Eric M. Van (ericmvan) wrote,
Eric M. Van
ericmvan

2001: A Space Odyssey: Kubrick's Unknown, Unfortunate Edit

Most folks know that Stanley Kubrick trimmed 19 minutes from 2001: A Space Odyssey immediately after its premiere. What's less well known is that the original cut was shipped to and screened in multiple cities, where it played for as long as a week.

I saw the original cut of 2001, at the Cinerama Theater in Boston, probably on Saturday, April 13, 1968, just weeks before my 14th birthday.


When I saw the film a second time, a year or so later, there were two changes that absolutely startled me. The first was the well-known insertion of the low angle shot of the monolith as Moonwatcher ponders the use of a bone as a weapon. I remember thinking, I don’t remember that at all! At the time, I was unaware that the film had been re-edited. 

Descriptions of the other well-established cuts (see the IMBD "alternate versions" page; alas, the more detailed rundown that used to be at www.underview.com/bhpalltrims.html has disappeared) all ring true to me, but, except for the added title cards, I did not notice them at the time—testimony to their correctness. (The title cards puzzled me, but I was able to convince myself that I might have forgotten them.)

Near the end of the movie, though, there was another change that so startled and bothered me that I was convinced I was watching an adulterated print. And this change, as far as I can tell with the powers of Google, has never been described anywhere. By anybody.

In the original cut, HAL is absolutely silent as Bowman makes his way to his chamber and begins to deactivate him. There’s nothing on the soundtrack but Bowman’s breathing as he makes his way through the EVA suit room, climbs the ladder to the antechamber, gets the tools from the panel, opens the door to the chamber, and begins to use his tool to deactivate HAL, extracting Memory Terminals 6 and 5. (It's possible that the close-up shot of HAL’s eye at 1:50:48 of the Blu-Ray is an insert, added to the re-edited cut; in the original there was no need to emphasize that HAL was watching at this point.)

It's not until 1:52:24, during the overhead shot of Bowman extracting Memory Terminal 4, that HAL first speaks: "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"dialogue that in the final cut begins 2:33 earlier, at 1:49:51. As HAL finishes this question (1:52:27), we cut to a side shot of Bowman. At 1:52:35, HAL says "Dave," and Bowman's eyes dart right. (In the existing cut, the shots of Bowman in the first half of the deactivation sequence, and his reactions, don't correspond to much of anything.) His eyes dart right twice more as HAL continues, "I really think I'm entitled to an answer to that question." At 1:52:42, we cut to a close-up of Bowman inserting the key into MT 3, 2, 1 ... and as he moves to extract Logic Terminal 5, HAL admits "I know everything hasn't been quite right with me," and we hear him continue "but I can assure you now very confidently that it's going to be alright again." At 1:53:18 we cut back to a side view of Bowman exactly as HAL says "I feel much better now," and Bowman's eyes dart right at 1:53:24 as he adds, "I really do." Two seconds later we cut to a rear shot, and HAL starts "Look, Dave, I can see ..."

And at this point in the existing cut, at 1:53:33, there is
a very uncharacteristic edit. At that moment the camera is behind Bowman, and he’s extracted half the modules in the top row. Suddenly, we are overhead, and Bowman has finished the top row and is halfway through the second row. This sort of elision is alien to the editing style of the movie, which favors long, complete, unbroken sequences.

In fact, what has happened here is that Kubrick has cut 2:33 of visuals from the middle of the deactivation sequence. As I remember the original cut, we saw every module coming out during this deleted footageI may even have a memory of a long shot of Bowman floating in the chamber and continuing the deactivation. And it's during this cut footage that we heard most of the best-remembered parts of HAL's monologue, such as his advice to take a stress pill.

Is this clear?  To tighten this sequence, Kubrick trimmed 2:33 of visuals from the middle of HAL's deactivation, and he took the audio of that 2:33 and placed it over the preceding 2:33 of the movie, causing HAL's monologue to start as Bowman is enroute to deactivate him, rather than after the deactivation has started.  Andperhaps more importantly to the perceived pacing2:33 of soundtrack that consisted of nothing but Bowman breathing was cut.

Does the evidence of the film support my memory? Absolutely. I've already noted that the version I've reconstructed makes much better sense of the two cuts to side shots of Bowman and to his reactions. But there's an outright smoking gun. Note that in the final cut, the pitch of HAL’s voice has lowered and his speech (“Dave. Stop. Stop, will you?”) has slowed before Bowman has extracted a single module. That makes no sense; the slowed and altered speech has to be a product of the deactivation. In the original, it was.

(Furthermore, 2:33 seems to work as the length of the elided portion. Bowman inserts the tool to extract the first module at 1:52:05 and the 9th module (having skipped one) at 1:53:18, so he is extracting a module per 9 seconds. After the edit, a further 12 modules have been extracted, and, as he tires, he has slowed his pace to about 12 seconds between modules. We would thus have expected about two minutes to have passed. However, there were numerous modules in the top row that he skipped over (presumably those that are the equivalent of HAL's brainstem and run the ship's life support system), and he would have had to maneuver past them. Between that, pausing to rest or react to HAL, and simple editing leeway, I think it's entirely credible that the sequence runs 30 seconds longer than you'd expect based on what precedes and follows it.)

The original edit makes more sense and plays out very differently. It makes little sense for HAL to ask Bowman what he's doing, and then demand an answer to the question, while Bowman is simply crossing a room and climbing a ladder: Bowman isn't doing anything yet. HAL’s assertion “I feel much better now. I really do” is hugely ironic and pathetic coming after Bowman has extracted his memory modules (presumably these contain information about the ship and mission, and their extraction hasn't yet disturbed his sense of self). “I can see you’re really upset about this” was originally an understatement so massive it would have been comic if it weren’t so sad, where in the re-edit it’s perhaps too perceptive. “I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over,” in the re-edit, is just an attempt to ward off deactivation before the fact, and comes across as defensive and self-interested, while in the original, it is HAL’s reaction to the feeling of being deactivated, and it is almost heartbreaking. When HAL finally just asks Dave to stop (in a clearly altered voice) when Bowman is much more than halfway through the deactivation process, the alteration of his voice is an unexpected but very clear consequence of the deactivation, and it is again actually rather sad.

I have been carrying this profoundly vivid memory, and telling this tale, for years. Now that I've scrutinized it on disc, I am very pleased to see that there is not only objective evidence for my memory in the existing cut, but that it’s even possible to nail down the location and length of the edit and see how the audio and video originally synched. I really believe that the original sequence was much better than the re-edit: the only mistake Kubrick made in trimming the film. At this point, he had already trimmed enough that he didn't need a further cut, and he could afford to indulge in several minutes of silence in order to set up the film's most memorable monologue, and to retain its original emotional impact, rather than sacrifice it. It bothered the hell out of me the second time I saw the movie, and it bothers me to this day. Now that the missing footage has been found, I hope that those in charge of deciding what to ultimately do with it will give everyone else the chance to see if they like it better, too. (Edited 4/15/13.)

Tags: film, sf
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