For many critics, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a boring, drawn out portrait of egotistical filmmaking gone awry. For others, it marks the dawn of a new age of creative photo-realistic special effects and operatic science fiction filmmaking. No matter which side of the fence opinions reside, there’s no arguing from either camp that 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most beautifully shot films of all time, deserving of a red carpet high definition home video treatment on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Revisiting 2001: A Space Odyssey with a few more years under its (and my) belt adds a deeper appreciation for what Kubrick was able to accomplish given the tools available to him in the mid-to-late 1960s. There are no digital effects anywhere to be found in the film. Not a single one. Anything that may appear digital is a full-size set, an insanely detailed model, or a series of time-consuming elaborate photography tricks. Yet, even today where artists crank out photorealistic CGI-imagery like an afterthought, 2001: A Space Odyssey remains the father and reigning king of special effects wizardry.
2001: A Space Odyssey has seen a rocky ride through a trio of DVD incarnations. Its debut in 1998 was plagued with numerous video issues, not uncommon for the digital format’s second year in existence. The subsequent re-master in ironically 2001 was an improvement, but still suffered from extensive edge enhancement. Not to mention the 2001 edition contained none of the extras appearing on the supposedly inferior 1998 edition.
With this new Blu-ray Disc edition, Warner Home Video has killed two apes with one bone, so to speak. I’ll be blunt: this new re-mastered high definition VC-1 encoded transfer is the best 2001: A Space Odyssey has looked outside of a movie theater ” period. Stanley Kubrick’s revolutionary special effects come to life with added detail and clarity completely lacking on the previous DVD 480p versions. New nooks and crannies on the spaceship models are now visible, as are faint touches of dust when a pen floats in zero-G gravity. The final chapter, beyond Jupiter, makes a statement not only in terms of storytelling and man’s destiny, but also in how good an older film can look in high definition. Most importantly, the irritating edge enhancement marring the previous DVD is nowhere to be found. Some subtle smearing and haziness during a small number of effects-heavy scenes, such as the “trip” sequence, are the only immediately detractions from an otherwise stellar and worthy video presentation.
Like many viewers, I find myself drawn to the “Jupiter” chapter for not only some of the film’s best effects, but also the conflict between human and artificial intelligence — between man and the HAL 9000 computer. Dialogue is extremely important during this segment, which unfortunately is noticeably overpowered by the score and sound effects. HALs voice is deep, clear, and enveloping in all its monotone robotic glory; however, astronauts Dave and Frank require volume lifts to clearly understand. In other words, keep the remote ready for use.
Raising the volume above standard listening levels isn’t necessarily bad with 2001: A Space Odyssey. In addition to helping correct dialogue unevenness, it fills a room with “Blue Danube Waltz” and “Also Spoke Zarathustra,” now synonymous with the film. The PCM 5.1 lossless audio track, while improperly mixed for dialogue in this reviewer’s opinion, does a masterful job of faithfully recreating the memorable symphonies with power and immersion. LFE also packs the appropriate punch when called upon, especially during the aforementioned “trip” sequence.
Those baffled by Warner’s decision to release a bare-bones edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey will be smitten with the attention to supplemental features from Warner. Although each is presented in 4:3 standard definition video which looks archaic next to the feature presentation, there is enough insight into the film to satisfy the most demanding Kubrick fans around.
Actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood sit down for a retrospective Feature-Length Commentary in their now much older age. The pair, led by more articulate Dullea, struggles with silence, random thoughts and narration at times. Lockwood especially likes to talk about himself. More informative information comes out as the film moves forward, perhaps as the actors relax and begin to enjoy themselves.
2001: The Making of a Myth (43:08) is a deceptive name for this documentary more retrospective than behind-the-scenes. Dullea, co-author Arthur C Clark and visual effects guru Douglas Trumbull reflect on how the film has impacted their lives and what it means to them. They also drop hints about the aliens in development that were never utilized.
Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick (21:25) is a tribute from the great filmmakers and effects artists of this age. James Cameron, several Star Wars alumni including George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Steven Spielberg and others describe how 2001: A Space Odyssey steered their early careers. Their work – the evidence – speaks for itself.
Vision of a Future Passed (21:31) is a prophetic examination of the messages Kubrick passed through 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how they’ve grown closer to reality over time. With each viewing I’m constantly reminded of how HAL is the precursor to Skynet in the Terminator films.
A Look Behind the Future (23:11) is an extremely cool tour Look Magazine took of the London set during production. All sorts of concept art and sets are on display, including the infamous “ferris wheel” ship set.
What is Out There? (20:42) sees Dullea, a regular amongst these featurettes, argue whether there is other life in the universe and whether there is a god. Eye opening statistics aside, I could have done without his conjecture.
FX and Early Concept Art (9:28) is a slideshow of various concept art not used in the film. There are some really intriguing ideas pointing towards an alien civilization such as an upside-down pyramid hovering over a body of water.
Look: Stanley Kubrick! (3:15) is another slideshow of Kubrick’s early photography work from the 1940s when he was still a student, as documented by Look Magazine. It’s clear he had an eye for visuals even as a teenager.
11/27/1966 Interview With Stanley Kubrick (1:16:30) is an audio-only interview in which Kubrick discusses making of 2001: A Space Odyssey with physicist and writer Jeremy Bernstein. The background remains a static image of the baby above Earth throughout the interview’s entirety, an odd decision for such a visually stimulating moving film. Last is the Theatrical Trailer (1:51), presented in cropped full-screen 1.33:1 video.
I’ve been racking my brain in search of an older catalog title more fitting for high definition home video than Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. No matter how hard I concentrate or how deep I dig, there simply is no better suitor for the format’s rich audio and video capabilities. With this Blu-ray Disc release, Warner has come astonishingly closer to delivering the definitive 2001 home experience fans have been craving for over a quarter of a century.
– Dan Bradley