"2001: A Space Odyssey" HD DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 12-27-07, 04:42 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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"2001: A Space Odyssey" HD DVD review

I received this disc as a Christmas present and just screened it on the Toshiba HD XA2.
It's certainly the best home video mastering of the film which has had problems in the past.
The movie was fully restored from the original 65mm camera negative and looks as good
as it did in 70mm Cinerama back in 1968. Previous versions were mastered from faded
35mm reduction negatives which had problems with the space blacks on the Blue Danube
sequence (they looked purplish instead of black). Warner produced brand new 35mm
elements and the film was re-issued (sort of) in 2001 to commemorate the year the
story took place. Unfortunately, it wasn't a major re-release and only selected theaters
played it in 70mm and 35mm. In addition, the few surviving deeply curved screen
Cinerama theaters didn't book it and it's unlikely it will ever play in that process again.

The movie is my favorite feature and like many filmmakers, was an inspiration for
me in that Kubrick showed what could be done within the studio system on a huge
budget while completely reinventing the sci fi genre and narrative structure.
Actually, there is a background story on why Kubrick was able to pull it off that
most people aren't aware of. While "Dr. Strangelove" was a surprise hit for Columbia
enabling the director to persuade MGM to risk a lot of money on an unconventional
script, Kubrick wisely chose to film it in England to get far away from executives
who might interfere. In addition, there was a proxy fight going on at the studio at time for control of the place. The infighting and power vacume meant Kubrick
was left alone while the shoot dragged out for years. It's one of the longest
productions in history.
The executives didn't see the final product until the premiere and then they
panicked. They had no idea what the film was about nor how to market as you
can tell from the trailers. The early critical response was negative from some
major players like Pauline Kael gave it a thumbs down. One reviewer labeled it
'hypnotically boring' and another 'a shaggy God story'.

The film was released as a Roadshow first in theaters equipped to exhibit it
in 70mm and Cinerama. This was a 'hard ticket' picture which meant you needed
to order tickets in advance of the screening. To everyone's surprise, the picture
quickly became a cult head film for the youth market. In fact, young viewers
started showing up at the theaters to see the movie multiple times and the
word spread that this was the ulitimate 'trip' film, a catch line that later re-issues
used to entice new audiences. In short, it was a picture to watch while you were stoned. MGM dumped the 'hard ticket' policy and told
theaters to allow walk in viewers. The movie became such a hit that future
Roadshow movies gradually eliminated reserved seats as part of the formula.
In New York, despite the picture's popularity the Cinerama theater replaced
it with "Ice Station Zebra" during it's first run. Audiences complained so much
that they ended up bringing it back in 70mm which was unheard of at the time.
Back then, once a movie had played it's Roadshow release, it went into
general release in 35mm and was not shown again in the large format during
it's initial run.

Everyone was talking about the meaning of the story and I recall that my
science teacher in middle school even held a discussion about it. Some critics
felt embarassed that they didn't 'get it' and were out of touch with the public
and re-evaluated their earlier reviews. The same thing had happened with
"Bonnie and Clyde" which was condemned by some and then praised later.
Kubrick wisely refused to disclose what the film was about
and stated that it was open to multiple interpertations. Writer, Arthur C.
Clarke explained much of it in the tie in novel but his explanations were
less than satisfactory and his climax had the star baby destroying nuclear
weapons which was too political and inappropriate for the rest of the story.
In the film version, Bowman appears to have been re-incarnated into a
new and/or more intellent human species which symbolically looks on our
planet from the womb. A much better and more mysterious ending.

I saw it in 70mm in 1968 on a flat screen and in 70mm Cinerama twice at
The Rivoli in the seventies. Actually, the Rivoli had a deeply curved
"Dimension 150" screen which was installed for "Patton" that wasn't exactly
the same dimensions as Cinerama but close enough in it's impact. I also
saw it in 35mm in all of it's later re-releases. At the Rivoli screenings, a few
patrons toted up during the star gate climax. The management looked the
other way despite the aroma of pot after the screening.

The first time I saw the movie, I thought it was very creepy and disturbing.
It played like a mystery-horror film for me except that there was no explanation
or resolution to the mystery. The eeire voices in the atmospheric music coming
out of all speakers was what did it for me. I didn't know what was going on
or what was going to happen next. I still don't but it doesn't matter because
this picture is more of a visual experience than a coherant narrative. I guess
it's the most expensive experimental movie ever made. It's impact is similar
to the first three panel Cinerama feature which gave me motion sickness on
the rollercoaster except this time we're on a 'roller coaster' in outer space
in a manner of speaking.

The special visual effects were the best ever created for a motion picture then
and now. Far superior to contemporary CGE which looks very artificial to me.
Kubrick lit his miniatures in relation to the sun which was something that had
never been done before. Previous space ship miniatures were fully lit which made
them look phony. The movie almost has a 'film noirish' style of cinematography with parts of the image in darkness. He also shot them at extreme slow motion on the large
format film stock to retain the fine grain structure. Had he filmed them in 35mm
they would've been quite grainy considering how many separate pieces of film
were combined for each shot. The lighting design, speed and huge 65mm negative
are what made these effects so convincing and lyrical when combined with the
anachronistic classical music. Since there is no air in space, there are no
whooshing space ship sounds like in so many post-2001 sci fi movies. The lack of sound in space is filled with music or the astronaut's breathing (which was the director's own breathing recorded for the mix).

This is a movie that has to be seen on the biggest
screen you can get and projected via a film print or DLP. I don't think it will work
on a television monitor, no matter how large it is. The new HD DVD is so fine grain
I think it could be projected on a larger screen than my 10 foot wide one without
seeing the pixels. I didn't even see any pixels on the white on white sets which
was a problem with the earlier standard DVD. The stereo surround sound re-mix
is excellent and simulates the six channel magnetic origiinal. The sub woofer kicks
in at unlikely moments which is also effective and unsettling.

The version that exists today is the 2 hour and 20 minute cut which is the only
one I've seen. It works fine although the movie is a very slow moving piece to
begin with. The original Roadshow version which played briefly in NYC was another
20 mintues longer. That's the version that got bad reviews as opposed to the shorter
one that is what has been preserved and restored. Kubrick had final cut on the movie
and trimmed it after watching audience reaction. What was cut? From my research
it appears that the Dawn of Man prologue was much longer. I'm guessing that the
second ape fight had a beginning since there's a jump cut to the middle of it in this
version. There was more footage of Dr. Floyd in the space station which included
a class trip to the place with students and a teacher. There was a scene where Hal
loses a computer chess match with Frank Poole indicating he was malfunctioning. The
second sequene where the astronaut tries to re-install the satelite link with earth
was double the current length. Finally, the star gate climax was longer. I can't tell
whether these extra scenes made the film too slow or whether then enhanced the
experience. Kubrick reportedly destroyed the footage so now we'll never know.
Perhaps it was hypnotically boring at 2 hours and 40 minutes.
He also had the sets and miniatures demolished so other producers wouldn't recycle
them in later movies. Curiously, for someone who was so meticulous about his
productions, Kubrick didn't get involved with their preservation. "Dr. Strangelove"
and "Spartacus" both required extensive and expensive restorations due to studio
neglect after release. "2001" was preserved by MGM in that they made two sets of
65mm black and white separations. The original negative was worn and somewhat
faded but they were able to color correct it and digitally remove the damage for
the new intermediates which will hopefully last another 100 years.

In terms of Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clarke's depiction of the year 2001, most of it has not come to pass.
Like all 'futurists', they made their projections based on the economy and culture of
the time. In the late sixties, we were still at the height of the Cold War with
the Soviet Union which most people thought would be a never ending conflict.
A great deal of federal spending was targeted for it with a large portion going to
the space program to compete with the Russians. Kubrick envisioned setting up
colonies on the moon and an international space station that all travelors could
dock in before continuing their journeys. The end of the Cold War meant that
less money was allocated to NASA and after we made it to the moon in 1969,
people began to lose interest in space exploration. Pan Am is defunct too which
is the clipper that Dr. Floyd uses to travel to the station. In hindsight, it would've
been wiser to just name the movie "Space Odyssey" (in reference to Homer's Odyssey) rather than attaching a date to the story. The production title was "Journey to the Stars" which was better yet. The year "2001" was Kubrick's homage to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" which was the when that story took place. I never liked that film and thought it was heavy handed and pretentious but there's no question it had an impact on the sci-fi genre.

I have no idea how this film will play for young audiences used to "Star Wars" type
of space fantasies as opposed to adult science fiction. They may be bored or
confused beyond the the point where they are entertained. However, for baby
boomers like me who grew up with the film which was in constant re-release,
it's a great addition to my collection and I recommend it.

Reflecting back on the year the movie was released, 1968 was an interesting
one for cinema. Critic, Andrew Sarris, applied the French 'auteur' theory
to American films and certainly Kubrick was one of the champions of the
director being the 'author' of the film as opposed a collaboration
of participants (writer, producer, director, editor etc.).
That's also the year the Production Code was dumped and replaced by the
Classification system. There were no restrictions on movie content and
anything could be shown providing it was rated. That began the glut
of R and X rated movies which changed the demographics of the moviegoing
audience. CRI (Color Reversal Intermediate) was introduced which was
a duplicate negative stock to make release prints in the Eastmancolor
process. Instead of striking hundreds of release copies directly from the
camera negative, this CRI duplicate negative would be used. It certainly
alleviated wear and tear on the master element but prints derived from
CRIs were grainier and lacked the sharpness and resolution of camera
negative copies. Technicolor's dye transfer process was still in use
which offered mass produced first generation quailty but for the other
labs, De Luxe and Metrocolor release prints started looking substandard.
At least all of the 70mm prints of the Kubrick film were struck directly
from the camera negative. Coming attractions trailers weren't rated
at the time and some spots made for R rated movies were pretty graphic
when shown before G or M classified features. I still recall seeing the
bloody trailer for "The Wild Bunch" and very explicit trailer for "The Killing
of Sister George" with my family. Many people were confused over the "M" classification. What exactly
did 'suggested for Mature Audiences' mean? For some people that sounded
worse than X. M was changed to GP by 1970 then later PG and finally
PG-13 which seems to encompass G, M and R rated content in some cases.
The first time I saw a rating was on a TV commercial for "Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang". The tag said rated "G". I thought that meant "Good". After
watching the movie I realized that wasn't the case.

In hindsight the 'auteur' theory only worked if the director had enough
discipline to finish the film within budget and to meet a release deadline and providing
the movie made money. Had "2001: A Space Odyssey" been a bomb, the
'auteur' theory would've been discredited as it later was for a while after Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" fiasco. Kubrick's epic masterpiece came out at the
right time in our cultural history and in large part was a happy accident.
Had it been released in 1965 one year after the beginning of principal
photography (pre counter-culture movement) or
later in the seventies (post counter-culture) it's unlikely it would've had
the same impact much less made it's money back.

Contemporary audiences seem to be less interested in filmmakers that go beyond traditional narrative boundaries or attempt experimental structures. I guess part of the problem is the enormous budgets of today's features. When one
hundred or two hundred million dollars are at risk, they want to stick
with formulas that have proven profitable over the last forty years since
Kubrick's movie was released.

On a personal note, my second McFarland book, "The Moviegoing Experience
1968-2001" is also a reflection on how cinema has changed during those
years. If "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 70mm Cinerama was the zenith of
the motion picture art form, then the third generation high speed 35mm
release prints shown in megaplexes in 2001 would be the nadir. Fortunately,
we no longer have to rely on movie theaters for 'the moviegoing experience'
and can replicate if not surpass that experience at home with the right
equipment and some technical knowhow.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 12-28-07 at 12:45 PM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


2001 a space odyssey , dvd , hd , review

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