrick takes the art of filmmaking to a different place, using a science fiction concept as the springboard to compose a visual tone poem about the evolution of man. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Kubrick film without ironic musings about the inhumanity of man, but these are tempered by the cautious optimism of Arthur C. Clarke, whose stories The Sentinel and Childhood’s End were the inspiration for what he and Kubrick have created here. The plot is fairly simple. Beginning at the time of the Dawn of Man, we are presented with the notion that an extraterrestrial intelligence has been subtly guiding man’s evolution from a primate to his current condition and beyond. The symbol of this intelligence, a large black monolith, is presented to the characters and the viewer without explanation. It simply IS. No further discussion is needed within the film. As the film leaps forward by thousands of years in the space of a single frame, we are shown future man’s next encounter with the monolith and the voyage to Jupiter it causes. What happens when we arrive at Jupiter has been debated for nearly 40 years, and I won’t even try to describe it. Just watch the film for yourself and make up your own mind.
It is a pleasure to see 2001 in this new high definition transfer. The picture quality is nothing short of spectacular, and the audio is quite good to match. If you’ve never seen the film before, this is definitely the way to do it. And if you have only seen the film before on home video, then I would argue that you really need to see this transfer. It’s that good.
The current version of 2001 has been released simultaneously on all 3 DVD formats, each containing the same bonus features, but with the high definition discs containing 1080p VC-1 transfers and high definition audio.
VIDEO QUALITY: 5/5
2001 is presented in a 1080p VC-1 transfer that is a revelation to watch on home video. The high definition imagery is so clear and so detailed that the projected backdrops for the Dawn of Man sequence show lighting patterns on them. As I have found other reviewers have noted, I also initially thought there was some kind of dirt on my television screen, only to realize that the patterned ghost-like image was actually a part of the African photography used by Kubrick to fill out the stage sets used for the early sequence. I also noted that some shots are clearly designed for the curved Cinerama screen, particularly a cockpit shot of Dr. Floyd’s Pan Am shuttle to the space station and some shots in and around the pod bay on Discovery. On these shots, which are accurately transferred from the negative, the extreme left and right sides of the image appear thin and elongated. On a curved screen, these should actually appear normal. Since I am watching on a 40” LCD, that condition does not apply to me – but this is not a problem with the negative or the transfer, just a condition to note.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
2001 is presented in a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix in English, along with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mixes in English, Spanish, and French. Music and effects are used liberally in all the channels, including the surrounds. (And just as effectively, silence is also used here, for the vacuum of space) The voice of the HAL 9000 computer appears in the surround speakers, while the voices of the astronauts only show up in the front channels. And the subwoofer actually gets a workout here, partly in the repeated phrasings of Richard Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but mainly in the famous Stargate sequence, where the bass levels really come alive. As a sidenote, I realized in watching this sequence again, along with the overture and intermission, that the Ligeti composition used must have been the inspiration for part of John Williams’ score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Listen to this passage of music in 2001, and then listen to the music heard at the beginning and the climax of Spielberg’s film, and decide for yourself.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
2001 contains several special features, all ported over from the standard definition DVD. These include a feature commentary, multiple featurettes, the original theatrical trailer, and an audio interview with Stanley Kubrick. The materials are all in standard definition, and most are anamorphically encoded.
Commentary by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood– The feature commentary is included from the new standard definition edition. This is a scene specific commentary, edited together from separate viewings by Dullea and Lockwood. The commentary comes and goes, lapsing into silence in places as the men watch the film with us. Both men talk about their interactions with each other and with Kubrick, while describing how some of the more impossible shots in the Discovery centrifuge were accomplished. Both men clearly enjoyed working with each other and on the film, while acknowledging that they are opposite personalities from each other. In one of the funnier moments, Lockwood notes that Kubrick would regularly read the voice of HAL for him, and the two would compete over whose line readings would be dryer. There is one rough edit in the commentary, over the end credits. Dullea begins to discuss the life of an actor in the movie business, but his opening words sound cut off. Other than that, and the silences that come in and out, this is a fine track. It isn’t a definitive examination of the film by scholars, but on the other hand, Kubrick would likely prefer the audience to make up its own mind about those things.
2001: The Making of a Myth – (43:05, Anamorphic) - This Channel Four documentary from the year 2001 is included from the current release. It includes interviews with Keir Dulleau, Arthur C. Clarke, Douglas Trumbull, Ray Lovejoy and many others regarding the making of the film. There’s a lot of material here, including interviews with other cast members, such as Daniel Richter (who played the man-ape “Moonwatcher”) and Ed Bishop (who played the Pan Am shuttle pilot and is quite open about his dislike for Kubrick’s methods). Some of the material here is repeated in the commentary and in the other featurettes, but it’s still a very interesting look back at the process of making the film. One key point is that the film originally was intended to include a vision of the aliens at the end of the journey – but Kubrick ran out of time and money to make this happen. My only issue with this featurette is the music – it is very hard to listen to Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Blue Danube as rendered in this fashion on a synthesizer. And there is also one rough sound edit in the narration by James Cameron. While he is discussing the American and Russian space programs, very early in the piece, he is cut off in mid-sentence. It’s not a big deal, but it caused me to run back through the affected moment a few times to try to figure out what he was saying.
Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 - (21:24, Anamorphic) – This featurette consists of interviews with many other filmmakers who discuss their feelings about Kubrick and this film in particular. Interviewees include Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ben Burtt, William Friedkin, Caleb Deschanel, Ernest Dickerson, and others. Lucas in particular discusses his admiration for Kubrick in mounting a purely visual film with no dialogue in its first 30 minutes (or its last 20, for that matter). The interview clips are clearly drawn from the same sessions used for the featurettes on all the new Kubrick DVDs.
Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 - (21:30, Anamorphic) - This featurette primarily focuses on some of the technology shown in the film, and how the actual state of technology in 2007 compares. In some cases (the video phone, the look of the moon – which we hadn’t visited at the time Kubrick made the film), Kubrick and his designers were pretty close. In others (the moonbase, the large scale space station, Howard Johnson’s and Pan Am in space, and even the look of the planet Earth from space), the film shows its age. One very disturbing point gets raised late in the piece, concerning artificial intelligence. A prediction gets made that by 2009, a laptop computer will have the memory storage capacity of a human being. And by 2019, it could have the memory storage of the entire population. The obvious question gets raised – at what point does the computer gain so much knowledge and information that it attains sentience?
2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future – (23:10, Non-anamorphic) - This is a vintage promotional piece from the 60’s, featuring interviews with the various technical consultants on the film and a visit to Borehamwood, where the film was shot. Late in the piece, we are given a glimpse of the centrifuge set, and a few silent shots of Kubrick at work with television cameras inside the centrifuge telling him what the movie camera is seeing. This is an older piece of film, and its age is showing.
What is Out There? - (20:41, Anamorphic) – This featurette, assembled by Jan Harlan and his family, primarily consists of Keir Dullea sitting on the couch reading prepared text and quotes from various scientific luminaries on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Clips of Arthur C. Clarke from the 60s are included to help buttress the point. Dullea’s text mentions the original introduction to the film, with various scientists and experts discussing this topic, which was dropped for time. Since the footage no longer exists, all we have is the text that Dullea reads.
2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork - (9:33, Anamorphic) - This featurette begins with quick talks with Douglas Trumbull and Christianne Kubrick, discussing the design work that went into what eventually became the Stargate sequence. A series of the original design paintings are intercut with a couple of actual film shots and presented to the tune of Khachaturian’s Gayne Ballet, as heard in the film. (Of course, in the actual film, the Gayne is heard during the initial Discovery scenes, not during the Stargate, but it is a nice backdrop for the paintings here.)
Look: Stanley Kubrick! - (3:15, Anamorphic) – Stanley Kubrick’s early career as a photographer for Look magazine is featured here, as a series of his photographs are presented to the sound of a rousing score.
Theatrical Trailer (1:51, Anamorphic) – The film’s original trailer is included here. It’s basically a series of clips, to the tune of Thus Spoke Tharathustra.
1966 Interview of Stanley Kubrick by Jeremy Bernstein (1:16:26, Audio Only) – A vintage interview of Kubrick is included here, covering a lot of ground from his origins as a “misfit” in school, to his photography work and his film career. He denies being a chess “hustler”, as he did not present himself as an amateur just to con someone into playing him for money. On the other hand, he mentions being able to play for quarters and win a couple of dollars each day to pay for food. This interview has previously been available as a special bonus in the Stanley Kubrick Archives book, which also contains a transcript of the interview which cannot be found here.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Portuguese for the film itself, but not for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference, along with the usual pop-up menus while the film plays.
IN THE END...
2001: A Space Odyssey is a landmark film, and this transfer demonstrates how good a film can look on home video, even after 40 years. I highly recommend the film, and this HD-DVD.
November 18, 2007.