Thursday, 19 August 2010

2001 - beyond the infinite

The prehistoric man make-up team and actors were so good they were overlooked for awards, because some thought Kubrick had used real monkeys...So, let's recap. As you will know from my last post, I was all excited at the prospect of seeing a remastered print of one of my all-time favourite films on the big screen for the first time. Yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey was on at Cin City (my name for the cinema, not theirs). To add to my excitement, 2001 was to be introduced by Professor Peter Krämer, a senior lecturer in film studies at UEA and author of the recently-published BFI Film Classics book on 2001. On arriving (uncharacteristically early) at the cinema, I was even more excited to see that they'd be showing 2001 in Screen 1 - biggest screen, best sound, largest capacity. On taking my seat, I was pleased to see that Screen 1 was about two thirds full - a good crowd and, this being Cin City, not one made up of popcorn-chomping, wrapper-crinkling, giant-drink-guzzling buffoons but actual film fans. Aficionados, in many cases. A small wooden lectern stood to the left of the screen, ready for the Prof to do his bit. And, under the shadowy glim of the house lights, do his bit he certainly did.

Space Station V - just, you know, BETTER than the ISSPeter Krämer isn't quite the archetypal mad professor but, on Sunday's evidence, he's pleasingly close to it; let me present that evidence. For starters, he seemed to have the essential Doc Brown hair. Secondly, from where I was sitting his spectacles appeared to be made from the bottoms of old Coke bottles. Thirdly, he had a vague and, as yet, undefined European accent - not too strong but enough to mangle some words and stretch others to the limit. And finally, the clincher - every now and then he would burst out from behind the lectern and wave his arms around maniacally, à la Magnus Pyke, all the better to make his point. Brilliant! But what points did he make? Well I've been to a few of these "introduced" screenings at Cin City, and most of the talking heads only speak for about 10 minutes. Professor Krämer spoke for more like 25... but at no point did I find myself wishing that he'd get on with it, or that they'd just hurry up and show the film. Because, you see, I learnt new things about 2001 during the Prof's talk... and this is a film that I like to think I am already well versed in, and have seen more times than is probably healthy. Professor Krämer also gaves potted summaries of some of the main themes of his book, specifically his counter-arguments to three of the most popular misconceptions about 2001. But more about that later.

Dave and Frank forget that if HAL can see then maybe he can lip-read. Bugger.After the Prof had enjoyed his well-deserved applause (and shamelessly plugged his book a few times) the film presentation began. And I say presentation, because 2001 was shown as it would have been on its inital premium release in the US (minus the curved Cinerama screen though): that is to say, it began with a three-minute overture ("Atmospheres" accompanied by a blank screen), then the film was shown in two halves with a ten-minute intermission, then the presentation concluded with a four-minute reprise of "The Blue Danube", again with a blank screen. The intermission came right after the scene shown, left, in which Dave and Frank discuss the possibility of HAL making an error, and the need to shut him down if that error were realised. It was the perfect moment for a break, a mini-cliffhanger and a neat way of prolonging the tension, even if, like me, you've seen the film dozens of times and know what happens next. Oh, and during the intermission the background noise from interior Discovery scenes was played (again with blank screen) to give the impression that things were still moving on, even whilst the assembled masses ran to the loo or headed for the bar. Me, I went out into the lounge and bought Professor Krämer's book, which he signed (in obligatory mad-prof-scrawl) "From one 2001 fan to another. Enjoy the trip!" Another thing that I learnt from the Prof was that films were shown like this in the States in an attempt to make the movie-going experience comparable to a night at the opera; I don't know if that worked for these so-called premium showings back in the Sixties but it made a nice change on Sunday.

The pod checks inBut what of the remastered film? Well, you all know the plot and, from my previous eulogy, you all know my thoughts on it, so I'll just focus on this new print. There are no extra scenes, and nothing has been removed. This is not a retooled director's cut, after all. Having said that, Kubrick's first pre-release cut of the film was four hours long, so there's clearly plenty of unused material out there somewhere... but really, that would be a bad idea. You don't mess with the classics. No, the remastery here is all to do with sound and picture quality. The former is pin-sharp, yet with great depth, whilst the latter.... quite apart from the obvious cleaning up the problems of Sixties matting (you know, when you'd get a rectangle of slightly-less-black black around a spaceship as it moves across the screen), everything just looked so crystal clear - I could even read the instructions for the zero-gravity toilet! This newly remastered print looks like a film made in 2010, not the late Sixties, and in some ways even better becauase the newly-sharp models look more convincing, simply more real than a lot of modern CGI. As for the lingering landscapes in the Dawn Of Man section of the film - these are simply stunning. And what of the Prof's book? Well, I've only read the intro and first four chapters so far, but that's enough to be able to give you an opinion. I'm not going to pretend you'll be seduced by his scintillating prose style but this is a book worth reading. Firstly, you'll learn things about the film's genesis, development, production and release that you didn't already know - Krämer has clearly done his homework and this book is stuffed with archive references. Secondly, the author's inherent 2001 fandom shines through, and that is exciting to read if you're a fan too, and probably contagious if you're not (yet). And most importantly, the Prof puts forward original thoughts about Kubrick and his film, and makes cogent arguments to disabuse us of commonly-held misconceptions about 2001, notably that: it was a commercial failure on first release (not true - it was a hit from day one); it was so avant-garde that it was only watched by potheads as a "trip" (not true - it was conceived and delivered as a blockbuster); and it was Kubrick's pessimistic view of man's future (not true - arguably it was an optimistic counterpoint to the doom of Dr Strangelove). So the book is good and certainly worthy of your time. As for the film... well, I've got a couple of hours of uninterrupted sofa time this evening and a Kubrick box-set sitting by the DVD player... I might just turn out the lights and watch 2001 again...

All the links you need to better your life with 2001-ness: The film | The novel | The soundtrack | Professor Krämer's BFI Film Classics book | The essential Kubrick boxset | Internet Resource Archive (nice fan site)

4 comments:

  1. Excellent, thanks for the write-up. I shall be paying a visit to Amazon (via your link).

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    1. In the words of the (quite possibly) immortal Henry Kelly, "Good man yourself!"

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  2. Nice post. Peter knows 2001 inside-out. For more info on widescreen processes and the showmanship associated with Cinerama, Todd-AO etc visit the Widescreen Museum online - you need to Google it as I can't put links in. Googling "Widescreen Weekend" may also tell you something to your advantage.

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    1. Thanks Natasha. Here's the link to the Widescreen Museum, and I think this is the Widescreen Weekend to which Natasha is alluding.

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