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 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a beautifully mesmerizing Dolby Vision HDR presentation, a highly-satisfying DTS-HD soundtrack and the same set of supplements as before. The overall package is Must Own!
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 Ultra HD Blu-ray
Warner Home Video celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on Ultra HD Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack with a Digital Copy code. When redeeming said code at WB.com and MoviesAnywhere, users have access to the UHD with Dolby Vision and legacy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 copy and a third BD25 disc containing supplements. All three are housed in a black, eco-cutout case within a sturdy, side-sliding cardboard box, which includes four collectible postcards and a glossy, twenty-page booklet with various production stills. 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.
As it did fifty years ago, Kubrick's visual masterpiece once again mesmerizes and astounds moviegoers, landing on Ultra HD with a spectacularly marvelous HEVC H.265 encode that makes the previous 2007 edition look like some ancient, outdated monolith while also providing some appreciable improvements over the new, accompanying Blu-ray.
According to Warner Bros, the original 70mm camera negatives were given a true remaster and restoration, requiring little cleanup or digital wizardry, and from the looks of things, the elements appear to be in superb mint condition. The 2160p transfer is notably sharper with better clarity of background information, exposing every nook and cranny of the still-extraordinary stage production. Viewers can better make out the individual hairs on the bodies of the hominids, each pebble, and crevice in the rock formations is plainly visible, and the fine lines in the minimalist, sterilized design of spaceships are a bit more striking. Facial complexions are highly revealing, and the lettering on screen monitors are more distinct and legible, even from a short distance. Of course, as would be expected from a film of this vintage, there are a few soft, blurry moments, but they are related to special optical effects and therefore, forgivable. On the other hand, keeping the picture just short of perfection are several instances very mild aliasing along the sharpest lines and a bit of video judder in some panning shots.
Presented in its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio, the 4K video's best feature is the significantly enhanced contrast levels, making the entire film seem sparkling new and rejuvenated. Whether aboard the massive space station or the Discovery One spacecraft, the hallways shine a brilliant, immaculate white, while clouds illuminate the skies with splendor, and the stars twinkle against the darkness of space with vivid radiance. Specular highlights provide an intense but also tight and narrow glow around the brightest spots, such as around the 52-minute mark when the scientists approach the monolith on the moon. In previous editions, the large lamps come with a yellowish tint and glow, but they now beam an intense, true-to-life white. Giving home theater enthusiasts an awesome collection of demo-worthy scenery, the movie continuously shows inky, opulent blacks throughout, showing distinct gradational differences between the various shades and articles of clothing. 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 Dolby Vision presentation considerably improves on the colors, compared to its HD SDR counterpart, particularly the slightly wider assortment of browns, yellows, and tans. This is, of course, most apparent during the "Dawn of Man" section where the dry desert sand and rocks are lavished in a variety of sepia, Hazelwood, tawny, and mocha shades. Later, the supposed futuristic clothing only seems to come in dark pecan and hickory browns while the space suits have a tin-foil-like, silvery polish, and Dr. Poole's suit is a glowing buttery yellow. The occasional splatter of primaries, such as the blue and red spacesuits, are richly saturated and sumptuous. But the most impressive aspects are the sunset/sunrise scenes at the beginning and the trippy vortex of colored lights towards the end, showering the screen with a resplendent, kaleidoscopic array of fuchsia pinks, fiery oranges, luminous magentas and eye-popping emerald greens, making this the very best the film has ever looked on any home video format and the definitive way to enjoy this classic. (4K Dolby Vision Video Rating: 96/100)
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 anniversary Ultra HD edition and can be found on the accompanying Blu-ray. Only the commentary track is shared between the UHD and the BD. For a more in-depth take, you can read our review of the standard Blu-ray 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 on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a beautifully mesmerizing Dolby Vision HDR presentation that surpasses its HD SDR counterpart and a highly-satisfying DTS-HD soundtrack. Porting over the same set of supplements as the previous Blu-ray, the overall package is must own!