Is it a film about human evolution? An almost religious experience? Or is it the ultimate head trip, best enjoyed with an altered consciousness? No matter your feelings about director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which will be released in an “unrestored” 70mm version in New York and other cities on Friday, May 18, the film is an acknowledged masterpiece and cinematic milestone.
“The film is whatever the person viewing it brings to it,” says Ned Price, vice president of restoration at Warner Brothers. “It limits the experience to tell what it is. I really think it’s about the viewer’s personal experience of the film.”
If nothing else, “2001” contains scenes and images that have become part of the universal cinematic language: a prehistoric ape throwing a bone into the air, which startlingly cuts to a 21st century space station; the creepily impersonal voice of HAL 9000, the computer onboard a rocket headed toward Jupiter; a final light show sequence that ends in space with a fetus-like figure known as the Star Child headed toward Earth; and the theme music that made Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” a pop phenomenon.
Plus, there’s this. “ '2001’ made science fiction films realistic,” says Price. “I think this the first truly scientific science fiction film, and the first realistic one. Everything was researched. NASA was consulted. There is detail based in fact, not just in art design.”
Price says the version soon to appear in theaters is called “unrestored” because it’s “the pure version of the film in the original medium it was shown. The idea was to see something in the way it was originally intended. It says unrestored, but that does not mean that a lot of care has not gone into what you see on screen. It’s a print taken from the original camera negative; we cleaned and prepared it.”
That said, Price is adamant that any attempt to explain what Kubrick’s work is about is just one person’s perspective, and he’s not willing to go there. “I want people to approach it with an open mind, and leave the theater with a full mind,” he says. “Let it sink in, and a lot will come up.”