Sure, you've probably seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. But have you experienced 2001: A Space Odyssey? That particular verb no doubt implies different conditions to different people. Maybe it means having seen the film during its initial 1968 release. Maybe it means having seen it at a certain... height of consciousness. Maybe it means having seen it in the large-format Cinerama screenings that happened again when it was re-released during the actual year 2001 — as I did, not having been born yet in 1968. Neither was Christopher Nolan, who, perhaps for that reason, has struck a brand new 70-millimeter print of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's singular vision of a humanity thrust into previously unimaginable encounters with intelligences both extraterrestrial and artificial.
"The film took for granted a broad cultural tolerance, if not an appetite, for enigma, as well as the time and inclination for parsing interpretive mysteries," writes Dan Chiasson in a recent New Yorker piece on 2001's 50th anniversary. "If the first wave of audiences was baffled, it might have been because 2001 had not yet created the taste it required to be appreciated. Like Ulysses, or The Waste Land, or countless other difficult, ambiguous modernist landmarks, 2001 forged its own context. You didn’t solve it by watching it a second time, but you did settle into its mysteries."
Half a century later, 2001 stands as one of the most firmly driven pillars of cinematic culture — a monolith, you might say — and one of the most successful film directors alive has invited us all to share in his worship at its base.
“One of my earliest memories of cinema is seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in 70mm, at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with my father," Nolan says in the press materials for the release of the new print. "This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. This is the unrestored film — that recreates the cinematic event that audiences experienced fifty years ago. " You can see its trailer at the top of the post, and if you'll happen to be at the Cannes Film Festival next month, you might consider catching its premiere screening on May 12th. If not, its wider release begins in American theaters on May 18th, so do keep an eye on your local art-house listings, especially for those art houses equipped to screen in 70-millimeter, a format that makes "the ultimate trip," as 2001's late-60s posters hastily re-branded it, that much more so.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.