2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

On watching Nolan's / Cannes 'unrestored' print.

Christopher Nolan was 7 when he first saw 2001 in its original release in London. I was 9 when I saw that same release at the Glendale in Toronto. Although it was 50 years ago, I’m pretty sure we both remember what we had originally seen.

I hadn’t heard of it beforehand, but it was unsurprising that Christopher Nolan was going to be presenting an ‘unrestored’ print of 2001 at Cannes. Not even knowing, it seemed completely in line with the directors love of analogue and all forms of 70mm, the largest format of film negative. The original flat 2:1 Super Panavision format, the seldom use Ultra Panavision 2.76:1 format, and the IMAX 15:30 perf 1:44 format. Nolan loves analogue, and these 70mm formats represent the apogee of silver nitrate based cinematography, and he is the current, and probably last filmmaker carrying the torch.

As the story goes, Nolan, after being given the chance to see a safety interpositive of 2001 bumping into another analogue film geek while he was editing Dunkirk, decided it would be his mission to create a print for the 50’s anniversary of the film that would be exhibited at Cannes. A print that would represent what the original road show audiences back in 1968 would have seen.

I was skeptical.

From all the press bumph, this was a new print struck from a 20 year old interpositive safety print. There is no way that this could look like the original prints if conventional optical colour timing was used, as opposed to the modern Digital Intermediate colour grading / effects improving techniques of today were employed. I immediately questioned how he could use a 20 year old positive, which would have degraded noticeably, as the base for a new print?

I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. Nolan’s ‘unrestored’ print is exactly what I saw 50 years ago.

I had remembered that Space Station IV and Discovery interiors weren’t perfectly white … they are now in the BD, but here they show themselves ask Kubrick originally timed the prints, sometimes slightly green, sometimes slightly pink. .. I would guess all in sacrifice to keep skin tones correct. Colour timing was a crude correction technology, and now digital Colour Grading is so much more sophisticated. Would Kubrick approve of a blu that could colour grade faces and sets, .. well hell ya, I’d say. But, the original colours of the film, just like Nolan espoused, and for me a grand remembrance of my favourite film, is truly a treat.

The other memory of 2001 from back in the day that this screening reminded is the contrast. 2001 is a very contrasty film, and this was muted in subsequent video transfers. Like the colour correction to make all the white walls appear white in the digital scan, the contrast ratio was normalized to look like a regular film. Memories of this came flooding back to me upon seeing this print. I also remembered the brilliant whites strobed under the 7 blade 70mm intermittent shutter.

Interpositive safety prints are never supposed to be projected, yet, this one must have been. There are blips of damage and speckles, but only at the splice points. To those who have better things to do with their time than obsess on stuff like this, films were originally shipped on small reels, and then multiple reels were spliced together to form a projection reel. The splice points are where the damage seems to appear. It's always brief. It's strangely endearing. Also endearing are the changeover marks. Those little circular marks in the upper right hand corner. For the last few decades, 35mm prints of a film were all spliced on to a big platter, so the projectionist could start the film and then go. There is an art to executing a perfect changeover, and watching this print, and the dedicated TIFF projection staff pull off perfect cuts also made me smile, and brought me back to the old days.

Watching this print, I can completely endorse Nolan’s work to present 2001 as it was seen by the original audience back in 2001. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. If you get a chance to see this pristine print, I’d wholly recommend you do.

I also have to praise TIFF for their showmanship. I've seen variou 70mm prints presented in Lightbox 1 over the last few years. While they did preserve the walk-in music, intermission, and exit music, there was simply a blank screen, no curtains. I didn't even know there were curtains in the auditorium. This presentation was exactly like the original road show. The haunting walk in music was presented with red lights flooding the red velvet curtains, then, when the first strain of Also Sprach Zarathustra began to rise, the curtains opened and the house lights dimmed to reveal the MGM logo. It gave me chills. Bravo TIFF. It seems like a small thing, but it's not. It really conveys the magnitude of what is to come. If you get a chance to see it, I hope the theatre you see it in affords it the same respect.

Part of my Jonnie's musings on 2001 list

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