Our reviews of TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Sci-Fi (published September 25th, 2009), 2001: A Space Odyssey: Special Edition (Blu-Ray) (published November 15th, 2007), and 2001: A Space Odyssey: Two-Disc Special Edition (published November 12th, 2007) are also available.
"Open the pod bay doors, Hal."
Director/writer Stanley Kubrick is one of those guys film students drool over whenever his name is mentioned. He was considered a master in his field, as well as one of the most eccentric and odd filmmakers in the business. His output of films was sporadic at best, including the war drama Full Metal Jacket (1987), the gladiator epic Spartacus (1960), and an adoption of Stephen King's The Shining (1980). In his illustrious career, Kubrick made a scant sixteen films, beginning with 1951's Day Of The Fight and ending with the bizarre Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman vehicle Eyes Wide Shut (he passed away shortly after its completion in 1999). In 1968 Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke made the granddaddy of sci-fi films, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Warner has digitally restored and remastered this science fiction classic with a new Dolby 5.1 track and an anamorphic transfer. Let the journey begin…
Facts of the Case
2001: A Space Odyssey begins with Kubrick's look at our past, showing early man as smelly, ugly apes who seem clueless and dimwitted. In other words, not much has changed since the dawn of the Neanderthal. Early man runs around beating their chests and looking for food with other wild animals, until an unprecedented event happens: a large, black monolith comes out of the ground that looks like a slab of countertop that resides in my kitchen. After this event, the ape-men are suddenly able to use bones for tools, and realize they can beat the living hell out of each other. This entire scene is roughly 8 hours long.
From there we do a jump cut that has been praised by critics as well as the DVD packaging ("one of the most mind-blowing jump cuts ever conceived" it reads) into future space, where an extraterrestrial existence has been found, apparently buried for millions of years. The existence transmits a signal into a region of Jupiter, where we soon move to a mission on the spacecraft Discovery. The ship's crew includes two astronauts, Dave Bowman (Kier Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), as well as an artificial computer, HAL-9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). A few other members of the crew are on board, but in suspended hibernation (translation: "actors who work for cheap, as they have no lines").
The Discovery has a tremendous mission in front of it, and it may be man's most heroic moment. As the search for the extraterrestrial continues, things start to go awry, and HAL-9000 starts to get some thoughts of his own. Will the crew be able to finish their mission? Or will they be forced to watch their own film, which is filled with classical music over stretches of film that last for what seem like an eternity?
I realize that I tread a very thin line when discussing this film. There are movie buffs and connoisseurs out there who would rather shoot me in the spleen than read anything ill about 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I am also inclined to give you my full view and opinion, and with this particular film, it's a bit harsh. First a little history is in order (for both the movie and the DVD): 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in 1968 to very mixed reviews. A bulk of the crowd who saw it were very confused, as 2001: A Space Odyssey is very enigmatic. The plot was very sparse with long stretches that were filled with either dead air or classical compositions, and the ending was baffling to many patrons. Others thought that 2001: A Space Odyssey was a masterpiece, more a think tank for intellectuals wanting more out of their movies. As the years have passed, 2001: A Space Odyssey is now regarded as a major milestone in moviemaking by both critics and audiences (at the time it had groundbreaking special effects by Douglas Trumbull). In 1998, MGM released 2001: A Space Odyssey on DVD, and it was regarded as a disappointment, being non-anamorphic, a poor transfer, with a lousy audio track. When the rights to the film switched over to Warner Brothers, they decided to correct it with this new release featuring a new anamorphic transfer, a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as a few other smaller tweaks.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a Rubik's cube of a movie. I'd never seen the film until I had to do a review for it. I sat down with the assumption that I'd be watching a different movie than I ended up seeing. I want to start by saying that I feel I am a good person to review this film (stop laughing, it may be the only time you'll ever hear me say that). It's not because I have some God-instilled knowledge of film that sets me higher above the average viewer, nor is it because I am deserving of such a popular title. No, I think it's because I'm your everyday yahoo, a guy who loves action films, weeps when Michael Meyers gets killed, and thinks Caddyshack is the funniest thing ever slapped on celluloid. Also, since this is such a thought provoking film, I am able to BS my way through this review and make it seem longer and more interesting than it actually is.
2001: A Space Odyssey has some very grand shots in it, and for this being 1968, the visuals are stunning. It would be nine years before Star Wars would prove to be a special effects extravaganza, so audiences were privy to some very nice work by the effects people for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though there were some instances where some shots were less than stellar, the overall effect is excellent.
The actors in the film play their parts fine, though I especially enjoyed listening to HAL-9000. HAL is like a cross between Alfred the butler, the host of "Masterpiece Theater," and Kenny G, always polite and extraordinarily soothing. I'd like to have HAL next to my bedside, fully ready to lull me to sleep with his soothing voice of reassurance.
2001: A Space Odyssey is presented in 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen and, from what I have read, looks much better than the previous MGM DVD release. The print looks crystal clear, with colors looking very bright and natural and blacks looking solid and dark. Though there was a bit of edge enhancement spotted, the print was free of any digital artifacting, dirt, or grain. Warner has done a very good job with this new version of the film.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds very good. Dialogue was crisp and clean with the new mix utilizing rear speakers to the fullest extent. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the type of film that has many, many gaps where there is either ambient noise or no sound at all, making the soundtrack underwhelming. However, when the sound does kick in (i.e., during the loading scenes with classical music), the mix proves to be very well done. There was apparently some missing dialogue in the MGM version between HAL and Dave that has been corrected for this Warner version. Also included are English and French tracks, as well as English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Although there was a twenty minute question and answer session/conference feature on the original MGM release, Warner has decided to only include a theatrical trailer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, presented in anamorphic widescreen. Seeing that the movie itself seemed to last about as long as every Super Bowl game combined, I'm not losing any sleep over it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
2001: A Space Odyssey is a very, very, very, very…very, very slow film. It moves at a slug's pace, taking its sugar sweet time to get from one scene to another. I found the impulse to hit the fast forward button to be quite overwhelming, especially during the middle sequences, and the beginning sequences, and…well, you get the point. I realize that Kubrick was attempting to do something different, to make…a statement with the way 2001: A Space Odyssey was made. In some viewers' eyes, he has succeeded. In my eyes he needs a better editor. I'm sure that some may argue that I'm too used to the hip-hoppin' zip-bang-boom pace of today's movies, such as the MTV style editing of such films as Armageddon. I disagree. I think that you can have a film that moves slowly yet doesn't bore the audience to the point of exhaustion. 2001: A Space Odyssey has moments in it that are interesting, though they are few and far between. In its day, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a groundbreaking movie; today, it's dull and slow, left in the dust of such monoliths as George Lucas' Star Wars and other outer space excursions, such as Aliens and Total Recall. They story itself is not very involving and I found myself getting quite antsy. There are no space fights in the film, no pod races or terrifying aliens. There were no swamp rats, no Ewoks, no Yodas, and no E.T.s. It was very, very depressing. I am declaring a new rule when it comes to making outer space movies: You must have at least one drooling, razor toothed reptile in the film. I don't care if he's in the end credits, dancing during the opening theme song, or in the background doing laps in a pool. I just want to see him in there somewhere, got it?
Let me be clear: this is not to say that 2001: A Space Odyssey is not worth viewing. It still represents the start of something new and exciting, and to think of what it was like to see many of these types of effects back in 1968 is very exciting. However, you can't ignore the fact that, seen today, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not half as fun as many of the other space/science fiction films out on rental shelves today. And I'm lumping in Leprechaun 4: In Space with that.
2001: A Space Odyssey is like any other classic that bored me to tears: worth seeing, though only once. I've seen Citizen Kane, It's A Wonderful Life and now 2001: A Space Odyssey, and they were all deathly long (though not without their merits). If you're a big fan of this film (and now hate my opinion as a critic), then you will want to purchase this DVD release as soon as possible. The print looks excellent (being the first time in anamorphic) and the audio is very good. For the rest of you, hit the rental shelves first, then make your decision.
Acquitted on all charges due to its age and the disc, though guilty of being the only movie set in space with all the excitement of stale circus peanuts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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