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2001: A Space Odyssey Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 June 2001

2001: A Space Odyssey

Warner Home Video/MGM
starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
release year: 1968
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

It’s no accident that the only time I felt I understood director Stanley Kubrick’s ground-breaking, monumental ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was the fourth time I saw it, seated dead center in the front row of the enormous Cinerama Dome theatre. While ‘2001’ is open to any number of interpretations, one of Kubrick’s primary goals appears to be overwhelming the audience with the sheer size and depth of his images. There’s nothing quite like seeing that black monolith towering at skyscraper height directly in front of you. Unless your personal viewing facilities happens to include a screen big enough for use in a 1,500-seat venue, this aspect of the movie doesn’t really translate. If there was ever a film designed exclusively for viewing in theatres, ‘2001’ is it.

Bearing this in mind, the DVD release of ‘2001’ is fairly effective. The original overture has been preserved here, something wise to keep in mind (as opposed to wondering why the screen is black for nearly three minutes before the film proper starts). The sound is excellent, with the Chapter 2 blast of "Thus Sprach Zarathustra" throughout the Dawn of Man sequence capable of blowing even well-prepared viewers across the room. Color contrasts are rich and vibrant, though the transfer contains the occasional annoying white splotch. The DVD also features a 1968 press conference with writer Arthur C. Clarke, who penned the original novel and collaborated on the screenplay with director Kubrick. The session is a bit dry but should intrigue anyone interested in hearing (and seeing) Clarke speak for himself on the film’s themes.

Kubrick and Clarke broke a great deal of new ground with ‘2001.’ However, 31 years later, not all of their achievement holds up. Many filmmakers have borrowed Kubrick’s ironic contrast of beautiful classical music with antiseptic, impersonal visuals of metal and fiberglass environments, but most of them don’t dwell on the juxtaposition at quite this length, with good reason. Although the homicidal computer HAL 9000 stands the test of time as a wonderfully sympathetic, neurotic villain, the human characters don’t fare so well. The astronauts in HAL’s care, venturing into deep space to ascertain the origins of mysterious artifacts, are so bland for so long that we may start to wonder if we’re meant to think it doesn’t matter whether they find any answers or not. What’s the point of determining the origins or meaning of life if it’s all interchangeable? The lengthy, frequent discussions of the mission’s purpose -- originally powerful because of the novelty of their physical appearance -- now play like extended versions of briefing scenes from ‘The X-Files,’ minus even the thrill of paranoia.

Still, the escalating conflict between HAL and Keir Dullea’s astronaut Dave remains truly tense and HAL’s demise in Chapter 26 is startlingly sad. The film’s enigmatic climax still has the power to excite the imagination and provoke vivid debate.

Ultimately, ‘2001’ resembles the monolith at its core. In some respects, it is frustratingly flat, yet it looms inarguably over the science-fiction films that have followed it as surely as the great black slab shadows the prehistoric plain in the film. Whether one ends up loving it, hating it or feeling indifferent, ‘2001’ remains compulsory viewing for anyone who wants to understand the contemporary genres of space exploration and human origins/destiny. However, for better comprehension, see ‘2001’ on as large a screen as possible.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Surround 5.1; French Mono
aspect ratio(s):
Original Widescreen Aspect Ratio (exact ratio not given)
special features: Press Conference With Arthur C. Clarke; Two Theatrical Trailers; English Closed-Captioning; French Subtitles; Spanish Subtitles; Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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