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2001: A Space Odyssey: Two-Disc Special Edition

01/10/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy 2001: A Space Odyssey in the USA - or Buy 2001: A Space Odyssey in the UK

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Warner Bros Z1 79191. 143 minute film with extras. Price: 7.50 (UK) if you know where to look). stars: Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.

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I've known this special edition of '2001: A Space Odyssey' had been out for some time. Owning the previous release, I wasn't in any rush to run after it. If anything, it was in a discussion with one of my reviewers who said he didn't know anyone who liked '2001' and had me saying, 'Well now you do' that finally made the decision for me plus the extras this Special Edition contains.

Oddly enough, I didn't see '2001' on its initial release in 1968. I caught it on its 1972 re-release, having been positively influenced by the star-child poster on a school visit to the London Planetarium and badly influenced by a classmate who's poor taste and description of 'just spacecraft whirling around each other'. When I watched the film, it was obvious he hadn't sat through the entire film. I did. Three times on the same day. The cinema didn't clear the house between showings. My Mother must have wondered where I'd been. So, yes, '2001' made an impact on my young mind, seeking out Arthur C. Clarke's novel, first from the library and then owning my own edition as my collection and interest in all things SF developed radically in my teens. When this DVD arrived, rather than let it hang around on my shelf, I ended up watching it the same night.

For those who might not know, '2001' essentially shows the evolution of Man from man-ape influenced by an alien black monolith slab to civilisation and space where it would keep popping up. On the Moon, the discovery of the monolith and its call to Jupiter followed up eighteen months later with a spaceship to see what was there. Things go a little awry when the on-board artificial intelligence, the HAL 9000 computer, decides the mission is too important for humans and proceeds to kill them.

What makes '2001' work is that all the space technology was under advisement and prediction from NASA and fifty other companies as to where we would be forty years in the future from 1964 when the film was conceived. Of course, government budgetary cuts and a diminishing public interest seriously damaged the American space programme and in that respect, '2001' is more like a snapshot of what could have been, sans the alien influence. Director Stanley Kubrick was determined to ensure that things looked as realistic as possible although I'd defy anyone to point out how the Discovery's spacepod's are propelled. Space flight was shown to be tedious and somewhat boring for the time it took to even go a short distance to the Moon let alone to Jupiter. Concerns about staying fit, hibernation for non-essential crew were all dealt with methodically to what could and still be possible. This attention to detail added to the realism before throwing in the real Science Fiction elements of the real 'space trip' which throws astronaut David Bowman (actor Keir Dullea) across the galaxy and his next stage in evolution.

There might have been Science Fiction films before but '2001' took it to a different level. In many respects, earlier SF films were only a few steps up from 'Buck Rogers' or 'Flash Gordon'. The technology had improved but still owed far too much to the 1950s pulps and simple designs. If anything, '2001' was a coming-of-age party. The critics hated it at first, word of mouth and, if it to be believed, a little bit of weed for some parties to enjoy the 'ultimate trip' spread that resulted in rather than MGM pulling it as a glorious failure to being a pinnacle that influenced directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Jim Cameron to come. Without '2001', much of what we have in the way of filmed SF might never have happened mostly because the studios would have said it wasn't profitable.

These extras are all important. There's a copy of the British Channel 4 documentary about the film and several featurettes. One of the most important was recorded when the film was in production which must surely be one of the first SF film extras ever. It's rather odd hearing the announcer called it 'Two Thousand One' rather than the acknowledged 'Two Thousand And One' which even Clarke in the interview called it at the time. Where it really goes to town is showing the gigantic carousel that was made that was the main living area of the USS Discovery and how much Kubrick paid attention to getting all his camera shots but moving out various parts. One of the extras has Keir Dullea covering the potent thoughts from the likes of Asimov, Clarke and Kubrick about space. Kubrick's thoughts that the universe being indifferent to mankind should humble anyone. All these extras are worth getting this edition for alone. There's also some insight with an audio commentary from actors Dullea and Lockwood, although it's a shame they weren't in the same studio recording them.

In many respects, Kubrick had much in common with Georges Melies. He employed various techniques to pull off tricks that haven't been tried since, mostly I suspect because of the expense. The lady delivering food to the crew of the moon shuttle might look like she's walking upside down but in reality it was the set that was doing the moving. It looks so effortless that one tends to forget how much technically wizardry was used to fulfil the illusion and how much we take for granted.

The one thing that struck me this time and I think some of it came from the insights in the extras was in the similarities between the man-apes and the Discovery end sequence. Moonwatcher the man-ape killed his main opponent to maintain his coming supremacy. In a similar way, Bowman had to do a similar thing effectively terminating the HAL 9000's conscious mind to reach his final goal. Whether this is an intentional indictment that to progress, Man has to kill all-comers to survive is something that needs debate. Considering that planetary exploration is being left to robots and should they meet sentient aliens think they are us should have human explorers out there in a flash to remind them who's the key species on this planet.

Don't under-estimate '2001' or think it's just an old movie. Its message is still strong and effective even today. If a new generation can get something new out of it then it reminds everyone of the film's deserved longevity. There is always something new you can get from re-watching it.

GF Willmetts

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