douglas trumbull and christopher nolan

In 1968, Douglas Trumbull was a 23-year-old animator who had been hand-picked by director Stanley Kubrick to work on a science fiction film called 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trumbull was eventually tasked with pioneering visual effects for several of the movie’s most memorable sequences, and the unforgettable results turned him into a legend in the field.

In 2018, Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) oversaw a 70mm “unrestoration” of the movie that he showed at the Cannes Film Festival and later played in theaters in the United States.

Now, Trumbull says he was “flabbergasted” at the studio’s decision to choose Nolan to oversee this work instead of him – someone who, you know, actually worked on the original movie. 

Trumbull has worked on classics like Blade Runner, The Tree of Life, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but he’s probably still best known for his jaw-dropping visual effects work on his first feature film: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trumbull concocted the effects for that mind-bending Star Gate sequence (which still looks just as great and feels as wholly immersive today as it did when the film first debuted), and he’s been an innovator and advocate for VFX for the past five decades. So you can understand why, in a recent interview with Indiewire, Trumbull feels a little miffed at not being asked to help out:

“…I was kind of flabbergasted because I had a previous intimate relationship with Warner Bros. about 2001 because I was developing [a] documentary [about that film] for them. At the time, I said, ‘I know where the original negative is of everything. I’m a guy who was on the set, working with Kubrick, and I’d love to contribute to any restoration you want to do.’ Instead, they called Christopher Nolan and they did not call me. Go figure. It’s all corporate. All about money.”

“There was work done on Blade Runner that made the movie better, and I helped them, because I had 65mm negatives of all the effects shots stored away that I gave to the studio,” he continued. “Generally, these restorations are not done by the principles who made the movie, particularly the cinematographers. If you’re going to restore The Godfather, you’ll include Coppola.”

While some might balk at Trumbull putting himself on the same level of authorship for 2001 that Coppola had on The Godfather, his larger point is well taken. While it’s nice that Nolan could be the public face of getting this cinematic classic in front of a new generation, it could have been even better had WB tapped Trumbull to help as well. The conglomerates that run Hollywood studios don’t seem to understand that people like Trumbull are important parts of film history, and they should be championed and used as resources as often as possible before they’re gone.

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