By age 26, Steven Soderbergh had won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his 1989 breakout indie drama Sex, Lies, and Videotape. In 2001 he reached new heights by directing the Ocean’s Eleven remake.
Now in 2014, at age 52, he’s turned his attention to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s not clear whether the director, producer, screenwriter and cinematographer has any legal right to upload and distribute his own edited version. What is clear is a deep emotional attachment to a work of art that paved the way for an entire genre of mystery and wonder.
Opening The Pod Bay Doors
On his website, extension765, Steven muses about his relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s 160 minute-long exploration of evolution:
i’ve been watching 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY regularly for four decades, but it wasn’t until a few years ago i started thinking about touching it, and then over the holidays i decided to make my move. why now? I don’t know. maybe i wasn’t old enough to touch it until now. maybe i was too scared to touch it until now, because not only does the film not need my—or anyone else’s—help, but if it’s not THE most impressively imagined and sustained piece of visual art created in the 20th century, then it’s tied for first. meaning IF i was finally going to touch it, i’d better have a bigger idea than just trimming or re-scoring.
Of course, if you haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’re probably wondering what makes a film worthy of four decades-worth of obsession. Even some people who have seen it don’t quite understand the borderline-unhealthy relationship many sci-fi fans, cinema nerds and film school dropouts have with this particular work.
A YouTube search for the film’s title reveals over 100,000 results pandering to this obsession. Many of them attempt to explain the messages, themes and sub-text contained within. Others simply want to explain what they think Kubrick was trying to say, or are keen to hear others’ interpretations of what they have just seen.
There’s also a great deal of attention paid to the technical aspects that made 2001: A Space Odyssey so impressive for the time. It was the first “big budget” sci-fi movie, paving the way for Star Wars and an explosion in popularity for the science fiction genre. There were no computer-generated scenes, every effect achieved was created using models – and you can tell (for the right reasons).
Backing it all is an idyllic marriage between cinematography and classical music, a score that opens with a low rumbling before erupting and revealing the scale of what is about to be witnessed. And then there’s HAL-9000, arguably the film’s main (computerised) character, and one that has gone on to inspire countless other technologies and works of science fiction.
2001: A Soderbergh Odyssey
While there’s no substitute for the original cut, as intended by the director himself; Soderbergh’s version is freely available for viewing online at present and is 50 minutes shorter than the original. Most of the missing footage has been taken from the first third of the film, notably scenes involving Dr Heywood Floyd (played by William Sylvester).
Soderbergh’s recut moves at a quicker pace than Kubrick’s intentionally drawn-out version, and makes liberal use of HAL’s piercing red glow throughout – which arguably dilutes the sinister impact the computer has at certain points in the film. It’s arguably better positioned in the current cinematic age, but we’d still recommend you check out the original too.
This isn’t the first time Steven Soderbergh has recut someone else’s film. Last year he also spliced together Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho with the 1998 shot-for-shot remake from Gus Van Sant. The result is a mashup he simply calls “Psychos”, with all colour drained from the modern version and credits that pay homage to both versions. You can watch it here.
Another Soderbergh edit worth mentioning is his recut of Michael Climino’s 1980 Western, Heaven’s Gate – a film often criticised for its shambolic and longwinded nature and accusations of animal cruelty. Steven titled his version “Heaven’s Gate: The Butcher’s Cut” – watch it here.
What do you think about directors like Soderbergh re-cutting other people’s films?