01 / HAL SHUTS DOWN

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Empire (UK) - - CINEMAS -

There have been many other scary movie su­per­com­put­ers: in 1965, just three years be­fore Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A

Space Odyssey, Jean-luc Go­dard’s Al­phav­ille saw the tit­u­lar city ruled by a data-bas­tard called Al­pha 60. But none have ever been able to up­grade to the heights of the psy­chotic HAL 9000. There’s his eerie lone red peeper, star­ing out like a ro­botic ver­sion of the Eye of Sau­ron. There’s his mel­low but men­ac­ing voice, pro­vided by Cana­dian ac­tor Dou­glas Rain. And then there’s his un­for­get­table demise, as as­tro­naut David Bow­man (Keir Dul­lea) races to shut him down af­ter he’s pressed ‘Power Off’ on his hu­man ship­mate. It could have played out as an ac­tion scene, with HAL is­su­ing dark threats and hurl­ing ob­sta­cles. In­stead, there’s a strange poignancy as he suf­fers the com­puter equiv­a­lent of a men­tal break­down. “I’m afraid, Dave... Dave, my mind is go­ing... I can feel it... I can feel it... My mind is go­ing,” he mono­tones, piti­fully, voice slow­ing like a pitched-down 12-inch. Then he sings a song:

Daisy Bell, the 19th-cen­tury chil­dren’s rhyme IBM se­lected for one of its com­put­ers to croon as a demon­stra­tion in 1961. Set to a back­ground of hiss­ing oxy­gen, it’s a raw, in­ti­mate and sur­pris­ingly emo­tional mo­ment. Not bad for a scene in­volv­ing a box talk­ing to a man in a hel­met. It’s easy to imag­ine that when the machines fi­nally take over Earth for real, this will be their go-to weepie.

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