2001: A Space Odyssey – Blu-ray Review
The rules of the 70mm Classics Series are simple: If it’s at least partially shot using 65mm film materials, then it’s fair game. This is different than movies that were blown up from 35mm sources or otherwise, and shown in 70mm theatrically.
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of maybe ten films or so that is truly a game changer. Before Kubrick and his team made this movie, sci-fi was a kid genre. Science fiction films were low budget, cheesy, and mostly B or lower tiered films. They were gear towards kids and teenagers, generally filled with romance, action, and less than stellar writing. Movies in the genre were stuck on monster movies and alien movies, and had generally stagnated coming into the late 1960s. Cue 2001.
2001: A Space Odyseey is a tough movie to describe. Even at its surface, 2001 feels so large in scale, and each idea that is explored so unique and thought provoking and independent, that it almost tells a million different stories all at once. One story focuses on, at its heart, the evolution of man; covering our past, and zipping ahead to what Kubrick, Clarke, and crew believe to be our future. Another focuses on an alien thriller, in which an object is discovered on the moon that leads a crew of Earth’s most brilliant astronauts on a secret mission to investigate a mysterious object near Jupiter. Running parallel to that, is the story that foreshadows our dangerous over-reliance on computers in assisting us in our daily life, and how we’ll be able to handle the emotions and thoughts of artificial intelligence in times of crisis. Kubrick juggles all of these stories, and more, in a slow paced movie, that relies less on traditional methods of storytelling, and more just exploring ideas and concepts.
Kubrick, and his team of young visionary filmmakers broke so much new ground sound design and their visual effects in 1967, in terms of their style and production value. Their vision of the future was one that featured detailed, intricate models. Their push for realism led them to create groundbreaking special effects, so simply attempting to imitate the weightlessness of space on a sleeping man’s pen. Each set is a work of art, filled to the brim with intricate designs and fascinating visuals. Its so easy to get lost in the world of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director of photography Gregory Unsworth and his team, using high resolution film negatives and razor sharp Panavision lenses, have crafted an ideal vision of humanity’s future, one that is clean and calculated, immersing us in a world that only science and math could have properly designed.
2001: A Space Odyssey is also a champion of incredible sound design. The movie’s soundtrack score, consisting of classical pieces such as Blue Danube and Also Sprach Zarathurusta by Strauss, feel so appropriate, and have become so tied to the world and ideas of 2001, that after watching the film, one might have a difficult time separating them from the ideas of space exploration and travel. Kubrick’s now legendary team of sound designers mastered the art of subtle sound. Major scenes of the film are filled only with the sounds of Dave’s breathing, some with no sound at all. The movie tends to exist on the soft side, preferring to speak its ideas in a gentle, soft tone, rather than screaming it in your face, like movies who have followed after it, such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
It is difficult to make an overall assessment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its influence is incalculable, and the ideas it brings to the table are so rich and thought provoking, that one can’t easily talk about it in a few paragraphs. The movie is, at times, rather slow, but it only serves to draw you further into its world. Long camera takes, minimal dialogue, incredible special effects, amazing sound design, mind-breaking ending, and an incredibly minimal, yet strong script make 2001: A Space Odyssey a must see for those who have thought that there might be something else out there for us in the universe, or even those who don’t. Its just that good.
2001: A Space Odyssey was shot using Super Panavision 70 film cameras and 65mm film negative, to give a theatrical aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The Blu Ray here is presented in 1080p with a letterboxed aspect ratio of 2.20:1 to preserve that presentation.
2001 was shot completely on 65mm film to be shown on the largest screens possible, including Cinerama screens, using special projection lenses to alleviate the distortion that projecting non-Cinerama caused.. The film’s complex visual effects were completed of course, in the photochemical realm, using a complicated combination of optical composites in order to give the illusion of space travel, and the later visually assaulting sequences in the film. Because of the high resolution of the original negative, 2001 has always fared pretty well, in terms of both principal photography as well as special effects photography on home video.
That being said, with very little information about the resolution at which this master of 2001: A Space Odyssey being available other than 2K DCPs floating around, and the age of this HD master dating back to late 2007, its safe to assume that this transfer for Blu Ray in 1080p was sourced from a 2K resolution file.
Resolution aside, 2001 generally looks incredible on Blu Ray. Grain is often light and sharp, imperceptible in most scenes, and often present in light amounts during heavily processed visual effects sequences. Principal photography is sharp and filled with detail. The lovingly crafted space craft interiors, space station habitats, and even set pieces such as the pivotal moon surface sequence are generally incredible, although the occasional shot does fall soft, most likely dating back to the source photography. Visual effects scenes are a little less consistent, with some of the seams showing pretty evidently during optical composites, and matte paintings showing their age, especially during the, “Dawn of Man,” sequence. On top of that, I noticed a few dings, and some weird black level inconsistencies during some of the longer space sequences. Overall, this transfer is excellent, but it is most definitely starting to show its age, and is in some desperate need of some tender love and care before I’m willing to assign it full star.
Originally mixed in classic 6-track magnetic stereo sound, with the five front speakers, and a mono surround, 2001: A Space Odyssey has been remixed into 5.1 DTS-Master Audio. No information is given on the source of the sound mix, so its safe to assume that they did not return to the original sound negatives created for this film, but used a later remix.
2001, as I said above, is a quiet film. Dialogue is often limited, and quiet, letting them music and atmospheric sound effects take the spotlight in this sound mix. The film’s score is often found bouncing throughout the entire 5 channel spread, enveloping listeners in the world of classic music. Dialogue panning happens occasionally, but in most cases, it remains inconsistent. Occasionally a voice will thrown into the left or right stage channels, only to be immediately centered within the same sequence of shots. Subwoofer activity is minimal, rearing its head only during the, “trip,” sequence of the film. Given the age of the source, and what its been through, 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t sound too bad.
Special Features and Packaging:
2001: A Space Odyssey, an MGM film released by Warner Home Video, has been released on blu ray in a standard blue keepcase. The artwork for the front is nothing crazy, with the title imposed next to one of the more abstract visuals from the film. The back artwork features a collage of various scenes from the film, and a large blocks of text describing the film, its special features, and technical information regarding the film. Nothing too crazy or memorable here.
As for special features, every single one of these features has been recycled from a previous release of 2001, except for an audio only bonus interview. The features are as follows:
2001: The Making of a Myth – filmmakers and crew members talk about how 2001 came to be, including lead actor Keir Dullea and visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull. Hosted by James Cameron, this one is engaging and informative.
Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 – filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas talk about how the movie has influenced their ideas concerning visual effects and storytelling. Good stuff.
Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 – this documentary takes a look at 2001’s vision of the future, and what they got wrong or right, and how well their vision of the future has aged.
2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future – a retro tour of the London set of 2001, performed by Look Magazine during the production of the film. Very period appropriate, and very dated.
What Is Out There? – a look at the deeper ideas, and philosophies behind the story of 2001, in terms of extra-terrestrial life, the existence of god, and more
2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork – Douglas Trumbull and other members of the crew, including Christane Kubrick talk about the astounding visual effects of the film, their origins, and their evolution into the final product we are familiar with today
Look: Stanley Kubrick – a collection of photographs that Kubrick himself took during his time at Look Magazine in the 1940s. Of all of the features, this one feels the most out of place.
11/27/1966 Interview with Stanley Kubrick – an hour and a half radio interview between Stanley Kubrick and physicist/writer Jeremy Bernstein. Fascinating stuff, probably the most interesting feature on this disc.
Feature commentary by Actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood – an entertaining feature commentary, in which the two actors share stories from the set of 2001, and background info on the production of the movie
Overall, despite the lack of new and substantial features that take advantage of the capabilities of high definition, this disc features a solid collection of insightful extras. The packaging however, is unremarkable, especially when held up to earlier releases of the film on home video.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a deep, complex, and often times confusing movie that asks questions that I feel we still don’t quite know the answer to today in 2016. That being said, the movie is an incredible spectacle, combining brilliant special effects and brilliant storytelling techniques to create a world that feels like it has barely aged at all nearly fifty years later. Unfortunately, the digital master of the film looks like it could use a new coat of 4K paint, with a visual transfer that is starting to show its age, having been prepared during the last days of the HD DVD era. The sound however limited to its origins, sounds quite good, especially at loud volumes so you can really sink your teeth into the classical music score. The extras are unfortunately all hold overs from previous home video releases of the film, and while they’re comprehensive, its all stuff that we have seen before. The packaging isn’t incredibly inspiring either, leading me to say that this Blu Ray release, while competent, really needs to be revisited some time soon before I can really say its something special in 2016.