2001: A Space Odyssey is a visual stunner, one of the most beautiful films ever dedicated to the medium. When it was first shown to audiences on 70mm film, it astounded critics and moviegoers alike.
Little did they know, however, that they were watching it in a low-res garbage format the whole time.
If you happened to live in Japan, burnt somewhere around $5,000 on a home-theater setup, and were tuned into public broadcaster NHK in December, then you got to see Kubrick’s seminal work as it was always meant to be seen–with 33 million pixels and 22.2 multi-channel sound. You lucky dog!
Don’t fret if you missed out on 2001, though, as NHK plans to release more classics in this format deemed to be the very best the human eye is able to perceive. In March, you’ll have the treat of seeing My Fair Lady at its fairest.
I don’t see the point in reworking these classics into such opulent formats. There’s a novelty to it for sure, but a great movie is a great movie regardless of definition. People with VHS copies of 2001 knew how beautiful it was. People with DVDs knew how beautiful it was. People with Blu-rays knew how beautiful it was. All a format like 8K will do is let snobs say they’ve seen it the best it can possibly be seen. Who even knows what physical media will need to be invented to support an 8K file? Maybe it’ll only be digital, and we’ll all have terabytes of storage packed with just two or three movies.
That said, though, the network’s plans to televise concerts and other events (like sumo wrestling!) shot in 8K sounds fun and cool. Could you imagine having a sumo wrestler stomp down, and it shake your whole house? Awesome. Making sumo wrestling feel like 2001: A Space Odyssey seems like a worthy goal, but making 2001: A Space Odyssey feel like 2001: A Space Odyssey but with more pixels than Stanley Kubrick had lived to see seems like a complete waste of time.
Maybe this is hypocritical on my part. I don’t know. Either way, it’s a hypocrisy I’m willing to live with.
Whichever way you look at it, though, there’s still work to be done before NHK has its 8K system running at full efficiency. They’ve been working on this since 1995 and have brought down the weight of their cameras from 176 lbs to a mere 66 lbs, but they still lack the computer strength to properly edit 8K video, and they cobble the 22.2 channel audio as a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of 5.1 and 7.1 channels. Eventually, though, they’re confident they’ll make 8K work.
After that, they intend to turn their sights over to 3D (ugh). They plan to make a form of 3D that requires no glasses and can be seen at any angle. As someone who can’t perceive depth perhaps I’m a bit down on the whole idea, but it seems to ebb and flow with each technical innovation but never catches on. I don’t know if NHK’s work will finally 3D a household staple, but their ambitions will certainly keep them busy for the next 25 years.