I recently had the good fortune to stumble upon a screening of the 50th anniversary Imax edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of my top ten favourite films, and I am very glad I caught before it left theaters. What was mostly luck of circumstance turned out to be one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had.
First of all, the restoration was amazing – the movie looked freshly made. That and the mastery of Kubrick’s eye makes the movie feel very modern and accessible. There are very few details that date the film, which is more than one can say of most science-fiction movies. Speaking of details, the massive Imax image was a revelation for someone who has only ever seen the movie on television screens. For example, I was stunned by the number of shots where I was able to see people moving around inside the windows of the spaceships – and this was produced in the 1960s! I really didn’t think that kind of special effect was even possible at that time.
The magisterial pace and the minimal dialogue of the film make for a story that relies heavily on imagery. I understand why many people find it inscrutable when they see it, as I was one of them, but with repeated exposure and learning other perspectives the movie came into full flower for me. Without characters explaining things for the benefit of the viewers, they are left to themselves to decode the pictures and I know there are many different interpretations of what it all means. For myself, I think it is the best story about encountering a superior alien intelligence ever put on film. I appreciate truly alien aliens, and in 2001 they seem to be a species that exists outside space and time as we understand it, appearing to us only in the form of an absolutist black monolith of perfect mathematical proportions. That is pretty far out, man.
Of course, the best parts of the movie are the space ballets set to Strauss’ The Blue Danube and the pure spectacle of the Stargate sequence, but on a screen this size with all-enveloping sound every part of the movie dazzles. The landscapes of the Dawn of Man sequence and the dizzying interiors of the spaceship Discovery are equally spell-binding and even lesser moments like conversations held my attention completely. The screening included a 20 minute intermission which I felt unnecessary (the movie is two and a half hours, not three, which is easily manageable in my opinion) and might have even disrupted my trance a little as I had a feeling the post-intermission part of the film felt a tad draggy. I still loved it, anyway.
Kubrick was the ultimate film maker, in my opinion. His movies are the ultimate in each genre he tackled: The Shining is the ultimate horror film, Full Metal Jacket is the ultimate war film, Dr. Strangelove is the ultimate political satire and 2001 is the ultimate science-fiction film. I already love this movie, so I’m obviously biased, and seeing it in crystal clarity on a giant screen while seated basically dead center in the auditorium was pretty electrifying and I know I sat there with big eyes and a smile for a lot of the movie.