'Unrestored' 70MM Version Of '2001' May Leave You Reeling

Mike Ramsey
May 16, 2018 - 4:05 pm

Iconic image from '2001: A Space Odyssey' (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- For moviegoers who prefer film stock over a digital presentation -- or those who want to see what all the fuss is about -- Chicago's Music Box Theatre is the place to visit over the next couple of weeks.

Beginning Friday, the Lakeview cinema is showing a fresh 70-millimeter print of "2001: A Space Odyssey" that is about as close as viewers can get to seeing what director Stanley Kubrick captured in a movie camera a half-century ago.

Many consider the visually stunning science-fiction opus to be one of the greatest films ever made, and the central conflict seems as relevant as ever: a slow-burning duel between two astronauts (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) and HAL 9000, the spaceship computer they depend upon to stay alive. At its core, the movie (written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke) is about human contact with a cosmic intelligence, but viewers will have to decide for themselves what transpires in the mind-numbing conclusion. For a movie made before CGI and around the time of the first "Star Trek" series, the space sequences remain impressive.

Warner Bros. Pictures and director Christopher Nolan (whose 2017 feature, "Dunkirk," had a limited release in 70mm) teamed up to create an "unrestored" print from rare film elements. There were no digital enhancements, corrections or re-edits -- just photochemical lab work. As such, the product Nolan came up with is considered nearly identical to the original release prints issued in April 1968.

"In the digital realm you have control over every single pixel," said Julian Antos, technical director at the Music Box. "With photochemical color-timing, you have control over basically three colors. You can change those three things, but that’s basically it."

Antos said this version of "2001" is a mere three generations away from the camera negative Kubrick's team handled.

"It looks great," he says of the print, which is contained on 10 reels. "I don’t think anyone will come away disappointed.”

Warner Bros. Pictures

Like most cinemas today, the Music Box typically shows movies in digital format, the economical industry norm. But the theater has a celluloid-friendly reputation and regularly hosts 70mm film festivals. When director Quentin Taratino rolled out his last feature, 2015's "The Hateful Eight," in Ultra Panavision 70, the Music Box Theatre hosted a popular run.

Antos, who is 26, doesn't necessarily remember the heyday of flickering projectors. But he's among those who admire the tactile film format. Purists consider it a superior way to view movies.

“You can’t really say I’m nostalgic for it because I barely grew up with it," he said. "It’s an amazing artistic medium. There’s not much else like it. It’s a combination of different types of technologies – sound, engineering, photography, music.”

Antos said he hopes consumer demand will keep film viable, at least as a niche market. There is still manufacturing and lab infrastructure in place, he says.

“There was a brief window five years ago where it seemed like all the film stuff was just going to go away," he said. "But I really think there has been a resurgence. I’m hoping at this point it will increase a little more and then plateau to the point where we’re running film with a pretty good degree of frequency.”

He adds: “It’s a great way to see a movie, it’s a great way to make a movie.”

"2001: A Space Odyssey" begins its run at the Music Box on Friday May 18 and concludes May 29. The film, which is nearly three hours long, has an intermission.