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Warner Home Video presents
"Dave…my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it."
DVD ReviewLike just about everybody else, I'm a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick's, and of this movie particularly, so let me start with the necessary down side: there's a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey that's almost comically self-important (starting with the title), and some of it that seems deliberately incomprehensible. You can't watch the last half hour of this film, for instance, and not wish that you'd brought along the Monarch Notes or hadn't passed on that bong hit. I've never been too wild about the prologue, either, what Kubrick rather pompously calls The Dawn of Man—I find it difficult to watch without giggling, imagining all those actors yukking it up in their ape suits, waiting for the director to call "cut" and seeing the masks come off, for cigarettes, profanity, alcohol, whatever it is that sustains you on an endless shoot.
But my lord, this is such an extraordinary and towering achievement, even with its faintly ridiculous overture and intermission. You do settle in to Kubrick's stately pace, though, and a lot of what remains so amazing even forty years after the fact are his f/x shots—this was obviously the crucial influence on at least two generations of science-fiction filmmakers, but Kubrick's images are still shot through with light and magic. It's a wonderfully merry thing, to sit back and listen to Strauss's Blue Danube (again) and to watch these images waft by, of shuttles and pods and spacecraft, of the mundane tasks of living shorn of gravity, of the very humanness of Kubrick's characters in his fantastically detailed imaginary future. And from our vantage, it's a very 1960s vision of the future, sort of the Mary Quant aesthetic in space—now that we're a good number of years past 2001 A.D., life seems rather prosaic and mundane when compared to what Kubrick had in mind for us back in the mid 1960s.
The central and most iconic portion of the film, though, is probably its central hour, as we travel with astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) on a mission to Jupiter—their other colleagues are in a state of induced hibernation, to preserve them for the long journey, and so the third functioning character is HAL, the supercomputer so vital to the functioning of the spacecraft. (My colleague Jesse Shanks' excellent and thorough review of a previous DVD release of the title gives a far better synopsis than I do here.) HAL exists for us as little more than a single red light, but he is perhaps the greatest and most iconic movie villain in history, and gets at one of the fundamental themes of the film: the increasingly combative relationship between humanity and its accelerating technology. Dullea and Lockwood are understated and convincing as the men who have to do battle with their faceless, silicon-based colleague—so much of Kubrick's work is unrelentingly chilly, his view of humanity so deeply dark, that he can make Kurosawa look jolly and wacky in comparison, but Kubrick can be surprisingly kind to the people in this movie. Even in his imagined future, everybody likes to be remembered on their birthday, for instance—so Dave's virtual cake and candles from his parents is really very sweet, as is the long-distance video conversation between Heywood Floyd and his little girl, whose disappointment shows when she learns that Daddy won't be able to make it to her party.
The opening may be a little silly, but it leads to maybe the greatest single cut in film history—the Paleolithic bone is hoisted into the heavens, and what goes up as a fossil comes down as a space station, literally launching us into the future. There's a bit of the same pomposity toward the end, too—the chapter title here is Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, and some of the images are a reminder that this is straight out of the '60s, a trippy light show that seems a bit like Stanley's cinematic acid trip. Also, we've probably all got our own visions of heaven and the great beyond—even if yours isn't of God as the grand old man with the long white beard, I bet it's not eternity as a Rococo drawing room, either, which is what you get here.
It would be impossible to overstate the influence of the movie, and it's a mark of Kubrick's genius that he moved between genres with such felicity, if not with great speed—when you think that the project that preceded it was the blackest of black comedies, Dr. Strangelove, and that up next would be the riotously anarchic A Clockwork Orange, you can only gasp at the breadth of Kubrick's talent, and to appreciate that the long lags between Kubrick pictures were invariably worth the wait.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: So many of the film's images remain breathtaking, and they're all exquisitely well rendered on this re-release. The Criterion laserdisc of this title had been the benchmark, but it's easily surpassed here, in a transfer that's free of blemishes and one that delivers the colors in the primal and saturated glory.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Aside from a couple of the film's signature uses of classical music (The Blue Danube Waltz, and Also Sprach Zarathrustra), there's almost no soundtrack music—which makes balance a bit of a problem in this mix, because the musical passages can be subsuming. I imagine that Kubrick would have liked it loud; your neighbors might have other ideas.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Disc Two starts with 2001: The Making of a Myth (43m:04s), which features observations from Arthur C. Clarke, on whose novel the film is based; many of the special effects artisans on the shoot; Dullea; Dan Richter, one of the actors in the ape suits; and big fans of the film, ranging from director James Cameron to former N.Y. Times film critic Elvis Mitchell to (the most unlikely) academic provocateur Camille Paglia. Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 (21m:23s) is shop talk from big fans, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Caleb Deschanel and Roger Ebert. Some of the same talking heads appear again in Visions of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 (21m:29s), and especially good here is Kubrick biographer John Baxter.
2001: A Space Odyssey—A Look Behind the Future (23m:09s) is a making-of piece from back in the day, with lots of comparisons to the Apollo missions, and interviews with Kubrick's scientific advisors. Dullea reads from a script sitting in his lap on What Is Out There?, a consideration of Kubrick as a philosopher—this one is worth a look principally for lots of on-set footage. The director's widow Charlotte and visual effects supervisor Doug Trumbull feature prominently in a piece (9m:32) on effects and early conceptual artwork, featuring lots of great groovy paintings, and a peek (3m:14s) at Kubrick's career as a magazine photographer for Look has many of his pictures, set to bebop. And the famously reclusive director gets all chatty in a 1966 radio interview (1h:16m:26s), discussing everything from chess to the film influences on his own work to Strangelove.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsA spectacularly imagined and perfectly executed achievement, and one that continues to inspire generations. A great film by any measure, in a handsomely rendered special edition. Open the pod bay doors, please, Hal.
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