Fifty years later, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey remains a hypnotic, seminal sci-fi masterpiece of visual storytelling that continues to inspire, dumbfound and challenge. For its 50th Anniversary, Warner Bros. celebrates the film on Blu-ray with a stunningly mesmerizing audio and video presentation struck from a brand-new 4K remaster of the original camera negatives. Porting over the same set of supplements as before, the overall package is a Must Own! for fans and devoted cinephiles who aren't yet planning a 4K upgrade to their home theater. (We've also reviewed the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.)
I first experienced 2001: A Space Odyssey during my senior year in high school. I was on a Kubrick-kick, and had invited a bunch of friends over to watch the sci-fi classic I'd heard so much about. Watching the film, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the room as each of us found ourselves completely taken by some of the most arresting visions that have ever been committed to film. By the time the credits rolled, each of us were almost dumbstruck with same feeling that we'd just seen something truly special.
Developed by writer Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with an extended vignette about human evolution. A bestial group of pre-humans live their daily lives in fear until they stumble upon a black, rectangular monolith. After encountering this otherworldly device, one of the creatures inexplicably invents the first tool and uses it as a club to protect his tribe. The film suddenly leaps forward to the future where man inhabits space in ships and orbiting stations. On the surface of the moon, a dig uncovers a deliberately buried monolith that's identical to the one the man-apes found at the beginning of the film.
Two years later, two pilots — Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) — escort three scientists to Jupiter on the spaceship Discovery One. The ship is run by HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), a supercomputer that represents the pinnacle in human-created artificial intelligence. Treated like any other crew member, HAL talks to the pilots and mimics human behavior and intelligence. Everything is seemingly routine until HAL stumbles upon information on the secret excavation on the moon. When Dave questions HAL's reliability, the computer stages a mutiny.
Like many Kubrick films, 2001: A Space Odyssey is best approached as a cerebral endeavor rather than as outright entertainment, as Kubrick uses the trappings of the sci-fi genre to pose genuine questions of sentience, existence, and intelligence. Action fans won't find any gunfights or explosions here; instead, this is a deliberately paced adventure of the mind that requires patience, thought, and introspection. The director famously refused to explain his interpretation of the film, preferring that his audience draw their own conclusions. To be blunt, the film demands a level of engagement and intelligence from its audience that's truly rare in modern filmmaking.
It's safe to say that almost everything about 2001: A Space Odyssey is challenging and atypical. The characters are painfully naturalistic, relationships are cold and unnerving, and the ending is vague and experimental. Kubrick decided early on that he wanted the film to be a primarily non-verbal experience, and the result is an eerily quiet film. The silence is punctuated by classical music, technical banter between the astronauts, the hums and rumbles of the ship, and HAL's soothing voice.
In fact, the only segment of the film that relies on a familiar genre scenario (HAL's mutiny) doesn't gain momentum until the final act. But even then, this classic clash of wills doesn't constitute the climax of the story — that comes a bit later as Dave is confronted with a metaphysical journey across time and space that makes for a most intriguing twist in the story.
Kubrick is the only director who makes me feel like a puppet on strings, and this is the only film that manages to leave my head spinning no matter how many times I watch it. Every time I think I've got my finger on the pulse of Kubrick's methodical madness, I realize there are ideas in this film that I'll probably never completely wrap my head around. It astounds me in our age of technological advancement that a futuristic film made in 1968 remains one of the most compelling cinematic labyrinths of all time.
Years ago, I gave up trying to argue the merits of the film with those who find it tedious or plodding. I've come to accept the fact that 2001 is a definitive love-it-or-hate-it flick that will forever split audiences. Still, whatever you may ultimately think of the film itself, 2001: A Space Odyssey will literally haunt your brain after you watch it. In my opinion, every film fan owes it to themselves to experience 2001 at least once in their lives.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Warner Home Video celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a Digital Copy code. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 copy inside a blue, eco-cutout case with slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to an interactive screen designed after the computer panel of Discovery One with HAL's glowing red eye at the center and surrounded with the usual menu options and random electrical computer noises.
Kubrick's visual masterpiece makes second contact on Blu-ray, and as it did fifty years ago, the film mesmerizes with a spectacularly marvelous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, making the previous 2007 release look outdated and pale by comparison.
Struck from a brand-new remaster and restoration of the original 70mm camera negatives, the transfer is shockingly razor sharp, exposing every nook and cranny of the still-extraordinary stage production. The individual hairs on the bodies of the hominids is distinct, each pebble and crevice in the rock formations is plainly visible, and the fine lines in the minimalist, sterilized design of spaceships is striking. Facial complexions are highly revealing, and the lettering on screen monitors are amazingly distinct and legible, even from a short distance. There are a few soft, blurry moments, which is to be expected from a film of this vintage, but they are related to the special optical effects and product of their time.
Presented in its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio, the video also arrives with significantly improved contrast and brightness, making the entire film seem sparkling new and rejuvenated. The hallways of the massive space station and the Discovery One spacecraft shine a brilliant, immaculate white and the stars radiate against the darkness of space. In fact, this is arguably the most noteworthy difference between this 4K remaster and the 2007 edition where the older Blu-ray came with the yellowish tint expected of an antiquated source. Now, the various lights come in a true white and the highlights throughout are intensely dazzling.
Giving home theater enthusiasts an awesome collection of demo-worthy scenery, the movie continuously shows inky, opulent blacks as well. Every scene set in space is bathed in a velvety, rich blackness that splendidly contrasts the sharp, shining cleanliness of the spacecrafts. Although Geoffrey Unsworth's stylized cinematography favors a more subdued, earth-tone palette, this brand-new HD presentation displays a varied assortment of browns, yellows, and tans. There is also the occasional splatter of primaries, such as the blue and red spacesuits, which are richly saturated and sumptuous, making this Blu-ray version the one to own. (Video Rating: 100/100)
Reportedly, this new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack also comes from the same 70-mm 6-track remaster used for the video, and while the end result may not be a massive upgrade over its uncompressed PCM counterpart, this lossless mix nonetheless delivers various notable differences worth appreciating.
One of the film's most memorable aspects is its unique sound design, its innovative use of classical music and the lack thereof during certain scenes. As soon as Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra blares across the entire screen and into the surrounds, viewers are immediately immersed in a sense of otherworldliness. Along with every other musical piece employed throughout, the beautifully-balanced imaging exhibits a superbly clean and extensive mid-range, maintaining amazing detailed clarity and separation within the orchestration and at the highest frequencies. Dialogue reproduction is precise and well-prioritized, and a hearty, responsive low-end provides a weighty presence to the music and few bits of action. The film also comes with a variety of atmospherics that flawlessly pan into the sides, creating a wonderfully satisfying and immersive soundfield. The design also does splendidly well when applying the receivers' Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, effortlessly expanding many atmospherics into the overheads and rears. (Audio Rating: 88/100)
All the same set of supplements from the previous release are ported over for this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. For a more in-depth take, you can read our review of the original Blu-ray release HERE.
Celebrating fifty years since it first astounded and bewildered audiences, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey remains a hypnotic masterpiece of visual storytelling and a seminal, ground-breaking sci-fi classic that continues to inspire, dumbfound and influence. Although not for everyone and some might not see the appeal, Kubrick's magnum opus nonetheless persists as one of the most important films in cinema history and rightly belongs on every cinephile's list of must-watch movies. Warner Bros. celebrates the film's 50th Anniversary once again on Blu-ray with a beautifully mesmerizing picture quality and a highly-satisfying DTS-HD presentation soundtrack. Porting over the same set of supplements as the previous Blu-ray, the overall package is must own for any of our readers who don't plan on a 4K upgrade.