If you like movies, it’s time you made the upgrade to a 4K television. Prices are incredibly reasonable right now and, more importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has now been released in the format. I was sent an early copy this week and (this is probably not a surprise) it’s absolutely gorgeous and one of those things where the whole time I couldn’t believe I was experiencing this movie, like this, inside my New York City apartment.
I’ll get back to the movie in a bit. But it’s still weird to me that 4K hasn’t entirely caught on inside the film lovers’ community. Every time a new Criterion is announced, people still go nuts. Look, I adore what Criterion does, but I’ve become a 4K snob and it’s now a little weird to spend the extra money those discs cost on what is a regular Blu-ray. And I still do buy them, but then something like the 2001: A Space Odyssey 4K comes along and I can’t understand why (a) it doesn’t get more attention and (b) why the premium services like Criterion don’t make the jump. The day Criterion starts releasing 4K discs is the day my bank account will be empty.
Strangely, I still think physical media is the future if you at all care about quality of picture. One problem with streaming is it always loses something in the transfer. Nothing will ever be able to beat a direct line from disc to your television. Look, of course I subscribe to streaming services. I’m not saying they are going away or won’t be incredibly important. But the bigger problem with streaming is that it’s just up to the whim of the service what will be provided. Netflix used to have a pretty good selection of classic films. Now they are focusing on their original content, which is bringing us a lot of great films like last year’s Mudbound and this year’s Roma. But it’s certainly not a place anymore to dig into cinematic history. (Oh, and as an aside, have you seen what regular Blu-rays cost now? There’s a bin at stores like Best Buy filled with great titles for $5.99. That just about what it costs to rent on iTunes.)
The place for that is/was Filmstruck. And I know how much the people who worked at Filmstruck cared about what they were doing before it was announced last week that the service would soon be ending. Filmstruck was a haven for the movie aficionado, but the problem with any streaming service if you’re just renting the movie library, and at any point the owner might decide they want it back. Looking at what happened to Filmstruck, streaming, as a source of film history, just doesn’t seem like a viable long-term solution (frankly, because it keeps going away). At least I know no one can knock on my door and tell me they want my 2001 4K disc back. At least I know its gorgeous presentation is always waiting there for me anytime I want to watch it. (Okay, yes, I suppose someone could show up at my door and demand the disc, but that would be a strange crime. The risk versus reward of doing something like that sure doesn’t make a lot of sense.)
Okay, beyond all that, if you have been thinking about making the jump to 4K, the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a great excuse. It’s a “show off” disc. You know, the kind of thing you can just “casually” have on when you have guests over. “Oh, that, yeah I was just watching 2001 a Space Odyssey in 4K.” Then you get to smile and nod as onlookers gasp at how gorgeous the picture is and how wise you are for making the upgrade. Again, seriously, I was just stunned the whole time. While watching the scene of Dr. Frank Poole lounging on his bed aboard Discovery One as he’s getting birthday wishes from his family, I could see the pores on Gary Lockwood’s face.
Also, I was just more aware of everything going on. When we discuss 2001, of course most of the attention is on the film’s second and third acts because that’s when things become poignant, strange, and up for interpretation. But, this time, I found myself paying attention to the first act more than I ever had. There are so many little things I hadn’t really noticed before and it’s in this act of the film that Kubrick actually seems to be having some fun with the whole thing. Dave Bowman jogging in a vertical circle on Discovery One is an iconic scene, but the scene of the Pan Am flight attendant doing sort of the same stunt as Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the moon is much stranger. Also, Kubrick doesn’t get enough praise for predicting the whole “television screens embedded into the back of the seat in front of you” phenomenon. This 4K presentation is so clear, I could watch what Floyd was watching on his television.
Another example is the scene in the bathroom stall on the Pan-Am flight with the instructions on how to defecate properly in space. The joke is it’s an insanely long procedure (again, Kubrick doesn’t get enough credit for how funny this scene is), but what used to look like gibberish can now be made out and it makes this scene legitimately hilarious.
Look, remember the days of Laserdiscs and how that became its own community? How the prospect of seeing a movie at home in letterbox was just this astounding thing. That’s kind of what 4K is like right now, only a lot better quality and a lot less expensive. It’s still new enough that when a huge older film hits like 2001: A Space Odyssey (or the upcoming Superman: The Movie), it’s a big deal. I like streaming services because they are convenient, but they aren’t something that can be trusted to give us a constant curated feed of what we love. The only one who can provide that, with assurances it won’t disappear the next day, is us.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.