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"The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."
DVD Review2001: A Space Odyssey is embedded in my personal consciousness just as much as it is embedded in our popular culture. I have read the Making of... book, listened to soundtrack recordings and found out much about space and science fiction in following the spread of its influence. Every sci-fi film after 2001 must take it into account as a standard; however, that standard is difficult to put a finger on. Highly respected science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, co-authored the script based on his award-winning short story, The Sentinel, and among other standards set by the film is the potently literate nature of the screenplay. The musical score redefined the way music is used in the medium and brought the unique nature of modern "classical" music is understood in mass media.
Director Stanley Kubrick's early masterpiece has a difficult to discern storyline that many critics have labeled "incomprehensible." But Kubrick has declared the film to be, at heart, a visual experience. Indeed, that it is. From a time in which vast satellite systems, Hubble telescopes and space shuttles were dreams, he gives us a vision of the future that is beautiful and compelling. From a less enlightened era, we have a view of human evolution that is intriguing and exciting. There is no doubt that, love it or hate it, 2001 is a unique cinematic experience that can only be understood subjectively, based on what the individual brings to the experience.
The first section of the film, Dawn of Man, shows us a short tale of an ape-like group of very early humans who are mostly herbivorous and under domination from other similar groups that are more aggressive. For example, they are driven from the all-important water hole by a rival group. On a mysterious night, there suddenly appears what has come to be called the "monolith." Tall and black, the monolith seems to influence the development of the creatures and we see this in action as one of them contemplates the bones of a dead tapir. He picks up a thighbone and, using it as a club, destroys the other bones in the skeleton by pounding them to bits. On the soundtrack we here the title theme, Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathrusta, pounding in the background.
Utilizing the newly-discovered tool/weapon, the group kills tapirs and become meat-eaters. They use their clubs to drive off the rival group and retake the waterhole. It seems at this point that discovery of the monolith somehow "gave" these early humans progressive ideas along their evolutionary path. We are suddenly sent far into the future in an amazing jump cut from the spinning thighbone thrown into the air by the group leader to a "bone-shaped" space ship that is flying from Earth to an orbiting space station. Where the music had been eerie and modernistic in the prehistoric sequence, here the music is the soothing, sophisticated, classical tones of Johann Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz. We have moved from the beginnings of man's intelligence to the execution of that intelligence at its most sophisticated: space travel.
The tapestry of this middle sequence is rich in humor and believable visual detail. Interestingly, by this time in the movie we have heard no actual dialogue beyond the grunts of the prehistoric humans. But what a feast for the eyes and ears as we follow American scientist Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) on his journey through the nearby space of Earth! With 2001, Kubrick changed science fiction cinema by creating a technological look that doomed most every previous film of the genre to look positively dated in their representation of the future. It is fascinating to see how the "look" of the systems in 2001 hold up for today's viewers in ways that few such films of the era can. But, it is fascinating to realize that one of the reasons for this, similar to the also influential original Star Trek series, is that this film has created in the minds of impressionable viewers over the years a vision of the future that has become a standard of expression. Of course, we have created systems that resemble the systems in 2001; future technological designers and engineers of that era were awakened by the vision of the coming millennium that 2001 represents.
At the space station, Floyd meets with a group of Russian scientists and we feel the emergence of the story as they are troubled by conflicting reports from the American base, Clavius, located on the moon. Floyd dismisses their concerns before proceeding to the base where we find that they have found... another monolith. The implications of this discovery are profound and strict secrecy has been maintained. While Floyd is visiting the site of the discovery, the monolith comes to life and sends a powerful radio beacon in the direction of Jupiter.
Very quickly, a mission is organized and sent to the Jovian system to investigate the reasons for this unprecedented event. In speculative stories published as we have reached the 21st century, writers have examined the technology Kubrick designed here and compared our advancements with the developments he suggested. In many cases, our actual technology has been found wanting. For example, the movie presents a fully developed space station orbiting the Earth and we have made slow and difficult progress in developing such a device. We have no bases on the moon and, in fact, have not returned there for over 20 years. It is interesting to speculate as to the reasons for this. What could have been different in our 1970s that would have prevented the abandonment of the Apollo program and the seemingly inevitable development of technology along the lines of what we see in the fictionalized 2001? Perhaps we are fortunate that the whole thing was not abandoned completely and we do have our thriving space shuttle program, growing International Space Station and deep space probes such as Voyager.
The sequence that covers the trip to Jupiter is one of the most compelling stretches of film in all of science fiction. The incredibly innovative shots composed by Kubrick and shot with special sets and cameras provide an astonishing feeling of outer space travel. Building on the foundation of the first two sequences in prehistory and Floyd's journey to the moon, Kubrick achieves an unprecedented cinematic experience that gives us the feeling of being on a virtual experience of space flight. Moving from the subjective viewpoint to a more participatory aspect, especially in seeing the action from the viewpoint of the ship's computer, give the viewer the feeling of being there as a silent witness to the mysterious events to come. It is this subjectivity that has contributed to the widely varying interpretations of potential "meanings" for the film.
The onboard computer, HAL 9000, is one of the most remarkable and enduring characters ever created in the genre. Since the release of 2001, many movies have used artificial intelligence in robots and computers, but it is extremely rare to see one of these characters achieve the chillingly realistic nature of HAL. The interaction between HAL and crew members Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), is fascinating viewing and sometimes HAL seems even more human than his stoic biological shipmates.
As the ship nears Jupiter, a communications array seems to be potentially faulty and when investigation turns up no flaw, HAL begins to act very strangely and the sequence becomes a battle between the human crew and the computer for control of the mission. The two humans find their options limited in dealing with an entity that is the "nerve center" of the ship.
This battle and the final sequences are extremely unique and memorable, both for their uniqueness (although less so in our era since this movie has been paid so much "homage" in the intervening three decades) and unrelenting subjectivity. The viewer must comprehend the conclusion of 2001 on their own, based on their understanding of the events in the previous sequences and what knowledge and experience they bring to the film, based on their own metaphysical comprehension of existence.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: I have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey at the theater with special extended screens on each side to deal with the wide aspect ratio. I have seen it at the drive-in on one huge screen. I have seen 2001 at full-frame aspect on television. The video transfer to DVD is sterling work and I simply enjoyed watching the compositions, the colors, the lighting and the gorgeous detailed work in set design. This film laid the foundation for so many of the attributes we know as the style of Stanley Kubrick. The symmetry, the super-realistic lighting, the sweeping camera work are all found here and the image transfer, with the original 2.10:1 aspect ratio, displays all to their best benefit.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The digitally remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is a joy to listen to and captures the power of the soundtrack, which is both bombastic and subtle. Also, through separation into 6 channels provides a potent and mind-filling transfer filled with complexity. One hears how the use of music plays such an important role, with composers as diverse as Gyorgy Ligeti, Aram Khatchaturian, Johann Strauss and Richard Strauss. This is one listenable movie track.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The dearth of extras on a disc that presents a motion picture of such historical importance is disheartening. We have the trailer and nothing else. But, as with many great films, it is the movie itself that is the most important element. I will trade all the extras possible for an exquisite presentation of the film. But, a documentary or featurette might have been nice to enjoy the technical achievements of this film. This title does come in The Stanley Kubrick Collection set and so there is some good material about it in the accompanying bonus disc, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.
Extras Grade: C
Final Comments2001: A Space Odyssey was a singularly unique motion picture experience when released in 1968 and this uniqueness is as strong today in its DVD presentation as then. Rarely has a movie reached for the philosophical grandeur of human existence and been so widely influential on human thought. This film deserves its place in the pantheon of cinematic art and is highly recommended as an essential disc for any collection.
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