"2001" fills the theater

Roger Ebert hosts wide-screen showing at the Virginia Theater

By Matt Wargin and Michelle Denney

      Every seat was full at the Virginia Theater March 13, 1997 for the return of "2001: A Space Odyssey" hosted by renowned film critic and UI alumnus Roger Ebert.
      The Virginia Theater, located in Champaign, went to a lot of trouble to show the film. Special equipment was brought in to accommodate for the 70 mm format which is four times the size of the standard 35 mm format, Ebert said.
      People from all over the Illinois and from as far away as Australia, Ebert said, paid $12 to see "2001" on the big screen. An experience Ebert called "almost religious". The sold-out crowd cheered, whistled and clapped as the infamous HAL9000 stated, "I became operational at the HAL plant in Urbana, Ill."
      They whistled, hissed and booed when HAL said he was born in 1992, however. Ebert said "2001" director Stanley Kubrick insisted HAL was born in 1992, rather than the 1997 date Cyberfest is celebrating, and refused to be a part of this week's events.
      "(Kubrick) sent a very tart note when he was informed of Cyberfest," Ebert said. "He was told that the University of Illinois is going to celebrate the birth of HAL which was born in Urbana in 1997. And Kubrick's tart response was that HAL was born in 1992, and if you didn't have a birthday party then, it's too late to have one now."
      Steve Friedrich, an employee at the Virginia Theater, said he had never seen such a large crowd for a showing there.
      After 30 years, the movie is still amazing crowds and competing with even the newest blockbusters. Andreas Zodinates, a 15 year-old from Champaign described "2001" as "infinitely better than 'Independence Day'. The special effects were clean and crisp."
      In today's dollar, "2001" would be "a $100 million experimental art film," Ebert said, espcecially since the special effects in the movie were state-of-the-art.
      Kubrick and Arthur Clarke, the co-authors of thescreenplay, played close attention to detail. The slow motion docking scene was used with simple model photography, Ebert said. But even with the close-ups, the models seemed flawless and perfect.
      "2001" touched audiences and gave them a real feeling of "what it would be like to live in space, more so than in any other movie," Ebert said.
      On stage after the showing were Gary Lockwood, who played Astronaut Frank Poole in the movie and Piers Bizony, the author of "2001: Filming the Future". Joined by Ebert, they answered audience questions about the movie.
      In Ebert's mind there is no question as to the impact and magic of "2001".
      "It will last longer than any other film in the first 100 years of film," Ebert said. "No other movies made in 1968 would fill this theater."

See also: Shooting with the NICAM, A high-tech camera developed at Beckman takes panoramic images of the Virginia Theater

Photo by Chris Boraski

The venue at the Virginia theatre announces Thursday's "2001" showing