2001: A Space Odyssey (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 29, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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2001: A Space Odyssey (4K UHD Review)

Director

Stanley Kubrick

Release Date(s)

1968 (November 20, 2018 – delayed from October 30)

Studio(s)

Stanley Kubrick Productions/MGM (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B

2001: A Spacey Odyssey (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

There are only a small handful of landmark science fiction films that can truly be said to have influenced almost everything that followed. The list includes such classics as Metropolis, Forbidden Planet, Star Wars, and Blade Runner. But Stanley Kubrick’s monumental epic 2001: A Space Odyssey stands alone above them all, as that rarest and most amazing of achievements – a work of unparalleled vision, grounded firmly in the realm of science, yet presented with uncompromising attention to detail and breathtaking cinematic style and artistry.

To call 2001 high-concept is, of course, an understatement. Its story spans nothing less than the full sweep of human evolution. Millions of years ago, at the Dawn of Man, the appearance of a mysterious, black Monolith inspires a small band of primitive ape-like humanoids (Australopithecines) to begin using tools, thus triggering the eventual emergence of modern humans. Cut to the year 2001 and humanity (by now, space travelers a go-go) has just discovered a duplicate Monolith that’s been buried under the surface of the Moon for four million years. Little can be learned about it, except that it was clearly placed there by an extraordinarily advanced extraterrestrial intelligence. This second Monolith then sends out a radio signal aimed at the planet Jupiter. Within months, the spaceship Discovery has been dispatched on a top-secret mission to determine who (or what) may have received that signal. In the end, we’re along for the ride to witness to an astounding, even metaphysical series of events – perhaps nothing short of the next step in human evolution.

2001 is a staggering work – easily the signature film of director Stanley Kubrick. As you may know, it’s based on a short story (entitled The Sentinel) by writer Arthur C. Clarke, who later expanded the story into the full-length novel 2001. Clarke, well-versed in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, is widely credited with the invention of the geostationary communications satellite, an idea which he first presented in a 1945 magazine article. One of the goals these two men set for themselves when making 2001, was to accurately portray, for the first time on film, what it would really be like to travel in space. Keep in mind, at the time 2001 premiered, humanity had only just begun to do this, and was still a year away from walking on the Moon. With this in mind, the fact that 2001: A Space Odyssey still holds up amazingly well today – and it most certainly does – is an impressive testament to the efforts of Kubrick, Clarke, and many others, including an Academy Award-winning visual effects team led by Douglas Trumbull.

In fact, the only thing that really dates this film are the scenes with Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester). He and his fellow scientists, nearly all of whom are men, are stiff Ward Cleaver types. Okay… those chairs on the spinning Space Station V are a little retro too. But Discovery astronauts Frank Poole and David Bowman (Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea) look very contemporary. One wouldn’t have been surprised to see either of them on a NASA space shuttle crew in recent years.

While 2001 is a visual feast, it features an impressive classical soundtrack as well. Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube is widely recognized in no small part due to its use here. And Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra has become virtually synonymous with this film, along with Ligeti’s Atmospheres. 2001 also boasts the most infamous and paranoid computer in all of science-fiction... HAL 9000. HAL presented the public with perhaps the first accurate representation of how a true artificial intelligence might function. Of course, HAL is still a few years ahead of his time, even by today’s standards. The best we can muster now is Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo and IMB’s Watson. But the likes of HAL are much closer now than they were in 1968, when the film premiered, and they’re getting closer at a rate far faster than most people realize.

As most cinephiles already know, 2001 was shot photochemically on 65 mm film in Cinerama, Todd-AO, and Super Panavision 70 formats using Mitchell and Panavision cameras. For this new 4K Ultra HD release, the film was scanned from the original camera negative (and presumably the master internegative for optically-printed VFX shots) in 8K resolution and down sampled to 4K for this release at the proper 2.20:1 aspect ratio, a process overseen by Ned Price (VP of Restoration at Warner Bros.) along with longtime Kubrick confident Leon Vitali. The image was then graded for high dynamic range in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

It’s very important to note here that this is most assuredly not the Christopher Nolan “unrestored” presentation of the film. It has, in fact, been properly restored using state-of-the-art digital tools and properly color-timed as well, a process supervised by Vitali. While I certainly admire Nolan’s reverence for the all-analog photochemical process, his recent IMAX reissue of the unrestored version of 2001 in no way represented the film as Kubrick would have wanted it to look. While the clarity was impressive, the image was rife with unwanted analog flaws and the coloring was yellowed and unpleasant. I didn’t see this version, and I’m glad of it because every film-knowledgeable person I know who did was put off by its unrestored appearance.

Personally, I find the color-timing here in 4K the most pleasing it’s ever been. There’s no excessive yellow push whatsoever. Nor does this look dull. Whites are genuinely white. Skin tones are accurate. Blacks are deep, just a hair lighter than the full black outside the 2.20:1 frame. The Dawn of Man sequence has a warmer overall look, while the space sequences are a tad cooler, with more deeply saturated blues. But colors are bold and more nuanced than ever thanks to the wide color gamut. Speculating on how Kubrick himself may have graded the film for HDR is difficult, of course, but it does seem to me that this coloring is natural and faithful to both Kubrick’s intent and what notes might be available to Vitali and Price. I don’t know if Kubrick personally approved the color grade for the 1999 remastered DVD release before his death, but I don’t believe he did. I do have the 1989 Criterion laserdisc release though, which he did supervise. And having recently taken a look at that, I think the decisions made on 4K are faithful to the look Kubrick would have preferred. They are, however, somewhat different than the previous Blu-ray release. So if you’re used to that look, you may have a bit of an adjustment to make. Speaking personally, about a year ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the new 70 mm print of the film commissioned by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood – which had been properly restored and graded (this was prior to Nolan’s involvement) – and I’m pleased to say that this 4K presentation captures that experience wonderfully. Let me tell you: The experience of seeing the film’s Stargate sequence in HDR is something to behold.

In terms of the restoration for 4K, as compared to the previous Blu-ray, there is notable difference in many respects. Fine detail is much tighter and more refined here than ever before, but one shouldn’t expect Dunkirk levels of clarity. This is a fifty-year-old analog production and a certain degree of edge haloing has been baked into the image from the very beginning. Overall image detail ranges from very good to exceptional, though a few shots are a little optically soft. The film’s grain structure runs from light to moderate and it’s delightfully intact. Pleasing are the slight things done to clean up the image for 4K. For example, the cross-hatch texturing of the front projection material in the background of the Dawn of Man sequence has been reduced. It’s still there if you look, but it’s more subtle now. Yes, you can still see that Dr. Floyd’s pen is actually “floating” on a rotating pane of glass, but only just. Much appreciated, however, is the improvement to many of the scenes aboard the Discovery. If you look closely at the previous Blu-ray, many shots had visible bits of dust and dirt, not to mention a strange kind of faint speckling or spotting, as if something had stained the emulsion. (You see this in particular to the left of Dave Bowman’s head in a close-up shot at about 1:21:57 on the original Blu-ray). All of those flaws are gone. To be fair, there is one close-up shot of Frank Poole in this same scene that appears oddly soft for some reason, but other than that this image is lovely indeed.

[Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to share with Bits readers substantial additional technical information on the mastering process for this release by kind permission of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. You will find it below, at the end of this review. I’m confident that you’ll find it useful and interesting.]

Primary audio is included on UHD in a pair of 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mixes, one of which is the 1999 restoration and re-mix while the other represents the original 1968 6-track 70 mm theatrical audio. The restored audio features a wide soundstage, exceptional dynamic range, good but not excessive low end, and active use of the surround channels for atmospheric cues. The film’s classical score is offered with pleasing fidelity. There are only minor instances of distortion endemic to the source material. The film’s original 70 mm sound mix pushes things a bit further, resulting in noticeably more distortion on the high end and a few more analog artifacts. Keep in mind, though, that this was true to the original sonic experience of the film in theaters. Which mix you prefer is a matter of preference, but both offer a fine experience and are faithful to the original intent. Additional audio options include 2.0 Dolby Digital in English Descriptive Audio, Portuguese, and Polish voice-over, with 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, and Latin Spanish. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, two Chinese dialects, Korean, Latin Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

The 4K Ultra HD disc includes only one extra, which is carried over from the previous 2007 release:

  • Audio Commentary with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood

The package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, but this too is remastered from the new 4K source. Obviously, it doesn’t feature HDR, but it does feature a very similar color grade in SDR. Again, detail is much tighter and more refined, and the image is overall cleaner looking compared to the previous Blu-ray. This disc also features the remastered audio and the original 6-track 70 mm in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. And it too includes the audio commentary.

All of the previous extras are now included on a second bonus Blu-ray Disc, which features the following:

  • 2001: The Making of a Myth (SD – 43:08)
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 (SD – 21:25)
  • Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 (SD – 21:31)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future (SD – 23:11)
  • What Is Out There? (SD – 20:42)
  • 2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork (SD – 9:33)
  • Look: Stanley Kubrick! (SD – 3:15)
  • 11/27/1966 Interview with Stanley Kubrick (HD – 76:31)
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:51)

This is everything that was available on the previous Blu-ray release. Note that MGM’s original DVD release of the film also included a brief interview with Arthur C. Clarke, but that’s not included here. In any case, the menus for all three discs simulate the HAL 9000 command console aboard the Discovery, as seen in the film. The physical packaging also includes a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert, a lovely hard slipcase, and an envelope containing a beautiful booklet full of production images, as well as a set of four glossy photo cards.

2001: A Space Odyssey has long been, and remains to this day, the greatest science fiction film ever made. It’s also one of the most purely cinematic movies to be released by a major studio. And Warner’s new restoration, presented in 4K with HDR and remastered Blu-ray too, offers the film looking better than ever before in the home. Again, the 4K comes very close indeed to replicating a proper 70 mm screening experience (and I don’t mean the compromised Nolan experience). This is easily the single must-have 4K Ultra HD release of 2018. Miss it at your peril.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

Additional Notes

[Here’s some additional information on the mastering process for this 4K Ultra HD release from a technical brief prepared by the studio. It’s shared here by permission.]

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed film 2001: A Space Odyssey Warner Bros. completed extensive film work, both photochemically and digitally, in order to create the closest representation to date of the film’s original theatrical release. Warner Bros. started off the 50th Anniversary with brand new “unrestored” 70mm film prints that debuted at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival before playing in theaters around the world. The newly remastered Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with HDR built upon the work done for the new 70mm prints, including brand new scans of the original 65mm film negative.

Photochemical Preparation

Preparing the original 65mm negative for scanning involved a great deal of work, much of which was accomplished by Vince Roth, then supervisor of large format optical at Pacific Title, in 1999. Roth prepared the negative for preservation by removing past repairs to the film, which included tape repairs for broken perforations and tears across the image. This work included tape supports added by MGM to the original splices to insure they did not break open while printing. Roth carefully removed years of dirt, oil and chemicals from the surface of the negative. He determined the dates of when replacement sections were cut into the negative to determine if earlier generation elements existed which would yield the best quality replacement footage.

Once the camera negative was repaired and cleaned, Warner Bros. created a 70mm answer print using the original MGM timing lights and making slight adjustments to compensate for fading of the negative and changes in modern film print stock. The 1999 answer print – which served as the basis for the 2018 “unrestored” film prints and the color reference for the 2018 video master – was completed under the direction of Leon Vitali, assistant to Stanley Kubrick who supervised color timing of prints for Kubrick for a period of 20 years, and Ned Price, Vice President of Restoration at Warner Bros., at CFI Laboratories. A 35mm optical reduction interpositive was created from the 65mm negative – as a 35mm print was necessary in order for Warner Bros. to scan for home video elements (including the DVD remastered box set in 2000 and the Blu-ray in 2007).

Digital Scans and Color-timing

The new 2018 video masters were achieved by scanning the 65mm original negative in 8K-resolution and utilizing top-of-the-line color correction software, allowing technicians to follow natural color and luminance curves (characteristics) of film print stock. Color reference in the DI suite was provided by the 1999 70mm answer print from the original camera negative and a 70mm check print from a new dupe negative. Vince Roth (now the Lab Technical director at Fotokem) completed the dupe and check print for the 2018 color grade.

Christopher Nolan and Hoyte van Hoytema (who both worked extensively with large film formats) oversaw the new 70mm film prints and were brought in to consult on the creation of new video masters to match the 70mm reference prints. These 2018 video masters were completed under the direction of Leon Vitali and Ned Price. Color grading of the master was completed by Janet Wilson of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging – who previously worked with Leon on HD mastering of Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and Lolita.

Audio Work

The new home entertainment release includes two 5.1 audio mixes. It includes the fully remastered audio mix that was completed in 1999 (for the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases) as well as the original theatrical 6-track audio mix formatted for 5.1. This audio mix was generated from an archival copy of the 35mm 6-track audio mag master translated uniformly into a modern-day 5.1 configuration.

Comparison to Previous Home Entertainment Releases

There will be noticeable differences between the 2018 release and previous home entertainment releases.

The last Blu-ray release was mastered at Motion Picture Imaging in 2007 from a 2k scan of a 35mm optical reduction from the 65mm negative (that was made in 1999). This extra step was required as the scans needed to be made from a 35mm film element. Unfortunately, the 35mm reduction is not as sharp as the 65mm negative and the optical reduction process induced cross color contamination, which resulted in some compromises to color in order to balance the image. There was compressed picture detail in low light areas and also shading errors inherent in the optical reduction – luminance and color dropped off on the sides of the image – which resulted in an uneven field of color across the full image. Overall, it limited the range of the color grade of the 2007 video master.

Also, the 2018 release contains correct picture aspect ratio as it was scanned directly from the 65mm original negative which is spherical (flat) versus anamorphic (scope). The 35mm anamorphic (scope) reduction that was scanned for the 2000 and 2007 releases contained a little more information on the left and right of the frame then was intended for 2.2 70mm projection aspect ratio. Also, the optical scope reduction added a slight amount of linear image distortion, which is not present in the 65mm spherical camera negative.

While the 2007 work utilized the best technology available at the time, the 2018 release takes advantage of higher resolution and higher bit-depth scans. The color is based on the original MGM timing lights and the technological capabilities of the color software have improved greatly. The same team has put together the new release (almost 20 years after from the previous restoration) and Leon Vitale has reviewed and approved both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray check disks.

Audiences may be most familiar with previous home video releases of 2001: A Space Odyssey and may be struck by some of the differences. However, the newly-remastered version has been scanned and timed to directly match the original film release, rather than the previous home video master. The new HD Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray will have more detail, greater color depth, better color accuracy in terms of matching Stanley Kubrick’s original 1968 theatrical release. As digital technology continues to evolve, it becomes more and more possible to recreate the experience of viewing a film print in your own home.

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