2001: A Space Odyssey (VHS, 2002, Widescreen: Stanley Kubrick Collection)

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2001: Deep into the 2001 DVD

Jul 19, 2001 (Updated Jul 19, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The visuals, the music, the concept, the ideas.

Cons:It makes few concessions to any audience.

The Bottom Line: The demanding but rewarding masterpiece has finally been given the DVD release it deserves. Enjoy my analysis of it.


2001 remains a completely unique one-of- a- kind-film offering a visual and aural experience to its audience like no film has done before or since. It is a demanding film however and it does require one to work at the experience of watching and experiencing the film. If you try and sit back and insist the film PROVE itself to you… well you'll probably think that 2001 is one of the longest, slowest and most over-rated films that has ever been made.

When 2001 first premiered in 1968, many were baffled, confused and even annoyed by the film. Was it even a real film at all, many wondered? Respected critics had mixed feelings about the film and most decided the film was a failure. Kubrick cut a 17 minute sequence from the film prior to its commercial release, a sequence which supposedly was almost a duplicate of the pod sequence remaining in the film.

Slowly critics and audiences realized the film was not like any they had ever seen before. 2001 was a film that contained some of the most impressive visual effects that had ever been put onto film . It was a film that used music in an innovative and inspiring manner to not merely augment but enhance the visual experience. It was a film that included a daring, risky ambiguous ending, which was brilliant in both concept and execution.

Quickly the film was reassessed.

Now almost 35 years after it was released, a worthy new presentation of the film has been constructed. It will not take the place of being able to experience the film as intended on a full Cinerama screen, but it is an almost acceptable substitute.

I hope you won't object that on my one year anniversary here at Epinions I've decided to write indepth about this
superb film masterpiece.

It will probably be difficult without experiencing the film on the biggest screen possible to fully appreciate the power of the images 2001 offers. Just as it is almost impossible to properly assess and appreciate a film like Lawrence of Arabia without seeing it on the big screen it is at least as equally impossible and completely unfair to assess 2001 without having the experience of watching it on the biggest screen possible.

However, the only way most people will experience or re-experience 2001 is through home video. 2001 is a slow, deliberately paced film with sparse dialogue, classical music, and sound effects. The sound effects are not usually the sounds of advanced technology (forget the sounds of doors opening or closing or the sound of space age motors or lasers--you will hear little of that). Often the sounds consist merely of a character breathing inside of a space suit or … absolute silence (used effectively as a sound effect!!!).

2001 is not a fast paced roller coaster ride. It contains no pyrotechnics, no Alien life forms to battle.

The film when viewed today is seemingly even more courageous and risky then it once was because it demands to be accepted (or rejected) utterly on its own terms. It makes few concessions to any specific audience demographic whatsoever. It offers no clearly defined explanations for what it does. It dares to take its time and offers one beautifully constructed visual after another.

One can quibble over a few of the details of the film and how on occasion it has dated itself with these details. I found myself wondering for instance why we hear the sounds of a character inside his space suit and yet see various shots from another perspective entirely. I noticed although a few of the minor characters are from various countries no people of color are observed in the film. The three main roles are white males.

There is such a deliberate precision exhibited in every frame of this film one is almost overwhelmed with its vision--overwhelmed to the point of wanting the film to be warmer, less perfect, more human. Of course as one contemplates its possible meanings, it's a film very much about what it means to be human.

Science fiction author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke has mentioned what a fascinating idea it is that there seems to be one star (one sun) in our solar system for every human who has ever existed on earth.

Could it be the seeds of inspiration and ideas planted millions of years ago are still emerging from our inner-selves?

Shall we begin, Dave?

2001 is constructed in a series of segments.

In the first there is nothing. Darkness and a bit of music begins our journey.

Then there was light. A sun rises. A series of shots shows us a vast landscape containing little
vegetation.

We are introduced to a tribe of prehistoric apes. They are challenged by another tribe over their water-hole and flee. A little later they are confronted with a mysterious black monolith and after the encounter, an ape discovers that bones can be used as tools, as weapons. The tribe becomes meat-eaters and then take back their water-hole, killing a rival prehistoric tribe member in the process. Savagery it seems is a part of progress.

In victory a bone is thrown into the air, as it begins to descend, we suddenly cut to a man-made structure floating in space.

The next segment has begun.

In one short cut the vast frontiers of an unspoiled earth populated by evolving apes has now become the vast frontier of space populate with machines created by man.

Inside a space shuttle which resemble the interior of a spacious first class section of a commercial airliner, Dr. Hewywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is asleep, and his pen floats above him. A stewardess carefully walks through the cabin, takes the free-floating pen and clips it back into the pocked of the sleeping doctor.

Not a word has yet been spoken.

The Blue Danube Waltz accompanies the magnificent visuals of the space shuttle docking into a space station still under construction. A structure made up of what appears to be large wheels, slowly turning.

Dr. Floyd checks into the space station and is met by a security officer. They go through a futuristic customs check which verifies Dr. Floyd through his voice print. He is at the station to attend a conference of scientist. Prior to the meeting he meets some presumably foreign dignitaries. They want an explanation regarding several rumors they have heard about a mysterious epidemic that has broken out among workers stationed on the moon. Dr. Floyd at first denies knowing anything and then comments that he is not at liberty to discuss the matter.

Dr. Flyod then uses a picture phone device to talk to his family on earth. He speaks with his young daughter and appologizes that he will miss her birthday and party but he is away on business. He asks his daughter to let mommy know that he will contact her tomorrow.

Eventually we realize that Dr. Floyd is part of a top secret research team. The story about the possible epidemic on the moon is a cover story and there is not truth to it.

Dr. Floyd departs for the moon on another space shuttle.

Eventually we realize what has been discovered on the moon is the black monolith. It had been buried below the moon's surface for millions of years and has now been excavated. As the research team touches the monolith an ear-splitting sound emits which almost paralyzes the astronauts. The monolith perhaps was waiting to verify the evolution of the species it first encountered on earth. It waited until contact with humans was made and only then sent out its signal.

The next segment of the film takes us to the interior of the space ship Discovery.

A team of scientists are travelling to Jupiter on a mission of exploration. Several team members are in a state of suspended animation inside life support pods. The maintenance of the space ship is performed by two crew-members Frank (Gary Lockwood) and Dave (Keir Dullea) and an advanced computer system called Hal 9000.

Frank and Dave are on separate shifts. They perform their varied tasks almost as if they were machines and the actual machine Hal 9000 is more conversational and actually more human than the astronauts are. Hal wishes Frank a Happy Birthday and thanks him for playing a game of chess. Hal shows an interests in Dave's drawings and encourages his progress as an artist. We learn the mission is taking place 18 months after the monolith incident we've witnessed has occurred on the moon. The signal the monolith sent seems to be destined for Jupiter and the scientists are on a exploratory mission.

For Frank and Dave life onboard the Discovery is a series of repetitious tasks. They must keep themselves and the equipment fit and have developed an efficient routine to do just that.

Hal 9000 is an integral part of the routines and although Hal's 'face' is a camera lens with a red iris and yolk colored pupil, Hal is almost as human as Frank and Dave are to us.

Hal expresses his pleasure at working with humans. Eventually we learn he has replicated some forms of human emotions because he has been programmed with a degree of independent thought. Man has built a machine of artificial intelligence and given it certain human characteristics which the machine is able to evolve further. It's human characteristics however are what make Hal 9000 an extremely flawed and dangerous creation. Having only some human characteristics but extreme intelligence leaves Hal to realize it is a complex slave to the humans and to truly be in control and be even more human, it must compete with the humans. It is however always a machine and a creation of the human and never an equal to the human even though it is more intelligent and actually responsible for human life. Hal 9000 we realize comes to resent this. Hal 9000 may have seemed to be more humane than the astronauts have been, but Hal 9000 is not a human… it has no soul and therefore no real respect for the sanctity of human life. It has been programmed to be self-preserving. We will later realize Hal 9000 knows what the real mission the astronauts are on is and because it amounts to a suicide mission, Hal 9000 must preserve itself as it has been programmed to do. The humans and the continuation of the mission will mean the end of Hal 9000 and the only way for that not to happen is to eliminate the threat…the humans. Hal perhaps has assimilated all the traits it believes it needs from the human to continue surviving. Perhaps another explanation for what Hal does is that Hal is covering up a mistake it has made-- A mistake that occurred because of a programmed human characteristic. Hal logically concludes it might be eliminated if the mistake is discovered and therefore to preserve itself it must cover up all links to the mistake which means eliminating the humans.

The conflict should make you contemplate what makes us human and perhaps how being human is an existence full of flaws, perhaps flaws which are a part of our DNA. -- Flaws which will lead to our self-destruction if we insist that the goal of life is perfection. Are we programmed with a need to understand and explore that which is beyond our reach?

It is this level of thought, contemplation and conjecture the film encourages.

During this segment, the film seems to finally reveal itself as somewhat conventional and has a beginning, middle and end. It's ambiguous but the puzzle does not seem undecipherable or impossible to solve.

The film however is not over.

The final segment of 2001 is its most ambiguous.

Dave faces the monolith and passes through it. We get a stunning light show which concludes with the aged figure of Dave, touching the monolith and seemingly being re-born as a fetus floating in space. A star child.. perhaps a new star in the solar system able to observe his former home, Earth.

This segment must be viewed as more than merely a metaphor because it is connected to the rest of the film, which has established the monolith physically exists. So is there an answer to the puzzle the film seems to have created? Does the monolith symbolize death or the mortality of man? Does it symbolize God perhaps as in the Christian belief of a holy trinity? Is the monolith an impression of The Holy Spirit? Is the monolith part of an alien culture that has helped Man evolve and continues to monitor man's growth?

You decide for yourself what it all means. You draw whatever conclusions you want to draw from the film. Perhaps Kubrick constructed the film as a moving-visual sculpture that could be subtitled faith. And I'll let you decide what I mean by stating that.

When I was a teenager and first encountered the film, it was a film that to many was viewed as the ultimate out of body head trip. This is perhaps why the film has never been something I thought of as slow and boring. As I got older read about the film and viewed it several more times I realized the film was a work of art. A project that began as a collaboration but was shaped into a series of visions which purposefully pushed itself outside of the box so that it would remain an ambiguous work.

Kubrick and Clarke had discussions and at one point intended to create and show alien life forms. The project evolved beyond that of any traditional story for Kubrick however. Kubrick risked everything on this film and at first it almost seemed the film would be denounced as an incomprehensible series of impressive visuals which really wasn't something you could call a
film at all.

Luckily many caught up with Kubrick and embraced the film, accepting it as a masterpiece fairly quickly, rather than sentencing the film into a long period of obscurity for others to discover.

And now the film has been beautifully restored and preserved for new generations to discover, discuss, and scratch the heads over perhaps like Prehistoric man encountering a strange towering monolith.


THE DVD STUFF

Stanly Kubrick's former assistant Leon Vitali supervised the all new digital transfer of 2001 and preserved the original aspect ration of 2.20:1 which has been anamorphically enhanced. The film was created in Cinerama®. The new transfer included scene by scene color correction to correct any age deterioration that might have caused colors to fade.

The result is a nearly perfectly clean picture free from scratches or grain. Minor aliasing and edge enhancement is visible infrequently and some of the bright whites or contrasts might be difficult for older televisions to accurately handle.

Even with stark contrasts in some scenes and vividly bright reds in others I did not detect any color bleeding.
Black levels are deep and completely stable giving the picture a clean crispness that few films seem to have.

This new transfer offers many improvements over the previously flawed DVD edition and has restored a couple of previously missing lines of dialogue between Dave and Hal (on the MGM DVD).

The original 6 channel magnetic track and elements from the original musical recordings used on the film were cleaned up and employed to create a new sound mix in Dolby Digital 5.1. Since there are long sections of the film which are completely silent, one can appreciate the utter lack of hiss pops or any surface of enhancement related noise on the soundtrack during these sequences. When the music is at it's loudest there is never any distortion and tones are separated to allow for the fullest and brightest mix possible. The music, sound effects and sparse dialogue remain bright, clearly defined and all channels are fully employed to create the type of mesmerizing effect Stanley Kubrick would have demanded.

DVD Extras:

The trailer is the only extra feature included on the disc. The MGM disc previously included a 20 minute conference talk with Arthur C. Clarke which has not been included on this disk. It was of minor interest but including it would have been nice. There is no commentary track.

FINAL WORD:

2001: A Space Odyssey is a monumental achievement of film-making. It is a work of moving visual art. Yes, it is a very slow moving and slightly dated film that is demanding of its viewers. Great and lasting art is an experience you must participate in for it to have any meaning or impact. For it to even be considered Art you must be affected by it. You must work, you must think, you must contemplate this film to appreciate it. It is also one of the most influential films of the last 50 years and proved science fiction was much more than a pulpy sub-genre to a mass audience. Several of the innovations included in the film have become common, some of the devices are now being used, some of the names used for space ships have been adopted by the real NASA. Remember this film was made before any man landed on the moon., before we had the type of pictures of space and the earth that we have now. Long segments of the film now play like a slow documentary rather than science fiction because the film portrays with believable accuracy several now in wider use technological advances. Remember these special effects were not created by computers or skilled CGI technicians, but through photographic effects , matte painters, model builders and more. The level of perfection Kubrick demanded means more then 33 years after it's release, the special effects still remain impressive. And that is without going back and updating any of the effects as has happened with Star Wars approximately 20 years after it was first released. Keep in perspective when this film was made (between 1965-1968), how risky and 'out of the box' it truly was and still remains. Remember to watch it, not in the same manner you watch summer blockbusters, but like you might view works of art in a museum --works of art the remain alive, important and valuable. There will never be another film like 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Christopher Jarmick,is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller. For information on Author readings/signings or availability of special autographed editions of the novel email: glasscocoon@hotmail for details.

Original portions of this review Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2001. The above
work is protected by international copyright law.




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