2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 7-Sep-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer-1.78:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 1.0 (1:48)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1968
Running Time 142:45
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:13) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stanley Kubrick
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Keir Dullea
Gary Lockwood
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Johann Strauss
Richard Strauss
Gyorgy Ligeti


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
French
Spanish
German
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Well, if you want the short review so you can dash off and buy the DVD - WOW!

    And so I get the chance to wax lyrical about my third favourite film of all time, and frankly waxing lyrical is no less than this stunning DVD deserves. Mind you, there is no more likely film than 2001: A Space Odyssey to produce widely divergent views upon its worth. There are some who would proclaim this to be a load of tripe, boring beyond belief and far too enigmatic for its own good. Well, those people have their opinions and whilst there is not a snowball's chance in hell that I would agree with them, they are entitled to their opinion. However, the contrary view is that the film is a masterpiece of the highest order, thought-provoking, mysterious but utterly brilliant and amongst the finest films ever made. Obviously that is the view that I hold and it seems to be the majority view on this film.

    Stanley Kubrick is generally regarded as a genius as far as directors go, and when people start raving about his films, 2001: A Space Odyssey is where they usually start, and rightly so, for this is an almost uniquely different film. It is probably the one film that everyone knows from its music - the beautiful Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss - yet the film is noteworthy for the vast amount of silence it contains. It might have been released in 1968, but sitting back and watching the film thirty three years later, the special effects remain as brilliant as ever. Indeed, it is not impossible to conceive that this would still compete for the Best Special Visual Effects Oscar today, the very same award it won in 1968. Basically, this remains as visually exciting and as thought-provoking today as it did back in 1968, and there are precious few films that can say that. It was catapulted to the rank of the greatest science fiction film of all time upon its initial release, and frankly it continues to hold that position today. It remains as talked about today as it was in 1968, too.

    Much of that talk centres around exactly what the film is all about. To be honest, this is as multi-layered as you want to make it. A possible explanation of the sudden surge of man as the dominant species on Earth? A possible indication of the presence of an omniscient race that protects the rise of intelligent life in the universe? A metaphorical story of God creating and nurturing man from humble beginnings to the edge of ultimate knowledge? Add you own interpretation in here....

    There are probably as many explanations of the meaning of the film as there are people who love the film, and that is part of the magnificence of the film - it to some extent defies explanation. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke obviously had a vision that they were trying to communicate in the screenplay they wrote, but equally did not feel that it warranted being dumbed down - as so often happens in American films. Hence the fact that this was made in England becomes readily apparent. In the end, there is no plot synopsis that I can provide for the film that truly reflects the traditional concept of a plot synopsis. I could tell you what happens in the film, but then what would be the point of that? The cover blurb does a half-hearted job at that, and that is probably sufficient for the purpose. No, this is a very special film that defies explanation and thrives on the voyage of discovery that it takes you on. There is no adequate way of describing this film in any dumbed down manner without destroying the lack of preconception that the film thrives upon.

    When a master film-maker sits down to make their magnum opus, you can be certain of one thing: it will be different. A film that defies comparison to anything else, a film that sets a genre on a new direction, a film that sparks thought. And so it is that Stanley Kubrick brought all these things and more to us with 2001: A Space Odyssey. How did he achieve that? By producing a film that remains utterly unique in every way. Foremost in that respect is the fact that this is no great display of acting, for simply the very limited number of characters in the film are pretty much superfluous to the film, apart from Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) as the two astronauts on the Discovery spacecraft. By stripping the film down to very basic essentials, it ends up relying on three distinct areas for its success: wonderful special effects, terrific use of music and a great vision of a story.

    Forget Star Wars: A New Hope - this is where the leap forward in special effects started, nine years earlier. This was so radically better, as well as different, that even today the spacecraft segments are still utterly brilliant and well up with the quality of those in the lauded Star Wars: A New Hope. These remain terrific examples of the art of model making in film, and simply come up looking better than ever in this restoration of the film. Then there is the realisation of that dazzling display in the final twenty minutes of the film.... Everywhere you look, even though it is well past thirty years old, still looks wonderful and the film still has a really modern look to it. It is almost as if the film created the handbook for what space vehicles should look like, a handbook that is still in use today. The quality also shows in little things like the pen floating around in zero-g. Brilliantly executed in those pre-CGI times, even though these CGI times have rendered it simplicity itself. But then there is the blending of special effects and equally brilliant camera work, and that is no more evidenced than by the famous scenes in the Discovery spacecraft where Frank Poole is running around the globe. That scene even today has me asking the question of how they did it, and makes me regret even more that there is no featurette on the DVD about how they did the effects.

    Probably the biggest stand-out for most people is the music of the film, even if it is for no other reason that the use of the Blue Danube waltz. However, the use of music here is also the story of the use of sound in general, and one immediately noticeable aspect of the film is the profound use of silence. The film remains one of the only science fiction films that does not use sound to accompany space flight. Spacecraft fly through the vacuum of space in silence - and that is exactly what they do in this film. The only spacecraft noise in the film is internal noise, which obviously there would be. This might be quite a small point, but that lack of impossible noise really adds volumes to the wonder of the film. There is an almost daring use of silence in the film, and this again adds significantly to its power. This means that when the music does come into play, it does so in a really atmospheric way. The choice of music is quite profound too, with the selected composers having virtually nothing in common between them. Whilst everyone knows the Blue Danube from Johann Strauss, the other pieces were not quite so well-known prior to the film. They sure were after the film came out, though! The magnificent opening sequence featuring Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss was the beginning of my interest in classical music, and it set this film off in a stirring way. The use of music from Gyorgy Ligeti, still a virtual unknown in many respects, was daring and bold and worked terrifically well (especially the use of Lux Aeterna), as was the inclusion of music from Aram Khatchaturian. The whole thing came together as a magnificent score that could not have been bettered by any composer scoring original music for the film. This remains one of the very best films as far as music goes in my view.

    So there you have it - one of the truly great films of all time. Provocative, stimulating, engrossing, enigmatic - just add any description you might like, for this film wears them all with aplomb. Whilst some of Kubrick's stuff is definitely not in the genius rank, and some is downright garbage (Eyes Wide Shut anyone?), there is no denying that even if he made only one film and it was 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick would still be justifiably described as a genius. There are two essential Kubrick films that should be in every collection. The first has been out in Region 4 a little while now (Dr Strangelove), so it is terrific that it has now been joined by the other. Just go out and buy the DVD - this is an essential purchase.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Having sat through the pitiful-looking original Region 1 release for a couple of years now, there was always that feeling that if they ever got their act together and did a proper restoration of the film, it would look good on DVD. Well, the theatrical re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 2001 was one of the most obvious marketing ploys ever, and the fear was that it would not be done with the kind of sensitivity that the stature of the film demanded. Suffice it to say, Warners have done everything pretty well spot-on and the restoration of the film confirms that Warners are doing this sort of stuff better than anyone. This re-release restoration of the film is superb and were it not for some minor but consistent problems with aliasing and one or two other minor issues, this would have been inducted post-haste into the Hall of Fame. This is one seriously good-looking transfer in nearly every respect, especially compared to the original Region 1 release of three years ago.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.20:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. It should be noted that the transfer includes the full opening overture and the exit music.

    Whilst the original Region 1 release was plagued by a dull look, and plenty of film problems, the restoration of the film has virtually revitalised the transfer as if it were a completely new film. It is a nicely sharp transfer, lacking the overt edge enhancement of the original release, even though some use is still quite obvious (a good example is around 41:30 where the edge enhancement has resulted in almost a ghost image around the trouser legs). Detail here is significantly improved, and with the transfer being far less prone to grain and pixelization, there is a heap more of the film that you will probably not have seen before in any home video release. Whilst the grain and pixelization issues are much improved here, there are still a few issues here and there that tend to get noticed because the rest of the transfer is so much better! Certainly this is overall a much clearer transfer than I have previously seen. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems in the transfer.

    The big improvement here is in the colour - this has gone from being a relatively dull looking affair to a vivid, bold display just as Stanley Kubrick intended. The opening sequences of the film, after the main credits, display a gorgeous, vibrant tone that sets the film off in a brilliant way. But of course, it is the last twenty minutes or so of the film where colour is so vital and it is here where the new vividness is seen to its best effect. This is really a superbly colourful voyage that has not been seen on home video before in my view. Even those areas that have traditionally been prone to major oversaturation issues, namely the red-lit cockpits of the spacecraft, have seen terrific improvement. Whilst they still are very red, it is not an oversaturated red and most of the detail can still be seen with ease. Indeed, the only time that there are any real issues with the colours is during the sequence around the 96:00 mark where the computer warning lights tend to be a little oversaturated and the writing is not really sharp and clear. There are a couple of minor bleed issues, the most notable being in the floating pen at 21:19.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. As indicated, the main problem with the transfer is in the area of film-to-video artefacts, and predominant amongst those issues is a very consistent problem with aliasing. It shows up in many places, such as in the spacecraft at 19:04, 19:52 and 114:38, in the space station at 20:22 and 24:15, in the spacesuits at 73:56 and in most vertical pan shots (such as at 5:40 and 36:38). There is also noticeable shimmer in the stars around 92:00 - remember that stars only twinkle due to the distortions of an atmosphere. The restoration of the film has certainly ensured that most of the very prolific film artefacts of the original Region 1 release are now gone and this is now a quite clean transfer. There are still a few artefacts floating around, but nothing that really is too noticeable.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 84:13. This occurs in the most logical place - the intermission. It is therefore completely non-disruptive.

    There are a limited number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled about half an hour of the English efforts. Naturally in a film with extended silence, half an hour of film time does not necessarily equate to huge chunks of dialogue. From the sampling however it would seem that these are reasonably accurate with only relatively minor dropping of words to keep up with the dialogue itself. Nothing really important has been lost in the subtitles. They are quite well presented and are easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Just as the video transfer has been significantly improved over the original Region 1 DVD release, so has the audio transfer been significantly improved. The completely remastered soundtrack has been presented here in two Dolby Digital 5.1 versions: English and Italian. I listened solely to the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue and music comes up superbly in the transfer and there is little problem in understanding what is being said here. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The previously mentioned somewhat eclectic collection of music from Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Gyorgy Ligeti and Aram Khatchaturian comes up superbly well in the soundtrack, with almost for the first time ever the more ethereal, low volume sections of the music being heard. There is something quite wonderful in the choice of music used in the film, almost as a counterpoint to the action, and that it comes up so well in the soundtrack for the first time is another of the great joys here.

    Whilst it is great that we have a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, it has to be said that as big as an improvement as it is over the original Region 1 Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it is still not a perfect effort. But given the age of the source material, that is hardly that surprising and what we have here is probably as good as the original material would allow without b******ising the original material. The major improvement in the soundtrack is the added presence, leading to a much more open sound, and there seems to be a bit more rear surround channel use than previously. The front surround channels are well used and the result is a much more natural sounding effort. The original Region 1 release always seemed to me to have a bit of a strident, mono feel to it, but that is completely absent here. The bass channel gets some nice use, but there are obviously extended sections of the film where neither surround channels not bass channels are used in any way - it is called silence. And it is silence - no clicks, no pops, no crackles. Nothing but real, honest silence.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is a significant dearth of extras on the DVD itself and this is the one big disappointment with the release.

Menus

    Nothing at all to wax lyrical about. Pretty plain Jane type stuff, and it is very disappointing that something a little more spectacular could not have been produced befitting the stature of the film.

Theatrical Trailer (1:48)

    Almost as stunning as the main feature! A very good quality effort indeed that really looks as if it too has been given the full restoration treatment. As equally enigmatic as the feature, too. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, it is 16x9 enhanced, but comes with only Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. Very nice looking, though.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as can be ascertained, the Region 1 release of the DVD itself is identical in content to the Region 4 DVD. The reviews available of the Region 1 DVD all seem to indicate a similar quality of transfer that seemingly sounds just a little poorer than what we have in Region 4. That may of course be due to NTSC formatting as against PAL formatting. Certainly, the audio transfer sounds extremely similar, so I would doubt that as far as the DVD is concerned that there is any compelling reason to prefer one version over the other.

    The original Region 1 release boasts more extras, namely:

    However, the original release also missed out on 16x9 enhancement, and all the extras in the world were not going to hide the fact that the transfer was not the best you ever saw. It lacked vibrancy, was plagued with a dull look and had plenty of film artefacts. All these problems have been rectified in the new restoration, so if you have the original Region 1 release, you will definitely be needing to upgrade to the new version - it really is that much better.

Summary

    In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey offered a significant commentary on the future potential of the human race. Remember that this was before we walked on the moon, yet here was a vision of us going not only to the moon but to the depths of the solar system in a quest for knowledge and to satiate an inquisitive nature. A look to the future when we might encounter intelligent life elsewhere. In 2001, 2001: A Space Odyssey reminds us of those great potentials that have gone unchallenged, and the great questions that have gone unanswered, as we have not devoted the resources to escaping this little blue planet of ours to go in search of far more important answers. One year after the film was released, we went to the moon. Despite all our knowledge, thirty three years later we have still not got any further than that. You want a more poignant indictment of the idiocy of the human race? These are all the reactions that this brilliant film has provoked and will continue to provoke for years to come. Stanley Kubrick showed us a vision - too many still fail to see it.

    This brilliant film has been given a revelatory rejuvenation for re-release in the year 2001. This is a stunning visual treat after the daggy effort of the only previously available version of the film on Region 1 DVD. The restoration of the film has been done superbly and this has the look of a film that is but a few years old. Indeed, I have seen new release films that don't look this good on DVD. The stunning visuals are accompanied by a wonderful remastering of the sound, and overall this is tantamount to being a brand new version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whilst a film of this stature surely deserves far better in the extras department, I am so glad that we have this brilliant restoration that I really don't much care what extras we do not get here.

    This is an essential purchase and as such is almost worthy of an honourable mention in the Hall Of Fame. No DVD collection is complete without this masterpiece. I started the review with a single word - WOW! I complete the review with the same single word - WOW!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, September 10, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
stupid? - REPLY POSTED
A Masterpiece Finally Given What It Deserves -
good transfer -
Another reason for User created profiles. - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.) REPLY POSTED