Judge Ryan Keefer also pitches in to right a wrong and make DVD Verdict the last site to write a positive review of 2001. For all mankind.
Our reviews of TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Sci-Fi (published September 25th, 2009), 2001: A Space Odyssey: Two-Disc Special Edition (published November 12th, 2007), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (published June 12th, 2001) are also available.
"Essentially the film is a mythological statement. Its meaning has to be found on a sort of visceral, psychological level rather than in a specific literal examination."
- Stanley Kubrick, in a 1969 New York Times interview
You've heard all the statements. It's changed the landscape and language of film, the perception and limitations of man. What is accomplished, or can be accomplished. It raised the bar of expectations for Stanley Kubrick from accomplished auteur to flat out visionary. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most critically praised film to arrive on both high definition platforms, so is it worth the money?
Facts of the Case
By now, everyone should know how the movie rolls, but just in case you don't, Kubrick adapted the book from Arthur C. Clarke, which starts off with the dawn of man (still in ape form) as they discover a mysterious small black object. Fast forward several million years and all to an era where trips to the moon are commonplace. Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester, You Only Live Twice) is dispatched to the moon because of a similarly mysterious black object on the moon's surface. Eighteen months later, astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea, The Good Shepherd) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood, The Wild Pair) are on a voyage to Jupiter, when their onboard computer has a failure that could jeopardize both the mission and the crew's safety.
Seriously, how does one write about 2001 without looking like a complete Richard? The movie is subject to a lot of interpretation in various circles. I kind of like the fact that people discuss its opinions and messages, and everyone seems to have a take, whether it's technology versus religion, or creation versus evolution. The few tangible sequences in the film are intended I think to not completely disorient the viewer and leave them floundering in a presumably incoherent silence, some of which occurs in the first twenty five minutes and makes people wonder.
But let's take a look at some of the interpretations of the film, shall we? Among the many in an article by Margaret Stackhouse, published in "The Stanley Kubrick Archives" include things like the scene where the goblet that the older Dave is drinking from is broken (which "may imply that man's failures will continue forever"), or the larger theme of futility, which she talks about, surrounding the death that man causes. Or perhaps the monolith is man's quest for knowledge, appearing and reappearing throughout time. It's quite a fascinating and in-depth article, one that I'm clearly not doing enough justice, but if you can find it, it's worth reading.
Kubrick's vision is a compelling one, in large part because of the extraordinary attention to detail he employed in getting things right from a technical perspective. It's amazing that he wasn't completely far off in accuracy on a lot of these things. When NASA names their spacecraft after that found in 2001, it's both a testament to their legacy and a thanks for giving the "space people" a chance to stand out. The thing that's sad, and I think Ben Burtt (Star Wars) says this in one of the supplements on the disc, one of the things that's hampered man's progress in space exploration over the years is the cynicism, the simple fact that once we went to the moon, we haven't done a lot of exploration since. It's like walking outside to get the mail every day without ever breaking routine, while occasionally walking to the end of the block. If you take a tour to Cape Canaveral or any other astronomy-centered facility, and the detail and passion with which they make the discussions makes you want to see more of what's out there, the next logical step is doing it.
One of the great things when this set was first announced was hearing that it would be available on the high definition formats. And while the other Kubrick films have looked fine either in the HD-DVD red or the Blu-ray blue, this 2.20:1 VC-1 encoded widescreen looks fantastic. The space scenes are as expected, with rock solid blacks and the Star Gate sequence is vivid as can be, but the real revelation was in the "Dawn of Man" sequences, where the early shots extend as far as the horizon. This older catalog title is served well in high definition. The PCM soundtrack does bring a little bit of life into the stodgy old sound elements, but since everything is relatively quiet in the film, it's all the same here.
The supplements are bountiful, starting with a commentary from Dullea and Lockwood. It's a slight bummer that the pair weren't recorded together, as there are long gaps of silence during the track, but each shares their thoughts on getting the roles for the film. Dullea recalls how Kubrick got some of the shots together and generally seems to know and be more familiar with the source material than Lockwood, while Lockwood seems to be a little more familiar with the production and discussing the legacy of the film. They both speculate on some of the shots in the film and the meaning of the film itself. Overall the track is fine, although nothing too revelatory. The supplements are the most abundant among the Kubrick re-releases. "2001: The Making of a Myth" is a forty-five minute look at the impact of the film, with an introduction to and hosted by James Cameron (Titanic). The piece includes interview footage from Clarke, who discussed his book and how it came to Kubrick, and various crew members involved with the visual effects of the film discuss how they came to the production and their thoughts on it, and break down a couple of the more memorable scenes from the film. Some of the cast recall their time on the set, and the technology of the film is shown then compared to now. For novelties' sake, Dullea re-enacts some of the scenes in the present day for whatever reason, and he recalls his work with Kubrick some more as well. It's a pretty decent piece. "Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001" is a look at the film by some of his peers, like Steven Spielberg, some of the Lucasfilms visual effects team (not to mention George Lucas), critics such as Roger Ebert, and a who's who of industry professionals talk about what made 2001 so memorable.
But wait, there's more! "Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001" discusses how right on the technology was (or was not, in some cases), with discussions by Clarke and others on thoughts of things like lunar landings and advancements in technology, and it proves to be an interesting topic. "2001: A Space Odyssey—A Look Behind the Future" is a look at the film by the editors of a publication entitled Look! (which, not coincidentally, was a publication Kubrick worked on as a photographer growing up). After seeing similar promotional pieces from the age, I remember how silly some of these things are in design and execution, but it's a well-meaning cute piece. "What Is Out There?" examines the philosophical themes in the film, hosted by Dullea, or I should say with Dullea obviously reading a written statement about some trivia on the film, edited in with some archived interview footage from Clarke. A montage of effects artwork with discussion from effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull is next, followed by a gallery of stills set to the score. "Look: Stanley Kubrick" is a montage of Kubrick's photos while working for the magazine. The biggest surprise is to have an audio interview on the disc from Kubrick, conducted while presumably filming the picture in 1966. It sounds like the tape is mostly audible on the Kubrick side of things, so it's hard to make out the questions, but he manages to talk about his youth and early days. Talk eventually gets to his film work, and after listening to most of this tape, I've got to say that Stanley sounds like quite the mensch in it, not that it's a bad thing. The trailer puts the bow on the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In 40 years since the film came out, the acting has been the one thing that's really bugged me. It seems very wooden, without a lot of life or originality. If the decision was made to have the actors support the story, I can certainly agree with that, but short of Barry Lyndon, I can't think of any other Kubrick films where the lead actors have been so bland and devoid of any personality. And as far as the technology goes, where the hell is my rocket car?
One of the greatest films of all time finally comes out in a treatment worthy of the "Special Edition" title. Plenty of extras, decent sound, superb audio, superlative video. With cheaper hardware and the expansion of catalog titles, the excuses not to go high def get smaller and smaller, all the more so with 2001's arrival. Buy it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood
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