Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the type of movie you either love it or you hate it. Some find it incredibly boring and pretentious. My mom worked in a movie theater when it was released, and told me stories of people leaving the theater angry that it was so dull. Others, like me, find it to be an experience that should be returned to periodically. Just to keep it from becoming routine, so that every viewing is special in some way.
Now, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read Arthur C. Clarke’s book. I know, I know, GTFO, right? But as he’s credited along with Kubrick as writing the screenplay, I don’t know if I’m really missing anything important. Neither have I “done my homework” to find out what the intended “meaning” of any of it is, as prescribed by literally anyone, including Kubrick or Clarke… So anything else in this review regarding the contents of the film, are my own. I’d be glad to hear what others have to say about it in the comments below.
I don’t want to dwell on summarizing the movie too much, except to say that it is a story told in four acts. The first, “The Dawn of Man” takes us back to prehistoric times, where a tribe of “ape men” are visited by a mysterious monolith, that gives them the knowledge to use bones as tools, and slyly points skyward towards the moon. They quickly figure out how to use the tools to kill their pigs for food, and it isn’t long before they also figure out that they can use it to kill other apes. In the final scene of this act, during a particularly chaotic, noisy, and violent fight…one might say downright primitiv, an ape throws a bone into the air…
…where it is replaced with a spaceship orbiting the Earth. The chaos is replaced with the serenity of the Blue Danube Waltz, as we witness the poetic dance of orbital mechanics where a shuttle docks with a large rotating spaceship.
On board is one Hayward Floyd (William Sylvester), who is on his way to the moon. There are several scenes that are equally well crafted. Not particularly exciting but decidedly glorious to look at. The attention to detail in all of these scenes is absolutely amazing, and its also a window into the late-1960’s idea of what the future might be. Floyd arrives at the moon base, where they have discovered a new monolith similar to the one that prehistoric man was blessed with, in fact it was probably left here at the same time. Much as the prehistoric monolith pointed at the moon, this one points towards Jupiter, right before it emits an ear piercing screech…
The third act, finds us onboard the Discovery spacecraft 18 months later, with Dave Bowman (Kier Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood.) In addition to a few more crew members that are in hibernation for the trip, they’re accompanied by HAL9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), a super intelligent and self-aware computer.
HAL begins acting erratically, and eventually this results in the death of Frank, and nearly Dave. Dave finds a way back into the ship, and proceeds to deactivate HAL, who essentially has his life flash before his eyes. As HAL sings the final bar of “Daisy,” Dr. Floyd appears in a classified message that tells why they were sent there.
There is another monolith floating around Jupiter. HAL was given this information in secret, and its assumed that his failure was due to his inability to handle keeping secrets and deal with conflicting orders. My interpretation of this act, revolves around HAL gaining sentience, and humans giving him life and giving him the tools to evolve, much like the original monolith. He also displays some basic human feelings and emotions, especially during his shutdown. Paranoia, having to keep secrets, jealousy, and then fear, bargaining, threats, until he finally succumbs…
But act four, “Jupiter and Beyond Infinity” is where most people just throw up their hands and give up. Dave takes the Discovery to the monolith, leaves the ship in a pod, and proceeds to it….
… and is shown the secrets of the universe, from creation onward, other worlds, and plenty of things that his human mind can’t process. The final scenes of this act, and the movie itself, are probably the most confusing and strange, as he witnesses himself in various stages of aging, almost in a third-person fashion, until he’s finally “reborn” as a fetus overlooking planet Earth.
I will leave the details of interpreting everything in 2001: A Space Odyssey to you, the viewer. If you’ve never watched it, you need to. At least once. Go in with an open mind. Realize that its not an action movie in any sense of the word. Rather it is an audio-visual experience in a classic movie-theater way, with the lengthy musical prelude, an intermission, and an equally satisfying final rendition of the Blue Danube that extends far beyond the end of the credits.
But the real meat of this review is about the 4K UHD format. Yes this has been out for a couple of years now, but I’ve only just acquired it, having only just recently upgraded my home theater to 4K and 9.1 Atmos/HD Audio. I have the film on regular Blu-ray already, but I felt this was a worthwhile upgrade.
And I feel I was right. Lets start with the audio. The new DTS-HD soundtrack is phenomenal. If you can, make your viewing area as quiet as possible, and turn your sound up a little louder than you’re usually comfortable. The dynamic range is simply amazing. I found myself cursing my refrigerator and HVAC system for messing with some of the quieter spots. And turning it up just that little bit, makes all the difference in delivering the punches and crescendos in the absolutely glorious classical soundtrack, not the mention the more esoteric “noise” part of the soundtrack. If you listen carefully, you can actually *hear* the arrangement of the orchestras, and pick out individual voices.
The later monolith scenes’ audio is simply insane in this format, also. They’ve mixed this in such a way as to use the rears and surrounds mainly for ambience and reverb. There is an “original” audio track on there as well, which I intend to use the next time I watch this, but honestly I feel like this was a pretty good estimation of what it might have sounded like in an actual theater.
Visually, I was also blown away by the incredible colors and detail in practically every shot. The range of UHD really is on display during some of the spaceship cockpit scenes. But the real icing on the cake is during the monolith scenes at the end. If I understand correctly, they went back and did a full-on restoration from the original 70mm print, and I have never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey look this good.
I will have to dig out my Blu-ray and compare, but I want to say that the Blu-ray release had a lot of film grain in it, where this did not. It was one of the first things I noticed, was the obvious lack of grain. Whether this was just a product of the new restoration, or some wizardry they did on purpose, I don’t know. All I know is, like I said, I don’t remember it ever looking like this.
Was it a worthwhile upgrade? Absolutely in my book.
Look, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not a movie you just “pop in” for an afternoon. You need to be prepared to focus, listen, immerse yourself, and yes, actually THINK about what’s happening. You need to watch some of the longer drawn out scenes of spacecraft, and just “experience” it for what it is. Moving pictures and sound as art. Turn out the lights, turn up your audio, and start at the beginning for the prelude, and listen all the way through to the last measures of the Blue Danube Waltz.
Not to say Kubrick was completely serious. There are a few humorous moments, like when we find Dr. Floyd studying a lengthy set of instructions for a zero-G toilet.
I’m giving this a 4.7. For the experience of the 2001: A Space Odyssey alone, but also for the incredible upgrade that this 4K presentation is. When I got the Blu-ray, I thought it was a much needed upgrade over the DVD, which was obviously better than VHS, etc. But short of seeing this in a theater with a proper 70mm print (which I still want to do someday if possible) this is probably the best presentation you’re going to find.