After several delays, the much-anticipated release of the 50th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray special edition release of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey hits stores (and perhaps your mailbox) today (Dec. 18th).

It was worth the wait. The 50th Anniversary 4K version delivers in a big way, especially if you have a “premium” level 4K Ultra HD/HDR capable TV from the last three years. The remastered 70mm film converted to 4K Ultra HD presents high dynamic range (HDR) highlights in a way that seems like director/co-writer Stanley Kubrick shot it knowing we would be watching it on HDR TVs in the future. Specular highlights from flood lights on the moon’s surface and light elements on control panels in the Discovery spaceship are noticeably brighter than the surrounding background, giving everything a greater feeling of depth than previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film.

The brilliance of the star gate sequences alone is worth giving this disc a spin, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. If you have a 4K TV and an Ultra HD Blu-ray player you need to have this title.

I won’t go into the high praise many others before me have justifiably heaped on this iconic classic. It’s enough to say that it still stands as the benchmark by which all sci-fi movies are judged, and has influenced everything in the genre to follow from Star Wars to Close Encounters to Alien. This is more than a movie — it’s an event.

That said, as many seem to dislike this movie as love it. The movie is long (it was cut down from a much longer version) and the story is complex and told for the most part in imagery and symbolism rather than dialog.

There are no monsters here — only monoliths that serve as beacons that track the various stages in the evolution of man for the unknown and unseen alien observers who initiate our pre-hominid evolutionary development. If you don’t get the meaning of the imagery, read Arthur C. Clarke’s masterful book that was published from the script following the movie’s release.

The premise was based on Clarke’s short story The Sentinel, which Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on developing into the fuller movie. It was so successful that Clarke went on to write a series of sequels, including 2010. That story was also made into an entertaining sci-fi film, though it was clearly not made with Kubrick’s involvement and lacked the quality and sophistication of the original masterpiece.

What makes this release truly remarkable is that it was shot and edited between 1965 and 1968, long before 14-stop digital cinema cameras and the Rec.2020 color gamut. Admirably, Warner Bros. took special care to ensure the remastering was performed in a way that preserved and matched Kubrick’s original intent. Color-timing was performed under the supervision of Kubrick consultant Leon Vitalli. Additionally, the re-mastering performed here makes the overall look of most shots tack-sharp for today’s 4K display technologies. Colors were adjusted for accuracy and to take advantage of today’s wider gamut.

One of the more startling color differences between this and other home video releases of the movie is seen in the shade of red used for the futuristic chairs placed in the space station lobby scene. The chairs in the 4K Ultra HD version take on a darker almost wine-colored appearance,  which is likely authentic, where in the original SD DVD version of the film they appear to be a vibrant and over saturated in a shade approaching hot pink. On the new set’s Full HD Blu-ray Disc taken from the 4K remaster, this is somewhere in between the two.

For background, 2001 was originally shot using Mitchell and Panavision cameras in 1965-1966 using 65mm film in Cinerama, Todd-AO, and Super Panavision 70 formats. Warner Bros. said the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc release was painstakingly restored to match the look of the original camera negative 50 years ago. Scanning was performed in 8K resolution and down sampled to 4K at the 2.20:1 aspect ratio. For this release, color-timing was digital adjusted for accuracy. Grading was performed for high dynamic range (HDR) in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

That’s not to say it works perfectly on all shots. Kubrick shot a number of scenes from the space station, Calvius Moon Base and on board the Discovery with bright lights, and in some cases lighted wall panels, shown in the background. Characters are sometimes silhouetted against these, making for challenging foreground exposures. Boosting these brightness elements for HDR in several areas tends to make faces look even darker and slightly underexposed, which can briefly make facial expressions harder to see in shadow. Having a television with good black level capability will be important here.

For this review, I watched the disc on a bright, calibrated Samsung Q8 QLED television in HDR10 format playing from an Oppo UDP-203 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. The TV was one of Samsung’s 2017 edge-lit QLED models which performed well with this disc. I expect higher-end Sony LED-LCD TVs as well as Sony and LG 4K OLED televisions also will present these scenes well.

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The newly 4K remastered version of the classic is offered in 4K digital form from various streaming movies services, as well as in the 3-disc physical media package which includes the 4K Ultra HD/HDR Blu-ray Disc, a remastered Full HD Blu-ray Disc, and a special features disc. Purchasers of the Blu-ray pack also get a streaming version available through Movie Anywhere.

The standard Blu-ray Disc in the set offers a 1080p HD version of the film remastered from the newly converted 4K source material. This disc also features the remastered audio and the original 6-track 70mm in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.

Both the 4K Ultra HD Disc and the Full HD Blu-ray movie discs include a switchable feature providing running commentaries recorded separately and played back in alternating fashion between stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.

The audio presentation here is also well done and features a remixed and restored 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, as well as the original 1968 6-track theatrical audio mix (formatted for 5.1 DTS-HD master audio). Dolby surround takes over when playing the commentary feature.

Most of the features and extras in the set were available before in the previous Blu-ray release. In this set most are carried on a third special features Blu-ray disc that includes 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 (Audio – 76:31)
Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:51)

Also added is a booklet with images from the production, and four glossy photos.

We give the 50th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Set of 2001: A Space Odyssey 5 out of 5 hearts.


By Greg Tarr


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