This past weekend I had the incredible privilege of viewing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm film projection. The experience was literally awe-inspiring. I had seen 2001 many times but never in theaters and never on 70mm and the difference is palpable. The clarity and detail of the print combined with the difference in sound from the home experience made for an almost overwhelming sensory experience, one that I relish and wish to do again as soon as possible.
The opening title sequence of the celestial bodies aligning over Richard Strauss’s “Also sprake Zarathustra” alone made for epic viewing of the highest magnitude. What follows is no less majestic. Part of what makes 2001 so remarkable is that it’s as ambitious a film project as has ever been undertaken and yet it over-performs its ambitions. It is simply unrivaled in its scale and scope; no other science fiction even comes close to matching it in terms of vision, content, or execution. It is the measuring stick by which every other science fiction film is measured.
It occurred to me on this occasion more so than on any other viewing of 2001 that this picture could, or would not be made today. Stanley Kubrick exerted his will and genius over his productions in a way unseen today in cinema. The clarity of vision it takes to confidently and masterfully take so much time with every detail, have so little dialogue throughout the film, to use special effects so precisely and expertly, to use the music cues he did in the way that he did, and to tell the story he and Arthur C. Clarke told in the way they told it is nothing short of astounding. No other science fiction film I’ve seen is able to evoke the same combination of realism and wonder that 2001 does.
Kubrick is known for exploring the darker avenues of human nature, which he does to brilliant effect in films such as A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. I’ve always thought that 2001 makes for a great double feature with A Clockwork Orange, not just because they’re his two best films and happen to have been released sequentially but because they make such perfect counterpoints to each other. While Clockwork shows human beings at their lowest and most depraved, 2001 shows human beings at their most innovative and ambitious, stretching in its timeline from the dawn of man to a bold future of interplanetary exploration.
One other thing I’ve always appreciated about 2001 is how cogent its vision of the future is. One of my biggest pet peeves in (usually) bad science fiction is when there are outlandish visions of an unrecognizable future with what I perceive as arbitrary details such as wildly colored hair and loud makeup. To me it always seems like a concession on the part of the filmmakers that they have no logical extrapolation made as to what the future in their narrative actually looks like. The vision of a near future in 2001 one is sober yet ambitious. Advancements have been made but it’s not unrecognizable from a late ’60s viewpoint.
What truly sets 2001 apart is just how visually flawless it is. The visuals, especially on 70mm are at times simply overwhelming. Kubrick’s choice of Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube” waltz is perfect because the cinematography, editing, and special effects perform such a beautiful cinematic dance together. The film is literally mesmerizing.
2001 stands along side films like Lawrence of Arabia and Apocalypse Now as incomparable and irreplaceable American epics that only grow richer and more rewarding with successive viewings and further reflection. Experiencing this film on 70mm was a unique and exhilarating experience that I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of. It was without question one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in a movie theater. 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly a singular motion picture achievement.