by James Irwin, CBS San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — “I probably walked around with my mouth open for a week.”

So said Michael Anders, longtime film projectionist at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, recalling the first time he saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” at a Detroit movie palace in 1968.

“It pretty much blew my mind because there really was nothing like it,” he added.

This weekend, Anders will become one of a handful of people in the world who will literally get his hands on the new, 50th-anniversary film print of Stanley Kubrick’s epic masterpiece.

On Friday, Warner Bros. Pictures is releasing a new 70-millimeter print of 2001 to select theaters around the country. San Francisco’s Castro Theatre has the exclusive Northern California engagement, with showings scheduled Friday through Monday, this weekend and the next (see theater schedule).

Warners is billing this golden anniversary release as an “unrestored” print, a photochemical film recreation, struck from elements derived from the original camera negative.

Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, a longtime admirer of Kubrick’s magnum opus, worked with the film archive team at Warner Bros. to oversee the mastering process. He promises audiences will see no digital tricks, remastered effects or revisionist edits in this 70 millimeter re-release.

“‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is one of the greatest and most radical cinematic experiences of all time,” Nolan said in a statement.

“I consider it a great privilege to be involved in offering that experience to a new generation of moviegoers in its original analogue glory.”

Since its April, 1968 premiere, Kubrick’s monumental meditation on humanity’s place in the cosmos has been a staple at repertory movie houses around the world, including the Castro Theatre, which showed an older 70 mm print just last year.

2001 at Cannes

Stanley Kubrick’s producing partner and brother-in-law Jan Harlan, director Christopher Nolan, actor Keir Dullea and Kubrick’s daughter Katharina Kubrick at the world premiere of a new print of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Oddysey’ during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

This print, which was presented to the public for the first time last week at the Cannes Film Festival, may well mark the last time the movie’s original celluloid elements are used to produce a general release. Most theaters, including the Castro, have switched from film to high-resolution digital projection systems in recent years. Only a few have kept their film projectors in service and far fewer still have working 70 millimeter projectors.

The last movie to get wide distribution in 70 millimeter was Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” So few theaters had the required equipment that the studio, in addition to shipping prints, also installed projectors temporarily at many venues.

Michael Anders, Castro Theatre Projectionist

Projectionist Michael Anders carries a reel of “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the projection booth of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. (James Irwin/cbsSF.com)

While setting up a 70-millimeter showing of “2001” last year at the Castro, Michael Anders was philosophical about this cinephile version of the old CD-vs.-vinyl debate among audiophiles.

“To me, there’s just something about the organic feeling of … film. Even once in a while seeing a little nick or scratch in the film — it just feels more organic to me, it’s more personal,” Anders said, adding: “Actually, the vast majority of people can’t tell the difference, I gotta say.”

RELATED WEBLINKS:

AP: To Melt Younger Minds, Nolan ‘Unrestores’ Kubrick’s ‘2001’

Variety: Christopher Nolan Goes Analog Route to Preserve Celluloid Beauty of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Roger Ebert: Ebert’s Reflections on 2001: A Space Odyssey

SFGate.com: 50th Anniversary of ‘2001’: HAL yes!

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