It was wonderful to see the half-century-old 2001: A Space Odyssey tonight at the Salle Debussy, and under such regal circumstances with such sterling company (Chris Nolan, Keir Dullea, Jan Harlan, Suzanne Fritz of Warner Bros. publicity) and with several high-perspective, hail-fellow-well-met critics in attendance — Owen Gleiberman, Peter Howell, etc.
But the film lacked the required needle-sharp detail (which is definitely there in the photographic elements) and it suffered from overly dark images with slightly muddy textures, not to mention that teal-blue sky when Moonwatcher smashes the bones and that gray face of Dave Bowman behind the space-helmet visor during the French chateau sequence at the very end. It proved once again that the myth of 70mm projection being the ultimate visual experience in a theatre is just that — a myth.
What we saw tonight was fine if you weren’t being too demanding, but it didn’t deliver anything close to the crisp detail and clarity of the 2007 Bluray version, and don’t even talk about the forthcoming 2001 4K Bluray, which will almost certainly blow everyone away.
Chris Nolan wanted us to experience the 2001 he fell in love with when he saw it at age 7 or 8 with his father in Leicester Square, and which he seems to truly believe is still the greatest way to experience Stanley Kubrick‘s epic. But digital technology has bypassed 70mm for the most part, and I’m sorry but 70mm photography and projection just isn’t the cat’s meow any more. It hasn’t been for some time. The 70mm myth has to be recognized for what it is — a dream, a notion that no longer applies, a celluloid nostalgia trip.
The absolute infinite blackness of space and the visual punctuation of each and every little star look wonderful, on the other hand. And the well-amplified digital sound, pumped by the Salle Debussy’s superb sound system, was great. And I loved that old 1968 first-run program that they reprinted and handed out tonight.
6:50 am Cannes update: The usual tut-tutters and harumphers commented that I’m still failing to understand the difference between quality-level 70mm celluloid projection vs. 1080p Bluray resolution on a 65-inch 4K HDR monitor. “Nice bullshit qualifying,” I replied. “You’re basically saying that Nolan’s 70mm celluloid 2001 can’t look as breathtakingly sharp or clean as the 2007 Bluray, but it’s better nonetheless. I’ve been watching films my entire life, and my eyes know when they’re truly satisfied and when they’re not, and I’m sorry if this displeases the 70mm purist crowd but my eyes want what they want. In my book, a little tasteful grain-scrubbing is a VERY good thing. The 2007 Bluray is perfect.”
Salle Debussy orchestra prior to last night’s 2001 screening.