Updated: Sep 13
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“The Dawn of Man" sequence when a primate discovers a bone can be a powerful weapon.
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“2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1968; G for everyone; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick” featurette
FOR HALF a century, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” has been hailed as one of cinema’s greatest – with its mind-blowing visuals of a spacecraft dancing in the starry void. At the same time, it’s been criticized as one of the most puzzling movies ever made, with its long segments of unfathomable cosmic mysteries.
The first line of dialogue doesn’t happen until the 25-minute mark, and “when it first appears it’s spoken quietly and doesn’t make much sense,” says Kubrick biographer David Hughes, during the featurette “Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick,” which was carried over from the 2007 40th Anniversary Blu-ray set. "The slow parts were absolutely essential to the whole feeling of just being in space," says “Star Wars” stop-motion animator Phil Tippett.
For sci-fi aficionados and inspiring filmmakers, it was the movie to see during the violent and vulnerable spring of 1968. “Anytime a Kubrick film came out, I and my friends were first in line,” says five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. “It ignited the spark for a generation of filmmakers,” adds Tippett.
The late film critic Roger Ebert remembered the premiere, held at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd., quite well. Many of filmdom’s elite, including actor Rock Hudson, stormed out, wrote Ebert for a 30th-anniversary article. “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” asked Hudson. In the featurette, the Chicago Sun-Times writer gave his own impressions: “Shivers went up and down my spine. They really did. I mean, now, that is the kind of phrase that critics shouldn’t use because it sounds so corny.”
“It was so far ahead of its time in terms of the way it tells a story, and he does it visually rather than verbally. It’s a silent movie in the sound era.” – Producer/filmmaker George Lucas
After Kubrick finished his doomsday black comedy, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964), starring Peter Sellers, he searched for the perfect collaborator with whom to tackle his next project. He chose sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, using his 1951 short story “The Sentinel” as the launching point for a full-fledged novel, instead of a screenplay for “2001.” It would take nearly four years for the story to be completed, while Kubrick filmed mostly on soundstages in London, as they were making it up as they went along. The budget skyrocketed from $4.5 to over $10 million, the majority of which was spent on the 205 Oscar-winning visual effects shots.
Composer Alex North was tapped for the score, but at the last minute Kubrick went back to his original tracks of classical works, and opened the film with Strauss’s “Also Spake Zarathustra,” which shocked North at the premiere.
The first section, “The Dawn of Man,” begins on a desert landscape in Africa, as group of primates struggles to survive. Then one of them picks up a bone and uses it to kill an animal. The group is eating meat and fighting off rivals when a strange black monolith appears.
Later, a primate throws a bone into the sky and it transforms into the greatest fast-forward shot captured on celluloid of a spaceship. The year is now 2001. Another monolith, which is beaming signals toward Jupiter, is discovered on the moon’s surface. On a mission to Jupiter, Astronaut Dave Bowman (Kier Dullea) must deal with the HAL 9000, a monotone-voiced computer that controls the ship, after it kills Bowman’s fellow crewmen. The final sequence shows Bowman coursing through a psychedelic stargate portal, which leads him on a journey to old age, death, and rebirth.
“It’s one of the most thought-provoking movies ever made,” says director Peter Hyams who filmed the follow-up, “2010: The Year We Made Contact.”
Director Christopher Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (“Dunkirk,” “Interstellar”) oversaw the new theatrical 70mm film prints exhibited last summer in select theaters – which I witnessed – and the new 8K video masters to match the reference prints.
The restoration process started nearly 20 years ago. It was done the old-fashioned way, by hand-cleaning the original 65mm camera negative, which involved removing old taped splices and imperfect repairs. Then an answer print was created in 1999, which adhered to the original color timing notes, and became the basis for the 2018 “unrestored” film prints and color reference for the new video master.
For the 4K home release, the 65mm negative (2.20:1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 8K using the industry’s best color correction software to match the hues and characteristics of film stock, while technicians referenced the 1991 answer print and a new 70mm check print to mimic Kubrick’s 1968 theatrical release. Warner Bros. handled the HDR10, Dolby Vision and color timing with Nolan and van Hoytema’s all-important input.
The 4K Ultra HD is far superior to previous home releases, which were based on a 2K scan from a 35mm optical reduction of the 65mm negative. The expanded sharpness and clarity is evident from the opening frames of “The Dawn of Man” sequence, mostly filmed in Namibia, southwest Africa. The larger the screen you have at home the bigger the difference you’ll observe.
You’ll also see a light washing of natural film grain, which is more controlled than traditional 35mm film stock. Plus, the special effects optical shots are still breathtaking, without losing detail — a common problem with older films. The HDR highlights and shadows are tremendous, from the brightest highlights to the deepest blacks, without losing detail in the shadows of deep space. And the color preservation is rich and vivid, evident from the kaleidoscope portal of colors and by HAL 9000’s ominous red eye, never looking so sinister.
The team went back to the original 6-channel soundtrack and faithfully transferred it to the theatrical prints and home release DTS-HD, with strong bass response and clear and striking highs for a sweeping high fidelity experience - especially with the symphonic classics and the haunting vocals for the black monolith sequences.
Strangely, there are no new interviews or featurettes highlighting the restoration, but the collection of bonus features is quite informative. The 4K disc and streaming versions include a commentary with American actors Dullea and Gary Lockwood, as Dr. Frank Poole. Dullea had been a fan of Kubrick since his drama school days when he witnessed the anti-war film “Paths of Glory” (1957), starring Kirk Douglas. “It blew me out of my seat. I knew this man would be a contender to be one of greatest film directors of the 20th century,” says Dullea. Lockwood, who grew up on a cattle ranch, drove into town as a 16-year old to see his first Kubrick movie: The film noir classic, “The Killing” (1956). He remembers it was the first time, after seeing a movie, he stopped to look at a lobby card so he could find out who directed the film. “I never forgot that name, Stanley Kubrick.”
Additional features include a 43-minute ‘2001: Making Of’ featurette hosted by director James Cameron, with interviews with Dullea, Arthur C. Clark, and visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, an ex-NASA guy; “Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of ‘2001,’” in which experts reflect on the accuracy of Clarke and Kubrick’s world of “2001”; a vintage look at the “2001” movie set in London, hosted by Look Magazine, where Kubrick got his start as a photographer in the late 1940s; “What is Out There?” examines the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life and the concept of God; early concept artwork; and a 75-minute audio interview with Kubrick and physicist/writer Jeremy Bernstein from 1966.
"2001" received four Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Kubrick, and was No. 15 in AFI's 2007 Greatest American Films of All Time list. Clearly, this home presentation is a top candidate for the best 4K watch of the year.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
50th Anniversary Trailer