by shannon jay
2001: A Space Odyssey was practically a flop when it was released 50 years ago this week. On the verge of being pulled from theaters, teenagers high on weed and whatever else made movie houses second guess. Thus the strangest, most mysterious film of all time became an influential classic, growing in illusiveness with every watch. Possibly the most surreal film produced by a major movie company, director Stanley Kubrick didn’t allow MGM producers anywhere on set.
Noted for the use of special effects ahead of 1968’s time, 2001 was one of the first to detail developing technology in it’s plot, outlining a nearer and realistic future. Wanting to pull the public from their televisions back into the theater, Stanley Kubrick and MGM decided to focus their next film on the Space Race. Responding to paranoia in 1950s invasion films, which worked to “boost morale and reassert scientific superiority over the alien Other,” we’d made our way into extraterrestrial’s arena. An interesting time in tech, the 60s showed a rise in developing computers and space crafts only drempt about since the dawn of science fiction. Kubrick employed designers from NASA and the leading authority on artificial intelligence from MIT to make every detail of the space ships as accurate as possible. Some of the team’s ideas were brought to life during the moon landing a year later, with striking accuracy.
An ultra-intelligent computer, paralleling IBM’s real-world developments, might be the first AI film lead. In the film, when Dave is deactivating HAL 9000, he murmurs “Daisy Bell” as he shuts down. In 1961, only a few years before the film came out, the IBM 704 computer created the earliest recording of a synthesized voice singing [the same] song. While the also developing spacecraft stayed neutral and the video phone a fantastical touch that so happened to become a distant reality, HAL may be the first instance where developing technology itself is intelligent enough to become the villain.
As one shot shows a bone flying out of the ape’s hand and transforming into a shuttle, so shows an informed move away from these barbaric roots could still mean demise from our own creations. In an attempt to separate ourselves from “apes” by creating intelligent designs, Kubrick suggest we’d integrated our own inherent flaws that come with consciousness. Facebook’s latest scandal shows the bones we still use on each other for our own advantage, and the tech that turned on ourselves. We made ourselves susceptible to not A.I. like HAL per sey, but willingly gave information that fellow humans took advantage of for financial gain and very start computers were able to comprehend and utilize.
Kubrick’s heavy research and informed staff make it no mystery that the always meticulous he was able to predict technology that would come not long after the turn of the millennium, such as video chat and iPads. Great shows like Black Mirror take this now existing tech and reimagine a somehow familiar future, but Kubrick was doing it before it was possible. 2001: A Space Odyssey was early in exploring ideas of technology robbing humans of loneliness. HAL 3000 was more of a helper than a friend, but the current digital age has proven Kubrick’s theory true. Smart phones provided constant connection to all of our contacts, and from ancient AIM chat bots to Siri, there’s always a computerized voice to keep up conversation.
Even the illusive monolith looks a lot like an iPhone, and is equally as captivating. Named after the EVA Pod from the film, the iPod’s naming shows a more direct influence. “Open the pod bay door, Hal!” inspired Vinnie Chieco to throw the infamous ‘i’ in front of the word that perfectly describes the relationship between the MP3 player and computer.
We might never know what the monolith is suppose to be, and Kubrick probably never wanted us to. The book’s author, Arthur C. Clarke, suggests it’s the moment awoke intelligence in primates, evolving to mankind. Perhaps within the creation of man, it is also the demise. From sparking violence in primates to humans becoming outsmarted by computers, the instrument from an unknown alien source seemed more of a challenge. Unlike the propagandic and back-patting space invasion films of the previous decade, we may never outsmart external forces of the unknown universe – and screw ourselves while trying to.