Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' is one of the greatest films ever made, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd argue that it needs to be any longer. A few days ago, 17 minutes of lost footage from the classic science fiction epic was discovered in Kansas, leading to much speculation among movie fans. What would become of this footage? Would it be restored, rereleased and given the 'Metropolis' treatment?
Then came a press release (via Hollywood Elsewhere) from Warner Bros. that managed to take the wind out of the sails of this apparent discovery:
"The additional footage from '2001: A Space Odyssey' has always existed in the Warner vaults. When Kubrick trimmed the 17 minutes from 2001 after the NY premiere, he made it clear the shortened version was his final edit. The film is as he wanted it to be presented and preserved and Warner Home Video has no plans to expand or revise Mr. Kubrick's vision."
So the footage will not end up on a future home release and it will not be edited into the feature to create some kind of "extended cut." In short, this footage is sitting around not being watched by anyone, essentially unseen for the past 42 years. However, we now know that this footage exists. Shouldn't it be released in some capacity? Maybe as deleted scenes on the inevitable Super Deluxe Star Child Special Anniversary Edition Blu-ray? Surely there must be something of interest in there.
Or maybe not. The great Roger Ebert, who's seen more movie history happen with his own two eyes than just about anyone else with a pulse, posted the following on his Facebook page when the news of the discovered footage hit:
"The so-called 'lost footage of 2001' was in the print at the first public screening, which I attended. Kubrick didn't consider the film finished, and took them out. He was right to do it."
Then he provided a helpful link to his Great Movies essay on the film, which contains this first person anecdote from that infamous 1968 screening:
"To describe that first screening as a disaster would be wrong, for many of those who remained until the end knew they had seen one of the greatest films ever made. But not everyone remained. Rock Hudson stalked down the aisle, complaining, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?'' There were many other walkouts, and some restlessness at the film's slow pace (Kubrick immediately cut about 17 minutes, including a pod sequence that essentially repeated another one)."
'2001: A Space Odyssey' is already infamous for its, er, methodical pacing and the thought of a slower, more ponderous cut is enough to weaken the nerve of even the most die hard Kubrick aficionado. If the footage truly is worthless to the story of the film (and "a pod sequence that repeated another one" does sound essentially worthless) and Kubrick and Warner Bros. made such a concerted effort to keep it locked up for all of these years (Kubrick passed away in 1999), then an argument pushing for it to remain un-seen is perfectly valid.
However, another argument could be that by releasing the footage, film fans and critics could examine how it would have fit into the film as a whole, why Kubrick cut it and possibly better understand the mind of one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived.
A filmmaker and a studio's personal feelings versus a potentially fascinating cultural footnote. Sound off on what you think in the comments below.
Should the studio respect Kubrick's vision and leave it alone, or do they owe it to fans to release it, even as part of a deleted scenes special feature?