2001: A Space Odyssey Review

OK, I'll confess - this is the first time I've ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm not really sure why I've never seen it before - it's certainly a film that should interest me, but I've just never found the time or had the opportunity to watch it until now. Of course, it's impossible to come to a film of such stature without some knowledge and expectations but I've tried to put that all to the back of my mind and to try to view the film with a fresh pair of eyes.

I personally don't count myself as a Kubrick fan. That's not to say that I don't like his films - it's just that for the most part I've never really been entirely won over by them. So it is with some trepidation that I approach 2001 - I certainly want to enjoy it, but will I? Let's find out...

One thing that stands out throughout the film is that you shouldn't expect to get any answers to the many questions thrown into the mix. There is much more of an emphasis on posing questions about humanity and it's existence than trying to take the more accepted science fiction route of aliens and wars. Even after multiple viewings (which I've undertaken in the last few days), the film still appears as mysterious as ever.

The film starts at the 'Dawn of Man', when we get to witness primitive ape-man discovery of rudimentary tools and the first appearance of the mysterious black monolith. After an effective set-up act we quickly cut to the near future - or Kubrick and Clarke's interpretation of this year to be more precise!

The space setting for the majority of the film allows Kubrick to experiment with techniques that make it appear that the cast are weightless. There are many 'set-pieces' of this type accompanied in most cases by an impressive selection of classical pieces including Johann Strauss' Blue Danube and Richard Strauss' Sprach Zarathrusta. Being filmed prior to the first moon landing, it's surprising just how accurate Clarke and Kubrick were in predicting just what form a moon landing would actually take.

As for the performances, it should be noted that unlike you'd usually expect from a Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn't make use of stars in the conventional sense. While the cast are not unknowns, they were not picked for their star status for the very reason that Kubrick wanted to underplay the human role in the film.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a challenge to watch. As most of you will be well aware this isn't an action-fest. It's much more a study of the human condition that just happens to be set in space. As a whole Kubrick's film is an outstanding piece of filmmaking - and the various 'set-pieces' (for want of a better word) are for various reasons quite spectacular.

Given the year of the films release, there's little reason to be surprised at the styling - both of the character's hair and of the general dress and set design. The sixties view of the future was obviously that decoration-wise everything was going to be white! It's also worth noting here that the film is presented in its entirety, this includes both the original overture and the intermission - both of which are accompanied by Gyorgy Ligeti's Atmospheres.

Michael Brooke reviewed the original Region 1 edition of the film a while ago. This has since been reissued as with an anamorphic transfer but lacking the Arthur C Clarke interview. The good news is that the Region 2 disc also gets the anamorphic treatment; the bad news is that it appears to be a direct copy of the Region 1 disc so we also lose the interview as well.

Let's have a look at the transfer in more detail. As mentioned above it's anamorphic and it's presented in the original 2.2:1 aspect ratio. In terms of the actual transfer quality this disc is very impressive indeed considering the age of the film. The range of colours used in the film is outstanding and every one is presented here exactly as it should be - the blacks are as black as they should be, the whites are equally impressive and every colour in between is as sharp and clears as can be expected. Detail in the dark areas is impressive to say the least and the contrast is superb. The only (minor) fly in the ointment is some very slight edge-enhancement but this is hardly noticeable even when it's at its worst.

The print is in very good condition and it has obviously been both well preserved and carefully restored for this release. In terms of transfer quality, the DVD comes very close to the standards set by Warner's stunning North by Northwest - there's hardly anything to chose between them.

The soundtrack has been remixed into 5.1 channels and for the most part it's excellent. However my one reservation comes with the music that plays such a huge part in the film - it's not quite up to scratch and when the volume is turned up there is some noticeable noise/hiss and even distortion in one or two cases. That said, dialogue is very clear - maybe a little harsh at times but this is to be expected. Surround effects are used sparingly but effectively and the music in general comes into it's own when played through a decent surround system.

Given the fact we are now in 2001, you would expect that a film of this importance would be given the full special edition treatment. Even more surprising considering that the copy I have here is the full collector's edition box set is the fact that despite the price you're not really getting anything more than a bog-standard disc in fancy packaging. The extras on the disc are limited to a single theatrical trailer - we don't even get animated menus, just a few boring static screens.

Metrodome have tried to make an effort by providing you with the soundtrack CD along with a collectable 14-page booklet and a senitype (a frame from the film). The booklet goes into reasonable detail on the film and the music while the senitype is exactly what you'd expect - nothing more, nothing less!

Warner will be releasing the film independently of the box set later this year. Whether or not it will be anything more than just the disc included here is open to speculation - although going on past releases I don't expect they'll be going to any extra expense to secure further extra material. As far as missed opportunities go, this could be the one to take the biscuit - with less than six months (at the time of writing) to do something really special, it's not looking too promising.

As things stand, this release is good, but for £35 I would personally expect a whole lot more. I've seen many, many far superior collector's editions available for just over half the price...

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