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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.20:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 84.13)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Italian - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
2001: A Space Odyssey (Remastered)
MGM/Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 143 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Of all of Stanley Kubrick’s films, 2001: A Space Odyssey is arguably both the best-known and the most widely discussed. Greeted at the time of its release with derision from some, puzzlement from many and astonished acclaim from others, it has endured for over three decades as a landmark moment in cinema, as well as being renowned as one of the most important science fiction films ever made. No-one has ever done anything like 2001, before or since - but many have been strongly influenced by it.

In 1968, when 2001 was released, man had not yet set foot on the moon - but the frenetic space race between the US and Russia to do so had been in full swing for some years, the astronauts’ adventures often making front page news; at the time, space was the next frontier, and many saw it as inevitable that one day in the not too distant future everyone would be travelling in space from planet to planet as effortlessly as they did in airplanes from country to country. Visionary science fiction author Arthur C Clarke was one who saw the possibilities that were unfolding; indeed, for many years in his short stories and novels he had speculated on what the future might hold, with a keen eye both on technology and the inquisitive nature of mankind. Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a science fiction film, and Clarke seemed like the perfect collaborator. Digging out an old short story called The Sentinel to use as the basis of a full-length feature film story, Clarke set to work with Kubrick on the screenplay for 2001, writing the novel (still in print today) simultaneously. It was a fascinating collaboration, to be sure - Kubrick the near-pessimist frustrated with the human condition, Clarke the optimist who saw the possibilities for an ever-expanding future achieved through human endeavour and genius. 2001 was always going to be a unique film; no-one could have expected, though, just how unique the finished film would be.

Though there is a linear story of sorts to 2001, it’s one which is driven as much by the imagination and interpretation of the audience as it is by the script. Opening at the dawn of man - when the process of evolution from ape to human got properly under way - 2001 posits a theory that the birth of the human species was not entirely nature’s own doing. This becomes clear millions of years later at the end of the 20th Century, when an unusual object is found buried under the surface of the moon - an object that suddenly sends out a signal in the general direction of Jupiter, prompting a manned space mission to the distant planet to find out what might be there to receive it. However, that mission is very possibly doomed from the outset, thanks to the inclusion on board of a malfunctioning computer - a machine with artificial intelligence and its own very distinctive personality.

If you’ve never seen 2001 before, it’s best we don’t give too much away about any stage of the film; if you, like this reviewer, have seen it many times, you’ll know full well that there’s a lot here that’s simply not stated. Easily Kubrick’s most obtuse film, it comes complete with an ending that is guaranteed to confuse the hell out of anyone who is used to their cinematic stories being wrapped up neatly and explained to the last particle of plot. 2001 is a film that asks the viewer to think for themselves, and it’s that very fact that makes it such a rewarding experience - each time you see it, you see something new. And everyone has their own personal interpretation of what the film’s climax is all about (though those desperate for a detailed explanation of the authors’ intentions should read Clarke’s book - unlike the film, it’s generally very specific about what’s happening throughout).

The film is divided into three sections - The Dawn Of Man sequence, the events on the moon, and the Jupiter mission itself. It’s the latter section that’s the most fascinating and compelling; Kubrick takes his time setting events in motion in 2001, but by the time the Jupiter mission gets under way, you’ll realise you’ve been hooked from the outset even though nothing much has actually happened yet. This is something Kubrick was notoriously skilled at - the visual style of his films so compelling you can’t take your eyes off the screen, and nor should you; much of the narrative is conveyed by images alone.

The music is all-important too - and it was in 2001 that Kubrick began using classical music in earnest in his films, with the entire score here comprised of existing pieces by composers both familiar and eclectic. As a result, the introduction to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra will forever be known to most people as the “theme from 2001”, Johann Strauss’s famous Blue Danube waltz will eternally conjure up images of elegant space travel, and the loneliness and isolation of the astronaut will recall the adagio from Aram Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh. The most startling music heard in 2001, though, is that written by Romanian composer György Ligeti, whose remarkable work has become justifiably famous as a result of its use in this film.

2001 was a landmark film in the history of cinema - it rewrote the rulebook on the art of cinematic storytelling for one thing. But it’s the visual effects that are truly gobsmacking - remember, this was 1968, years before any of the optical or digital effects techniques that are now so familiar were even invented. Working with a team that included Douglas Trumbull (later to do the effects for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), Wally Veevers (who ten years later helped make Superman fly) and Colin Cantwell (who would work on Star Wars a decade later), Kubrick created his images of spacecraft, planets, space stations and astronauts in zero gravity through entirely physical means. And ironically, it still looks more realistic, 33 years later, than most of today’s ultra-high-tech effects. Much of that likely has to do with Clarke’s influence - big on plausibility rather than pure fantasy, Clarke and Kubrick have the spacecraft moving as spacecraft probably really would if they existed, and in this film, space is, quite rightly, completely silent). Without 2001, it’s unlikely that Star Wars would have looked even remotely like it did - and indeed, a great many science fiction films would not have existed at all had 2001 not inspired them.

It would be easy to go on and on about 2001 for pages, but ultimately, nothing in text can adequately convey the experience of seeing the film for the first time - or, for that matter, the thirtieth. One of the most dazzling, innovative and daring movies ever made, it’s a true classic not only of the science fiction genre, but of all moviemaking.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

Shot on 65mm film, 2001 has always been a rather special experience to witness in a cinema, as long as you were lucky enough to score a reasonably new print in that format. The film was originally also released in Cinerama, but don’t be misled - while Cinerama was originally an ultra-widescreen wrap-around presentation format that required three projectors running three separate film prints, by the time 2001 was released it had been modified to a simple single-projector setup to both cut costs and solve technical problems. Billed as having been shot in “Super Panavision”, 2001 was filmed “flat” on 65mm, resulting in an aspect ratio of 2.2:1.

Previous home video releases of 2001 have been huge disappointments. Most VHS and TV versions are panned-and-scanned into a full-screen format (a veritable criminal act with this movie) while widescreen releases to date have been less than spectacular. A new transfer of this movie was desperately needed, and just in time for 2001’s namesake year, that’s exactly what we get here.

Presented at the correct 2.2:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, this transfer is absolutely revelatory. For the first time on home video, the film looks like it was intended to look - colours are accurate, the image is stable, there’s detail aplenty and there are almost no problems with scratches or other film damage. Some may be surprised at the relative lack of definition in some scenes compared to modern 35mm films; bear in mind, though, that after 33 years the negatives for 2001 were not in pristine condition, and some work has had to have been done to correct problems; what’s been done here is often quite remarkable. It’s unclear whether the video transfer was done directly from a 65/70mm source or from a 35mm reduction, but either way the result is spectacular. Black levels - all-important in this film - are spot-on, the many white surfaces are now actually white rather than a dull beige, and colours literally leap out of the screen - particularly the strong reds used throughout. This new DVD finally, after all these years, sees 2001 treated with the respect it deserves on home video.

There are a few small complaints, though nothing that really diminishes the impressiveness of the transfer. There’s more aliasing present here than we’ve seen on the other remastered Kubrick discs in this series, though it’s never especially annoying. And edge enhancement is, on occasion, a little too obviously overdone. But overall, long-suffering fans of the film will be delighted. This transfer is, by the way, of the original “roadshow” version of the movie, which had 12 minutes of music on the prints without any accompanying images - it was to be played while the cinema’s curtains were still closed before the film, after the intermission and as “play-out” music as the audience left the cinema. All of that is included on this disc, with the screen completely black (which will come as a big relief to anyone who remembers the old MGM laserdisc release, which added cheesy graphics to these sections - or to those who have only seen the film on VHS and never realised these music-only sections even existed, or indeed that there’s supposed to be an intermission!). The DVD layer change is placed neatly right before the music that precedes the second half of the film (the “entr'acte”) and will pass unnoticed by almost everyone. Interestingly, the second layer is encoded at a higher average bitrate than the first - probably because it’s shorter in running time, and of course contains the demanding-for-encoders “star gate” sequence.

The audio for this DVD appears to be a fairly accurate recreation of the 6-track magnetic audio used on 70mm prints of the film, with a little bit of tweaking thrown in for good measure. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, it’s extremely faithful to the original soundtrack - indeed, going by the amount of hiss in some places and the limited frequency response of the effects and dialogue in others, a 70mm print may well have been used as the source. A lot of work has gone into the EQ of the audio here, and the music in particular sounds better than it ever has - though not as good as it maybe should, with top-end response far more limited than one would expect for recordings even of this vintage (indeed, Khachaturian’s own 1962 recording of the Gayeneh piece used here - available on CD on the Decca Legends label - is much older but sounds full and resonant). It would seem that unlike the other remastered Kubrick DVDs, the audio remastering here has not extended to locating studio masters of the various music pieces used. Still, it’s a decent-sounding track, one for which some clean-up work has been done that’s truly appreciated - including complete silencing of tape hiss during the many completely silent moments in outer space. It’s also wonderful to hear HAL’s voice in full surround sound, as it was on the original 70mm prints.

Despite there being over 2 gigabytes of unused space on the dual-layered disc, there are no extras to speak of, aside from a theatrical trailer that has been transferred at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement and mono audio. Even the “awards” screens seen on the other Kubrick Collection DVDs is absent here, though the film won an Oscar for visual effects and was nominated for several others (also winning art direction, sound and cinematography awards from the British Academy). We’re sure many were crossing their fingers and hoping to get a chance to see the 17 minutes Kubrick cut from 2001 after its premiere; according to some reports, though, that footage has been lost forever.

The two-disc “special edition” that preceded the release of both the Kubrick Collection set and this disc itself offers, by the way, nothing additional as extras. Unless you really wanted to pay a premium price for a bonus soundtrack CD, a generic film “cell” and a few other odds and ends, this is the version to get; the disc itself is identical to the one included in the “collectible” box.

It’s the film itself that’s important, though, and extras or no extras, you’ve never seen 2001 looking better than this. And as one of the most important films in the history of cinema, such royal treatment is long, long overdue.


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  •   And I quote...
    "One of the most dazzling, innovative and daring movies ever made... this transfer is absolutely revelatory."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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