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COLUMN: IMAX showing of '2001: A Space Odyssey' reminds that big screens are the best screens



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"2001: A Space Odyssey" was released in 1968. The film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is turning 50 this year.  Movie Stills Database Buy Photos

Stanley Kubrick’s stirring, wondrous science fiction acid trip “2001: A Space Odyssey” celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and in honor of its past five decades of stunning and bewildering audiences worldwide, it’s come back to the big screen for IMAX and 70mm film presentations.

There was one such screening Saturday at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX theater, where “2001” is currently showing in 70mm IMAX, and while there aren’t necessarily words to accurately describe the experience, “staggering,” “stunning,” “transcendent” and “powerful” are the closest that come to mind.

The 70mm print, a beautiful restoration deemed “unrestored” by Christopher Nolan — the brilliant mind behind such populist thrillers as “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” and the Kubrick idolizer behind bringing “2001” back to the big screen — is utterly beautiful and perfect. In his endeavors to bring back this beloved masterpiece, Mr. Nolan’s primary focus was to create an experience authentic to what audiences saw in 1968 when the film first hit the big screen.

Created directly from the original film negatives, the new print preserves the celluloid beauty of Kubrick’s movie without revising it to conform to modern standards. It’s also been brought to the biggest possible movie screens.

In short, it’s a reminder both of the inherent beauty of film and of the overwhelming experience of the big screen.

There’s something so exhilarating about the way movies feel where they belong. It’s a commanding experience, and a powerful one. To see a film where it's meant to be seen is to give it dominion over you for its entire duration, and to surrender yourself to an artist’s vision.

It’s an experience that can’t be rivaled by Netflix streaming on a laptop or a smartphone, where a text message or any number of other distractors can shatter the trance of movie-watching in an instant.

As the great director David Lynch once said, “it’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your f*****g telephone.”

It was a thought I fully understood after seeing “2001” for what was probably at least the 10th time, but also the first. I had watched it on a television, a laptop or a smartphone, but not in the way Kubrick envisioned it.

“2001” is a film of purposeful precariousness, wherein entire 10-minute sequences elapse with only a handful of shots and sparse occurrences. It’s the sort of entrancing work of slow cinema that can’t work its staggering magic to the full extent outside the theater because the spectacle of its grandeur cannot be felt in all its overwhelming wonder.

And there is wonder to spare, for “2001” is a film of simplicities. There is wonder in its slowness, and there is wonder in its enormity. It spans millennia, and millions of miles of interstellar space. Never have its vistas looked more profoundly ethereal than on the big screen.

And in that slowness is where it thrives. Nolan dedicated himself so wholeheartedly to preserving the film in a manner authentic to its original presentation, he has left the original texture of the film grain entirely intact. In the vast emptiness of Kubrick’s minimalist compositions, there is quiet energy and subtle movement conjured by the dancing specks of film grain that lend every frame a sense of energy. 

On the big screen, the movie feels truly alive.

There’s a thrill to observing that in such grand scale, but perhaps more thrilling is the utter enormity of the image. In some frames, important visual cues are placed so far apart that the viewer must physically turn to behold the entirety of the image. It’s engrossing in the way it commands the attention and even the body, and it only compounds the wonder of an already rich and thematically sumptuous film because it gives the sense that every film boasts secret wonders to discover.

Here’s hoping the next 50 years of its inimitable legacy boast bountiful wonders, too. 

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