Christopher nolan at cannes ‘i want the young to sit in awe at 2001 a space odyssey’ film the guardian 3 gas laws

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The 50 th anniversary “unrestored” 70mm version of 2001: A Space Odyssey premieres here on Sunday, and a packed auditorium sat for over 90 minutes to hear the Archbishop of Analogue discuss how this miracle revival came to be. Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina was in the crowd, as was 2001 star Keir Dullea and Cannes jury member (and fellow Warner Bros auteur) Denis Villeneuve.

Nolan’s father took him as a seven-year-old to a re-release of 2001 in 70mm in “the biggest theatre” in Leicester Square. “I have carried this experience with me ever since. I want to give a new generation the experience of sitting in awe,” the director said.

The Dunkirk director is a soft and unhurried speaker, but his enthusiasm for colour grading, film stocks and projection equipment is borderline obsessive. While he acknowledged that those who choose to shoot on digital should certainly do so, it is evident that he thinks it’s the wrong choice. “Film is the best analogy for the way the eye sees. It is the most immersive, the most emotionally involving,” he argued.

He’s had the opportunity to do side-by-side comparisons, and this was how this 2001 project originated. While at Warner Bros overseeing the transfer of his earlier work to the new 4K home video format, surrounded by some of the 70mm projectors the studio had collected for their theatrical distribution of Dunkirk, Nolan spotted in storage a spare, picture-only reel from the first prints of 2001. Watching it got his juices flowing. The new version comes to cinemas as it did 50 years ago, reproducing the photochemical processes based on the original lab notes and reproducing the six-speaker sound with no new interpretation. “Digitisation changes the medium,” says Nolan.

Having lobbed these cinephiliac bombs, he explained how his analogue attitude extends to other aspects of his film-making. On set, he’ll ask his department heads “how would you have done this before?” This means, for example, getting crafty with hiding wires, so as few as possible will need to be removed with computers. This allows as much as possible from the original analogue negative. Nolan claims this oftentimes ends up being cheaper, so he isn’t just being mad about film grain.

He also went in on some studio directors who don’t shoot their own second unit photography – the industry term for insert shots, landscapes and other bits of business that don’t involve acting. “If it is important enough to be on screen, I should be the one to shoot it,” he stated with little pomposity. “The screen is the same size, even if the shot is small.” He also argued that cutaways, even of hands, should be the actor that’s playing the role, otherwise you miss a “level of a performer’s integration.”

Looking back upon his CV, Nolan summed up The Dark Knight trilogy as a series of genre exercises defined by their villains. “Batman Begins is a hero’s journey, so Ra’s al Ghul as a mentor-enemy makes sense. The Dark Knight is a crime drama, with Joker as an agent of chaos or terrorist set loose in an urban environment. The Dark Knight Rises is a historical epic or war film, with Bane as a militaristic foe.”