Peter Cavanaugh

Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL, has died. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ remains a classic

HAL, the computer from the Stanley Kubrick movie classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” is shown in this undated video image from the Apple Computer Co. 1999 Super Bowl commercial. (AP Photo.Apple Computer)
HAL, the computer from the Stanley Kubrick movie classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” is shown in this undated video image from the Apple Computer Co. 1999 Super Bowl commercial. (AP Photo.Apple Computer) AP

H.A.L. is now silenced in the emptiness of eternal space.

The Stratford Theater announced last week that acclaimed Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain has died at the age of 90.

Mr. Rain gave voice to H.A.L. 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s unparalleled cinematic masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Remember?

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

H.A.L. 9000 is a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. He represents the epitome of artificial intelligence. While humanity is understood, humility is unknown.

“No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.”

That was H.A.L in 1968. Here’s the late Stephen Hawking in 2014:

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is now a half-century old, making its debut on April 3, 1968. There is virtually no dialogue in the first and last 20 minutes. It is now regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. I watch it once a year, discovering something new each time.

I first saw it in Cinerama with my brother, Paul, at the Eckel Theater in Syracuse. Cinerama was an experimental widescreen process beaming images simultaneously from three separate 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply curved surface with six-track stereophonic sound. It was like IMAX – but ahead of its time.

As we speechlessly left the theater, Paul looked at me and said, “What the hell was that?” I made something up. It had staggered me, but I wasn’t sure why. I was certain it had something to do with God, but I needed to see it again — many times

Here’s a tiny tip for the borderline hip. During “The Dawn of Man”, don’t laugh at the monkeys. That’s not what they’re there for.

2001: A Space Odyssey” was originally based on “The Sentinel”, a short story from science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, about the discovery by American astronauts of an ancient monument on the moon. Scientific dating indicates it is four million years old, transmitting a powerful radio signal toward Jupiter. And off we go.

Clarke spent over four years working with Kubrick on the “2001” screenplay. Rotating sets developed to depict zero gravity and the uses of retro-reflective matting were just a few of the innovative, rule-breaking techniques pioneered in production.

Gradually evolving with slowly increased tension and looming menace, the concluding “Star Gate” sequence wildly accelerates beyond the ferocious —exceeding light-speed intensity — causing many an acid-doused hippie of the day to run screaming from the theater.

Then: unimaginable resolution and promise.

The powerful “2001” theme music impacts twice — in the opening of the film and at its close. Its formal name is “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, composed in 1896 by Richard Strauss as a tone poem inspired by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”

Zarathustra (approximately 1200 B.C.) is a major figure in the history of world religions, proclaiming one God and endorsing dualism with a sharp distinction drawn between forces of good and evil. He was of considerable influence in the teachings of future Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism, then Christianity, then Islam.

One more thing about H.A.L.

Move each of the letters forward in the alphabet and you get: I.B.M.

“2001” is loaded with such coolness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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