2001: An HD Odyssey

To live up to the Exotica of our site's name, I think I've gotta have a little more science fiction in the mix.  And so today's entry is an obscure, 60s British space romp a few of you aficionados may've heard of before called 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Directed by the great Stanley Kubrick and based on an Arthur C. Clark novel that was being written concurrent to the filming, 2001 isn't really "my" film.  I've certainly seen it now a bunch of times throughout my life and appreciate a ton of aspects about it and like it well enough, but it's not really one I'm drawn to or would have in my personal collection.  In fact, it's literally not mine in that I borrowed the blu-ray from my dad for this review.  😎  But I wanted to cover it here because I was very curious about the quality of its blu-ray.

Update 12/6/16 - 11/4/22:  Hey, everybody!  It's Update Week 2022!  For realistically more than a calendar week's worth of time, I'm going to be running through this site updating existing posts with additional disc to explore!  DVDs, BDs, UHDs!  Long awaited updates you guys have been asking for, newer blus, older DVDs, obscurities no one on Earth probably cares about but me... we've got to get this site ship-shape for 2023.  I've already quietly added extra DVD discs to my coverage of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Werner Herzog's Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin and On the Rocks, and plenty more are comin' in the next several days.

And yes, talk about a long awaited update.  Today I'm finally adding Warner Bros' 2018 50th Anniversary 4k Ultra HD restoration of 2001.  Guess what?  It's pretty good.
If you're not at least passingly familiar with the gist of 2001, then I worry for the state of our culture.  But I will say that, even if it doesn't sound like your bag, it really is one of those films you should see at least once in your life.  It may be the strongest example of Kubrick's style of developing a handful of really powerful sequences and just linking them together to make a movie that resonates more than it gets hung up in plotting.  And more than any other Kubrick film, this is a spectacle movie.  Younger audiences who grew up on Star Wars sequels and CGI wouldn't see it now, but Kubrick was making the Jurassic Park or Matrix of its day in the sense that this was the film mainstream audiences had to go see to witness the new technology and envelope-busting effects.  Unfortunately, computers have killed that "how'd they do that" part of the fun; but the budget's still on the screen, that's for sure.
On the other hand, all these decades later, it can feel like a lot of fawning over effects that, now in 2022, we've seen a million times before.  Hollywood's never been great about living up to the "effects should serve the story" mantra, but at least now the editing picks up the pace.  I mean, there's a point to the slow pacing, showing how man's day to day life has both changed and stayed the same across the film's two eras and all, and in some sequences setting up an ominous tension.  The conflict between the astronauts and their on-board computer HAL midway through the film is as engaging as any masterful thriller you can point to.  But I saw this once with a film class, and for all his extolling the virtues and joys of 2001, the professor slipped out the back door once the lights were out, rather than watch it with us.  I mean, even my grandfather checks his phone during the infamous 9-minute "star gate" scene, and he has a rotary (ba-dump).  But seriously, I could've walked out and gone home for the day as soon as I saw our prof slip away, but I stayed to watch 2001 again anyway.  And that would've been my 5th or 6th time watching it.  Because it is a pretty great, interesting film.  And it helps that I have a pretty steady attention span.
2001's life on DVD has been interesting.  It's a major, flagship title for Warner Bros, and science fiction is always a big seller.  So you can bet pretty much the most famous, critically praised sci-fi film of all time is going to be available for purchase.  And yep, it was released a whole heap of times in one respect, and in another, only a couple.  See, MGM released it first in 1998, then the rights went back to Warner Bros, so they re-released it.  But it was pretty much exactly the same disc.  They released it individually and then as part of a big Stanley Kubrick Collection boxed set.  Same disc.  Same dusty old, non-anamorphic disc.  Then, in 2001 (appropriately), they remastered it, and put out a superior, anamorphic widescreen DVD, in two versions: the standard and a limited collector's edition with the soundtrack CD and a film frame.  And they released it again as part of a second, digitally remastered Stanley Kubrick Collection boxed set.
2007 was the next big year for 2001, because that's when it came out on blu-ray and HD-DVD.  But for people who hadn't made the leap to HD yet, there was a new 2-disc DVD special edition, which featured the new transfer created for the HD ports on an SD disc, plus - finally - a bunch of special features.  And yes, there was another Kubrick DVD boxed set featuring the 2007 versions, and that same content was used again in a 2009 TCM Greatest Classics set.  Next, Warner Bros put out that 2007 2-discer (still with me?) again as a budget single-disc version in 2011, minus most of the extras.  And they put it in their 2011 Stanley Kubrick: Essentials DVD collection, as well as on a 2012 4 Films Classics release and as a 2012 double-feature with Clockwork Orange.  Meanwhile, the blu-ray was reissued as a triple feature with A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, included in the 2011 Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition blu-ray boxed set, 2014's Stanley Kubrick: Masterpiece Collection and Warner's giant Best Of Warner Bros: 50 Film Collection.

So that's basically a whole ton of repackaging the same handful of editions.  There were effectively three actual transfers: 90s non-anamorphic, 2001 anamorphic and 2007 HD.  And 2007 is pretty old for blu-ray.  It may've been getting repackaged as recently as 2014, but that's still a 2007 transfer. 
But now of course in 2018, the film's 50th anniversary, Warner Bros  restored it in 4k on UHD as a 3-disc set.  Best Buy put out a steelbook edition, and in 2020, it was included in a 7-disc UHD collection called the Stanley Kubrick: 3-Film 4K Collection (paired with A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket).  And of course, that's just the American releases.  Warner Home Video has been issuing essentially identical releases in the other regions all over the world, and that goes for their new restoration as well.  2001 has finally been ushered into the modern era. 
1) 2001 DVD; 2) 2007 DVD 3) 2007 BD; 4) 2018 UHD.

Well, for a 2007 blu-ray, that disc still looks pretty good.  You can see a real increase in clarity (and a slight shift in framing) between the 2001 and 2007 DVDs, and I'm happy to observe another increase in clarity from the 2007 DVD and its concurrent blu-ray edition.  It's definitely sharper, the lines are cleaner, and the grain is, well... kind of smoothed away and not there.  I suppose grain would be a lot finer and harder to pull out of 70mm.  Hmm...  Look at the last image, that's some funky edge enhancement haloing around the people chatting, isn't it?  And I see some artificial sharpening or clarifying around the letters in the background.  I tell you what, the reviewers that gave this five glowing stars back in 2007 wouldn't give it the same rating today.  And fair enough.  Now is now, and 2007 was a different time.  I would've been right there alongside everybody else in 2007.
1) 2007 BD; 2) 2018 UHD.
ltr: 2018 UHD, 2007 BD.
Now, one thing you'll notice about the UHD is that it zooms in a little tighter, though WB assure us in their booklet that this is correct, and the previous editions revealed "a little more information" than was intended.  I believe it's also correcting a very slight pinch.  Grain still seems a little light, but again, I suppose we can chalk that up to the much finer 70mm negative.  There still seems like there's some haloing in the UHD; I wish the booklet would explain that.  But there's no doubting that this is a vast improvement.  The colors are more nuanced and natural... you can see in the above shot how the room has gone from an orange to a pure red.  I remember there was some concern that Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) had taken charge of 2001's restoration and taken some liberties with the color timing, but thankfully that doesn't seem to be the case on this disc.  And while you can say the leap in resolution from 1080p to 4k isn't a huge boon for 35mm films, it's a big help for 70mm.  Just look at that close-up.  Not only are the people more well-rounded and photo realistic as opposed to the blocky pixel version of the BD, but we can finally see the distinct vertical lines on the monitor behind them.  All that tiny detail really comes alive on home video in a way it hasn't outside of the theater.

Every release (even going back to the 1998 MGM DVD) utilizes an impressive 5.1 mix, upgraded to LPCM on the blu and freshly restored (though sounding fairly similar) on the UHD in DTS-HD.  It also has the previous 5.1 mix, except also now in DTS-HD.  Every disc also has optional English subtitles, but starting with the BD has a wealth of foreign dubs and 18(!) subtitle options.  The UHD has also added an English descriptive track, which is a nice touch for those who need it.
the fade to black in question
I suppose I should talk about the recalled version, too.  Although in 2022, it should be a thing of the past.  See, this UHD was originally scheduled for release in October, but at the last minute, a flaw was found, the disc was recalled, and the release date was pushed back to December.  But some people who pre-ordered or otherwise got it early did receive the flawed disc, and there are probably still a small number of copies floating around the market today.  The difference is one small detail in the film.  At the 33:42 minute mark, at the end of the space station meeting with the Russian scientists, the scene should fade out.  But on the the recalled disc, there's a hard cut, because that fade optical isn't burnt into the negative and has to be recreated for every new scan.  WB fixed it and now every current edition, including my copy, fades as you can see in the shot above.  That screenshot is so dark because it is mid-fade out.  If your disc doesn't do that, you'll have to seek out a replacement ...or just live with it, because it's not exactly a huge deal.  But good on Warners for doing the right thing by fixing and recalling it.
Extras-wise, Warner Bros finally pulled it out in 2007.  The 2001-era DVDs had nothing but the trailer.  Actually, the old non-anamorphic DVDs (both from MGM and WB) had an interview with Arthur C. Clark, which was surprisingly dropped from later editions.  But in 2007, they generated a lot of cool stuff, all of which is on the blu and 2-disc DVD set, including: an upbeat audio commentary by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, a terrific 45-minute British television documentary that includes its own interview with Clark as well as a ton of other key and secondary 2001 players, four featurettes, twenty-plus minutes each, which cover the science and impact of the film (Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001, Vision Of a Future Past: The Prophecy of 2001, 2001: A Look Beyond the Future and What Is Out There?), a 76-minute audio-only interview with Kubrick himself, a short featurette on the special effects and a photo gallery.  Plus the trailer.

And the UHD?  Nothing new, really, except swag.  It has all the 2007 stuff, so it's still a solid set, but I'm a little surprised they didn't at least sit somebody down to pontificate about the film's lasting legacy 50 years later... or how about Nolan talking about the restoration and what the film means to him?  I'd love to see that.  But ah well.  WB's release originally came in an outer slip box, an inner amary case with a slipcover, a full-color 20-page booklet and four art cards.
If any single film really ought to be seen in the absolute maximum picture quality possible, it's 2001.  If there's two, the other one is... I don't know... Spookies?  The point is, this UHD has been a long time coming.  Even if you're not 100% on the this film's side of the audience divide, you have to admit, it's a real spectacle, and top of the line presentation is essential.  And Warner's 50th Anniversary UHD is it.


  1. Interesteed to see what your take on the 4K remaster would be.

  2. Well, the 4K happened, and it's pretty spectacular.
    I used to call the 2007 disc the finest Blu-ray I've ever seen, and while it shows its cracks nowadays (high contrast and oversaturated colour in places, especially the "hotel room") it's still perfectly acceptable for any casual viewer, some might even prefer it to Christopher Nolan's supervised restoration.
    The 4K gets points for the original 6-track audio mix and more resembling the Criterion LaserDisc colour scheme.

    I've read that after he removed an explanatory narration from the final edit, the technical advisor on 2001 begged Kubrick to put it back in, which just makes the presence of a described audio track on the 4K that much more amusing to me.