2001: A Space Odyssey

Director Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi epic, co-written with author Arthur C. Clarke, takes the whole of human history as its subject—from the initial flicker of intelligent thought in hominids, to the present day where humans live with the assistance of computer-generated artificial intelligence. The film literally works as a space opera: long stretches pass dialogue-free with just classical music serving to enhance the hyper-realistic images of ships and passengers aloft in the cosmos. (2001: A Space Odyssey won an Oscar for best visual effects, the only one it managed to take home from the 1969 ceremony.) While viewers at the time of the film's release were challenged by the slow pacing and mystifying ending, its themes of the banality of human endeavor in the face of cosmic vastness, and the precarious relation between mankind and its own creations, continue to resonate.

12182001.box.jpgThe new Ultra HD Blu-ray of 2001 represents a significant visual upgrade over the already fine-looking 2007 Blu-ray release. The 2007 disc was mastered from a 2K scan of a 35mm optical reduction from the 65mm negative. According to Warner Bros., generation loss inherent to that process resulted in reduced sharpness, compromised color balance, and compressed shadow detail. There were also brightness and color aberrations at the sides of the image, along with image distortion due to the optical scope reduction.

Looking at the new Ultra HD disc, which was mastered from an 8K scan of the film's original 65mm camera negative, the increase in detail is immediately apparent. The 2.20 aspect ratio of the new version also matches that of the film's original 70mm theatrical release. Improvements in uniformity are clear—gone is the slight vignetting of the 2007 disc's image, an effect that could be easily seen in the film's early sequences.

The presence of high dynamic range (Dolby Vision, though I watched on a projector limited to HDR10 display capability) doesn't register until the first scenes in outer space, where the powerful contrast between white ships and star fields and the deep black beyond lends powerful pop to the image. While 2001 has a mostly muted palette that's characteristic of its era, colors in select scenes such as one where the astronaut Dave (Keir Dullea) works to disable the memory center of the ship's onboard computer HAL 9000 beautifully showcase the wide color gamut capability of Ultra HD Blu-ray. The various red hues in this sequence have a vivid, yet detailed look that regular Blu-ray can't touch.


Audio on the new release is the same remixed and restored 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack found on the 2007 Blu-ray version. It's a powerful track, however: dialogue is clear and the classical music selections have a full, unstrained sound, particularly the drum-and-brass wallop of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, an orchestral piece that's since become the movie's sonic signature. Ligeti's Requiem, a choral work that gets cued up on the soundtrack every time the alien black monoliths appear, is mixed to envelop the viewer in an swirling torrent of voices. Another audio option on the disc is a 6-track theatrical audio mix from 1968 formatted for 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, though I didn't note much difference between it and the primary soundtrack.


A Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood audio commentary is provided on the 4K disc. Other extras reside on a separate Blu-ray and rehash the same content from the 2007 release. The list includes various short subjects on Kubrick, Clarke, and the film's award-winning special effects, a vintage Look! Magazine piece on 2001, a 1966 audio interview with Kubrick, and the film's original theatrical trailer. You also get a regular Blu-ray version of movie, a booklet with production, design, and storyboard stills, and a pack of four art cards. While the disc's packaging represents a classy overall effort, it's a shame that no new content wasn't created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of what many critics consider to be the most significant sci-fi movie ever made.

Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio: Warner Bros., 1968
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision and HDR10
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 147 mins.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Douglas Rain