Cannes 2018: Christopher Nolan on his restoration of 2001: A Space Odyssey

An image from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Unbelievably, Christopher Nolan has never previously been to Cannes, and has this weekend popped his festival cherry not to promote one of his own blockbusting titles such as the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception or Dunkirk, but to celebrate the film that has most shaped his life and career: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Fifty years young, 2001 last night screened as part of the Cannes Classics strand of the festival. It played in a restored print that has been supervised by Nolan, who is, of course, a champion of celluloid. But here’s the thing: far from overseeing a digital scrub of the science-fiction masterpiece, Nolan has remained faithful to Kubrick’s vision and the technology available to him at the time – the 70mm print has been struck from the original negative and the six-track sound system remains in place. 

A bearded, calmly articulate Nolan this morning sat down with our sister publication Total Film magazine to discuss the movie that marked an epoch in the evolution of cinema even as it served viewers a dazzling, disorientating journey through the evolution of man. He quipped that this print of 2001 is “the unrestored version” and stressed that there is “no interpretation.” 

“It is a different medium,” he pointed out, drawing a line between the event movies of the late-‘60s and today’s multiplex thrill rides, between celluloid and digital. “Films that were being made in an analogue way need to be presented in an analogue way.” 

An image from 2001: A Space Odyssey

(Image: © Warner Bros)

Which is not to say that today’s audiences need approach 2001 prepared to offer it some slack or else find its then-revolutionary effects and visuals quaint. Rather, Nolan promises, they can expect a gravitational pull the like of which is rarely offered by today’s spectacles with their DCP presentations. “It is all about the feeling, the emotion,” he says. “Film stands as the best analogy for how the eye sees.” Meaning? “It is the most immersive [medium].”

“Feeling” and “emotion” are words that are especially apt given Nolan’s own 40-year relationship with 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The first time I saw 2001, I was seven years old,” he says. “It was the year after George Lucas’ Star Wars came out. In the wake of its phenomenal success, 2001 was re-released and my dad took me to see it in the biggest theatre in London, the Leicester Square theatre, which had 70mm projection. I had this extraordinary experience that I’ve carried with me ever since, of just being transported in a way I hadn’t realised was possible. The screen just opened up and I went on this incredible journey. It is very exciting to try and give this new generation of filmgoers the same experience that I had, of just sitting there in awe.”

Judging from the sustained standing ovation that greeted the end credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey last night, Nolan has accomplished his mission. “It was incredible, wasn’t it?” he smiles. “It very much made it all worthwhile. It was one hell of a screening.”

Christopher Nolan's restored version of 2001: A Space Odyssey will be released in UK cinemas on May 18, 2018. For more coverage from the Cannes Film Festival, read out review of Mads Mikkelsen's survival movie Artic.