Since so many reviews on find-dvd.co.uk seem to concentrate on current releases of recent films, I thought I'd change things up a bit this month to throw a spotlight on what I think is one of the best home-video presentations of an older movie that I've ever seen: the Blu-Ray release of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'.
Constantly cited as an influence by top-tier filmmakers, Kubrick's 1968 film is an epic, thought-provoking science-fiction film that stretches from the dawn of man into the far future, and also features one of cinema's all-time greatest villains in the mysterious, murderous yet deadpan computer, HAL 9000. However, it's certainly not the kind of straightforward action-adventure romp that passes for a sci-fi blockbuster today.
In fact, '2001' is downright challenging at times, with a lengthy wordless prologue involving prehistoric apes that suddenly gives way to an enigmatic section involving the discovery of an alien relic on the moon - which itself only begins to make sense once you make your way into the third section, involving a manned mission to Jupiter. And even then, the film remains enigmatic and oblique, seemingly more concerned with generating a disconcerting and unsettling atmosphere (through long, repetitive and clinical sequences depicting life on board a long-distance spacecraft) than with pushing its story forwards.
Only much later in its two-and-a-half-hour running time does the film offer something resembling a more traditional plot, as two astronauts' lives are put at risk by an onboard computer with ulterior motives, and amazing discoveries are made about the alien intelligence responsible for the iconic black monolith glimpsed earlier in the film.
But along the way, you're treated to some of the most magnificent, confident and assured direction and production that has ever been committed to film.
Kubrick's perfectionist tendencies mean that even a film made close to fifty (fifty!) years ago manages to look more believable and authentic than most of its CGI-infested modern cousins. Intricately-detailed models used for the shots of spaceships and satellites are utterly convincing, and the set designs used for interior scenes offer a wonderful (if now dated) vision of the future, as seen through the eyes of the past.
It sounds exaggerated to say it, but these elements of design are incredibly compelling in their own right, especially when seen through the lens of Kubrick's directorial choices. A long, unbroken sequence involving a slow zoom onto a spaceship docking with a rotating space station is like watching an expert ballet troupe dancing among the stars, while later scenes that show the Jupiter-bound spacecraft in all its elongated glory verge on the hypnotic. And subtler details like the elaborate spacesuit costume designs or the dazzling array of controls and monitors in the spacecraft give you a feeling of being gradually drawn into a futuristic, exotic but fully-realised alternate world.
And Kubrick's gradual reveal of the larger story of '2001' is just as compelling, rewarding patient viewers with a story that's sometimes abstract and sometimes ambiguous, but which also contains some moments of real peril and drama that more than hold their own against similar modern fare such as 'Gravity'.
To say any more would rob the film of some of its power for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. But if you're reading this and you haven't checked out '2001' before, I heartily recommend that you do so on Blu-Ray, as it not only contains one of the best high-definition transfers of an older film that I've ever seen, it also contains a wealth of extras that help to place the movie in a larger historical context, and offer some fascinating insights about its production.
On Blu-Ray, '2001' really does look like it could have been shot yesterday, with an incredible clarity and crispness that I wouldn't have thought possible for a film made in 1968. Very few classic older movies have been restored and transferred with this much finesse: 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars' spring to mind, but such high-quality releases are few and far between - and '2001' is arguably even better than both of those examples, given its age and the complicated nature of certain effects shots.
Scenes such as the psychedelic stargate sequence towards the end of the movie, or the moments in which the astronauts go outside the spaceship are given new life by this Blu-Ray transfer, with the film's occasional vivid colours and frequent stark backgrounds being equally crystal-clear. On a visual level, you couldn't see a more perfect presentation of this film if you had walked into a cinema on the day of its original release, and that's quite an achievement.
Sound fares equally well. Although '2001' is quite a sparse movie in terms of dialogue and music, this means that the moments in which the sound does kick in are even more important - and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track makes sure that the film sounds as perfect as it looks. The bursts of classical music (such as the thankfully-now-restored initial low-key orchestral piece that opens the film in darkness, before that classic 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' overture bursts out at you - or the Blue Danube waltz that plays during the spacecraft-docking sequence) could be taken from a live orchestral performance, and the artificial sound effects (such as the piercing buzz emitted by the monolith on the moon) are as crisp and clear as the dialogue. Given how much of the film takes place in silence - smartly reflecting the real-life lack of sound in space - it's nice to see that they haven't neglected the audio on this release.
As for the disc's extras, they range from a commentary track by actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood (who play the two main astronauts, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole), which contains plenty of interesting anecdotes and observations; a 45-minute 'making of' feature that goes into quite a lot of depth about the film (including the involvement of novelist Arthur C Clarke in its conception, and some wonderful tidbits like the real-life synthesised speech of 1960s computers that provided the inspiration for Douglas Rain's voiceover for HAL 9000); an audio interview with Kubrick himself; a separate documentary about the film's legacy and its lasting influence on the next generation of filmmakers; a trio of mini-features focusing on the film's predictions about technology and its ideas about alien life; and a gallery of still photographs related to the film's production. It really is a treasure-trove of content for fans of the film like me, and I'm pleased to see such an important and influential film being given such a thorough treatment.
In case it isn't clear from the previous paragraphs, I consider '2001: A Space Odyssey' to be one of the most original, well-crafted, influential, unique and mesmerising films I've ever seen, and this Blu-Ray version is possibly the first home video release to truly do the film justice. If you're a Kubrick aficionado who already loves '2001', then you'll find plenty to enjoy here; and if this is your first experience of this magnificent movie, you couldn't ask for a better version to watch.
I first saw this movie when I was 13 years old. My parents took me to see it at the Theatre Royal 'Cinerama' Cinema in Manchester. The exterior of the cinema was adorned with banners, posters and 3D photo's from the movie. I was full of anticipation. Once we had taken our seats the lights dimmed and the curtains opened to reveal a small area of screen. Pathe news came on followed by a couple of adverts for local attractions. I was really disappointed! Was this 'Cinerama'! If anything the screen was smaller than in an average cinema. I didn't realise that this was all part of the act! We were first presented with the 'ordinary' screen size, so that the impact of the Cinerama experience was maximised. The lights faded out completely and the cinema was plunged into complete darkness. The music of Ligeti, 'Atmospheres' began to play, a stroke of genius on the part of the director which is preserved in the Bluray. The music continued for a couple of minutes, heightening the sense of anticipation. The British board of film sensors certificate came on the screen. As it disappeared the music of Ligeti faded away and the curtains began to open.....wider...and wider....and wider! and wider!! until we found ourselves seated within the gigantic arc of a massive screen. 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' began to play and the first shots of the aligned planets and the sunrise filled the enormous screen. I was totally blown away. This was virtual 3D without the glasses, way back in 1968. I have seen this movie over 30 times since and bought the Bluray as soon as it became available. I have a home cinema projector and though it's not quite 'Cinerama,' I must say that when I loaded the disc into the player some of that early anticipation gripped me again. The transfer is fantastic and the sound is wonderful. It's difficult for people today to realise just how different this film was when it first came out. Remember it was released the year before man landed on the moon! The effects, though obviously simplistic by today's standards, nevertheless were superbly executed and therefore look brilliant even now. Some of the in camera tricks that Kubrick used can be seen today in films such as 'Inception.' '2001' is a unique movie in many ways. Achieving in film something similar to the structure of a Symphony in music. It carries with it a sense of awe, wonder and mystery. Sit back and let it wash over you. Consider it as a painting in light. Throw away your preconceptions and embrace the unique experience of this cinematic event.
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Sci-fi epic directed by Stanley Kubrick. At the dawn of mankind, a tribe of ape-like beings are visited on Earth by a large black monolith. Thousands of years later, in the year 2001, scientist Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) discovers a similar black monolith on the moon, which then emits a signal aimed at the planet Jupiter. A year later, astronauts Dr David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are en route to Jupiter to investigate the signal's destination and purpose. However, their mission comes under threat when their ship's sentient computer, HAL (voice of Douglas Rain), seemingly develops a malfunction.
Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey! When a large black monolith is found beneath the surface of the moon, the reaction immediately is that it was intentionally buried. When the point of origin is confirmed as Jupiter, an expedition is sent in hopes of finding the source. When Dr. David Bowman discovers faults in the expeditionary space craft's communications system, he discovers more than he ever wanted to know. Commentary by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood Channel Four Documentary 2001: The Making of a Myth 4 Insightful Featurettes: Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 - Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 - A Look Behind the Future - What Is Out There? FX and Early Conceptual Artwork Look: Stanley Kubrick! Audio-Only Bonus: 1966 Kubrick Interview Conducted by Jeremy Bernstein Theatrical Trailer Actors Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter & Daniel Richter Director Stanley Kubrick Certificate 12 years and over Year 1968 Screen 2.20:1 Widescreen Languages English - PCM (5.1) Additional Languages English ; French ; German ; Italian ; Spanish Subtitles English ; Brazilian Portuguese ; Spanish - Castiliian ; Chinese ; Danish ; Dutch ; Finnish ; French ; German ; Italian ; Korean ; Latin ; Spanish ; Norwegian ; Portuguese ; Swedish Duration 2 Hours and 21 Minutes (approx)