"2001: A Space Odyssey" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) is one of my all-time favorites. It's one of the films that started me on a life-long love of the movies. I've seen it so many times I've lost count. To my mind, "2001" is one of a handful of quintessential large-screen movies, and so I was a little worried about seeing it on DVD, especially after seeing it a couple of years ago in 70 millimeter at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles. But after watching it on DVD recently, I was pleasantly surprised that much of its visual brilliance and grandeur still came through.
"2001" is notorious for its unconventional narrative structure. At its Hollywood premiere, Rock Hudson reportedly groused, "Will somebody tell me what the hell this is about?" And distinguished film critic John Simon characterized the movie as pretentious, calling it a "shaggy God story." But the film has become a landmark and today appears on most lists of greatest all-time movies. It ranks number 6 in the 2002 "Sight and Sound" Critics' Poll and number 22 in the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies.
For those who haven't seen "2001" lately, let me give a brief narrative summary: In prehistoric times, ape-like primates are visited by a mysterious rectangular black slab, and soon those protohumans begin using tools and weapons. Four million years later, a similar rectangular black slab is discovered on the moon, presumably placed there by extraterrestrials. Five astronauts are dispatched to search for the extraterrestrials, but the mission is threatened when the spacecraft's remarkably human and supposedly infallible HAL 9000 computer goes through something akin to a nervous breakdown. After four of the astronauts perish, the lone survivor comes upon another rectangular black slab near Jupiter, leading to surreal revelations and an ending I find sublime, although somewhat enigmatic.
"2001" is a visually stunning film by any standard. Consider, for example, Kubrick conveying mankind's reliance on tools by having a protohuman toss a large animal bone up in the air and then cutting to a spacecraft that looks rather similar to the bone. (Four million years elapse during the cut!) And then there's the fantastic nine-minute sequence late in the movie where an astronaut apparently travels through some sort of space-time tunnel—the journey comes across as a mind-blowing, hallucinogenic trip that I don't believe has ever been matched in any other movie.
To my mind "2001" is still a thoroughly modern film, remaining fresh and innovative today, more than 35 years after its initial release. Yet, it essentially has the esthetic of a silent film: the images carry much more weight in telling the story than do words. In fact, there is no dialogue at all for about the first 25 minutes, and not a word is spoken during the film's final 23 minutes. The vast majority of the dialogue is banal, and none of the characters—except for Hal, the computer—ever talk about their feelings.
I think the music on the soundtrack of "2001" is one of the film's most enjoyable aspects. In a stroke of genius, Kubrick decided to abandon the idea of using music specially composed for the movie, and instead he opted for preexisting orchestral pieces. Johann Strauss's "The Blue Danube" accompanies the graceful, controlled movements of spacecraft, and the triumphant opening of Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" signals momentous events in the history of humankind. Eerie, atonal music composed by György Ligeti lends an air of mystery to the encounters with the black rectangular slabs, and elsewhere in the movie there's an interesting passage from Aram Khachaturian's "Gayane Ballet Suite."
"2001" isn't really famous for its humor, but there is some in the segment of the film that takes place on Earth's moon. This is the part where a bland senior technocrat named Dr. Haywood Floyd gives a guarded, uninformative, uninspiring talk to a group of Americans at their moon base. I laughed out loud when a colleague later told him, "That was an excellent speech you gave us, Haywood. I'm sure it beefed up morale a hell of a lot." I believe Kubrick was having a little fun here showing his disdain for bureaucratic behavior.
The "2001: A Space Odyssey" DVD looks and sounds terrific. The film is presented in letterbox widescreen format preserving the "scope" aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition enhanced for widescreen TVs. My only complaint about the DVD is that it's rather barebones: the only bonus material of any consequence is a theatrical trailer.
Selected Special Features on the DVD:
Widescreen Format Preserving Aspect Ratio of Original
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
French 5.1 Dolby Digital