HAL-9000


HAL-9000
   The computer known as HAL controlled the operations of the spaceship Discovery-1 in STANLEY KUBRICK’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Released a year before the first moon landing, the film presents a fully realized version of outer space, and is the yardstick by which subsequent science fiction films are judged. Hence it is important to examine the film, and HAL’s crucial role in it, in detail. In explaining how the original idea for the movie came to him, Kubrick told William Kloman, “There’s no doubt that there is a deep emotional relationship between man and his machine-weapons, which are his children. The machine is beginning to assert itself in a profound way, even attracting affection and obsession. ”
   That concept is dramatized in the central episode of the film, when astronauts Dave Bowman (KEIR DULLEA) and Frank Poole (GARY LOCKWOOD) find themselves at the mercy of computer HAL-9000 (voiced by DOUGLAS RAIN). This segment of the picture begins with a title, “Jupiter Mission,” and takes place after Discovery-1 has been launched on an expedition to Jupiter. Inside are the two astronauts, Bowman and Poole, who consider themselves merely “caretakers” of the craft, because the spaceship is really controlled by the computer, HAL. It is so named because it is a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. (When it was pointed out to Kubrick that H-A-L are the letters immediately preceding I-B-M in the alphabet, he responded that he had not consciously intended any reference to IBM in calling the computer HAL; it was a coincidence, pure and simple. ) In this part of the film there are repeated juxtapositions of man and his human failings and fallibility immersed in machinery—beautiful, functional, but heartless. Kubrick, as always, is on the side of humanity. We shall shortly see that human fallibility is less likely to destroy humanity than is the relinquishing of moral responsibilities to supposedly infallible machines like HAL.
   There are three other astronauts on board Discovery-1 who have been sealed in refrigerated hibernation cases to preserve their energy—and the supplies on board—until the end of the nine-month journey. All of this is explained by a BBC-TV announcer on a news program which Bowman and Poole watch on their separate television receivers. The pair had taped an interview with the news commentator a day or two earlier. The announcer further tells his listeners that the HAL-9000 computer is programmed to mimic most of the workings of the human brain, including speech. HAL obligingly informs the TV audience that “he” and his twin computer, back at Mission Control in Houston, are, “by any practical definitions of the words, foolproof and incapable of error. ” Bowman adds during the interview that HAL acts as if he has genuine emotions, “but that is something no one can truthfully answer. ” By the end of the film that question will be answered.
   If in HAL we see Kubrick’s vision of the machine becoming human, in Bowman and Poole we observe how humans are becoming dehumanized and machinelike because of their close association with technological “offspring. ” The astronauts are portrayed as being out of touch with genuine human feelings. Indeed, the two men rarely interact, except in a crisis, and are hardly ever photographed in the same frame. They even mutely watch the same program on separate TV receivers. Bowman and Poole talk to HAL more often than they converse with each other.
   In one conversation with Bowman, HAL hedgingly asks him if he has any ideas about the true nature of the mission, something that still remains a secret from Bowman and Poole at this point. “Maybe I’m just projecting my own feelings,” HAL goes on, “but those strange stories before we left about something being dug up on the moon . . . ” Bowman’s shrewd reply is,“You’re working up your crew psychology report, aren’t you, HAL?” HAL’s soothing voice actually belongs to Canadian actor Douglas Rain, whom Kubrick had engaged to do the film’s original narration (which was ultimately not used). After HAL’s part had been recorded by Martin Balsam with a lot of expression, the director decided that Rain’s reading of the lines in an even-toned, unemotional manner would lend an intriguing ambiguity to HAL’s statements, teasing the filmgoer into wondering at times what HAL is really “thinking” and “feeling. ”
   When HAL nonchalantly announces that he has detected a potential failure in the Alpha-Echo-35 (AE-35) communications unit in the antenna outside the spaceship, Poole and Bowman do not suspect that this apparently routine eventuality will lead to catastrophe. Bowman decides that the unit will have to be checked immediately, since the antenna system is Discovery-1’s sole means of maintaining contact with the Earth, 500 million miles away.
   Bowman enters one of the space pods aboard Discovery-1, used for extravehicular activity, and steers it outside the ship and as near as possible to the suspect antenna. He then leaves the pod long enough to remove the AE-35 communications unit for inspection and replace it with a spare. Back inside Discovery-1, Bowman and Poole can detect no malfunction in the unit.
   They are informed by their contact at Mission Control in Houston that HAL’s twin computer there has reported that HAL is in error. (The Mission Control contact is played by Chief Warrant Officer Franklin Miller, a U. S. Air Force traffic controller in England when the film was made. ) HAL, ostensibly unruffled by this disclosure, suggests, with some electronic throat-clearing, that the astronauts put their unit back in operation and let in fail:“We can afford to be out of communication with Earth for the short time it will take to change it. Then the cause of the trouble can be found. Any mistake must be attributed to human error. ” HAL emphasizes the word human with disdain, noting, “the 9000 series has a perfect operational record. ” Humans, the implication seems to be, do not.
   Bowman and Poole enter one of the space capsules, where they intend to discuss the situation out of HAL’s “earshot. ” But they do not realize that they are not out of his eyeshot. In a marvelous bit of editing, Kubrick shows us a close-up of the luminous red “eye” of the computer, intercut with shots of the camera panning back and forth between the moving lips of the two men. HAL is reading the astronauts’ lips.
   Their plan is to reinstall the original AE-35 unit. If it does not fail as HAL predicted, it will be clear that HAL—and not the communications unit—is faulty. “That would pretty well wrap it up as far as HAL is concerned, wouldn’t it?” says Poole impassively. HAL would then have to be disconnected so that the mission could be run via remote control by his twin computer at Mission Control. In Gene Phillips’s book on Kubrick, ARTHUR C. CLARKE, who cowrote the screenplay for the film, comments that at this point one can still sympathize with HAL, since any miscalculation he may have made is ultimately traceable to the technicians at Mission Control who programmed him: “HAL is indeed correct in attributing his mistaken report to human error. ” In other words, no machine can be any more infallible than the fallible human beings who have built it, and humanity’s greatest error is its failure to grasp that fact. Poole takes a space pod outside Discovery-1 to replace the AE-35 unit as planned. While he is in the process of doing so, the space capsule, which has been dutifully standing by, suddenly moves toward the helpless astronaut like an assassin. Kubrick cuts away from the pod stalking its prey to the body of Poole falling into space, his air hose having been snapped in the collision with the pod, which HAL has engineered. At first, the viewer is so startled by this abrupt turn of events that the whole thing seems to be another mechanical miscalculation, this time a deadly one. Gradually the realization steals over the viewer that HAL is deliberately trying to eliminate his rivals for control of the spacecraft by systematically putting them out of the way. There is no doubt that this is the case, once Bowman has left the ship in a second pod to attempt to retrieve Poole’s body.
   In Bowman’s absence, HAL moves against the three hibernating scientists. We watch in horror as the glowing life-function charts register the trio’s quick demise—a flashing red sign, accompanied by a screaming siren, proclaims:“Computer Malfunction,” followed by “Life Functions Critical,” and finally “Life Functions Terminated. ” Never before has a film portrayed multiple murder with such shattering indirection. Bowman is unaware of what has transpired while he has been making his fruitless effort to reclaim Poole’s body before it drifts off forever into infinity. HAL does not respond to his command to open the pod bay doors for his reentry into Discovery-1. “Hello, HAL, do you read me?”“Affirmative, Dave,” comes the icily courteous reply. “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me and I cannot allow that to happen. ”When Bowman shouts frantically, “Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?” the computer replies with sinister finality,“This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Good-bye. ”
   A shot of Bowman’s space helmet resting back inside Discovery-1 tips off the viewer to what Bowman himself now realizes: in his haste to leave the ship to save Poole, he forgot to don his helmet. Bowman nevertheless is able to outwit HAL by a stroke of genius which, because it involves improvisation, is beyond the capabilities of any machine. Once again, Kubrick, as always, is rooting for humankind. The astronaut uses the explosive bolts on his space capsule doors, which are meant to eject the pilot from the pod in case of an emergency, to propel him, not only out of the capsule, but into the emergency entrance of Discovery-1 and through the vacuum shaft that leads into the interior of the spacecraft. Kubrick photographs Bowman spiraling right at the camera, which is placed at the end of the silent, airless tunnel through which Bowman must pass to safety. Helmeted once more, Bowman proceeds with angry determination to the “brain room,” which houses the computer’s intricate mechanism. The soundtrack registers Bowman’s heavy breathing inside his space suit, reminiscent of the operational sound of an iron lung.
   Bowman ignores HAL’s incessant pleas not to render him inoperative—to, in effect, kill him—as the astronaut methodically disconnects each component of HAL’s intelligence: the memory bank, the logic terminal, and so on. HAL says in his ever-reassuring manner that he is confident that everything is all right now and that, if Dave would just take a stress pill and relax, he could think things over. “I know I have made some poor decisions lately,” HAL concedes with monumental understatement,“but everything is now back to normal. ”
   As HAL loses his grip on intelligent consciousness, his remarks become increasingly disoriented and childish:“Dave, stop. I’m afraid, Dave. My mind is going. I can feel it. ” Just before Bowman completes HAL’s lobotomy, the computer repeats the first message it had ever received: “Good afternoon. I am a HAL-9000 computer. I became operational at the HAL plant in Urbana, Illinois, in 1992. My instructor, Mr. Langely, taught me to sing a song. It is called ‘Daisy. . . . ’”
   Kubrick is never at a loss to wring the last drop of irony out of a popular song when he employs it in a film. (Another example is his use of “We’ll Meet Again” at the end of Dr. Strangelove. ) The lyrics of “Daisy” are superbly ironic at this moment in 2001. “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” can well refer in the film’s context to the fact that HAL has been programmed to conceal the true nature of the Jupiter mission from Bowman and Poole. “I’m half crazy” now appropriately describes HAL’s losing his mind and becoming an ordinary, mechanical monitoring device. His voice slows down and slides into distortion, like the running down of an old Victrola, and finally lapses into permanent silence. Quite unexpectedly, Dr. Heywood Floyd (WILLIAM SYLVESTER), chairman of the National Council of Astronauts, now appears on the monitoring device that once was HAL and reveals the truth of what the Jupiter mission is all about. His message apparently was triggered by HAL’s shutdown. “Good day, gentlemen,” he begins. “This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest importance has been known on board during the mission only by your HAL-9000 computer. Now that you are in Jupiter space and the entire crew is revived, it can be told to you. Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the earth was discovered. It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface, near the crater Tycho. Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four-million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose a total mystery. ”
   This statement, typical of Floyd’s remarks throughout the film, raises more questions than it answers. Significantly, his last words,“total mystery,” are also the final verbal utterance in the entire film, and as such they reverberate to the end of the movie. This information, ALEXANDERWALKER has written, comes from Floyd at a time when—because of all that has happened-it can be of no use whatever to the sole survivor of the Jupiter mission. Not only has the crew been decimated, but Discovery-1 is no longer in contact with Mission Control, so the mission cannot proceed even by remote control. Accordingly, Bowman abandons ship, and in the last segment of the film, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” goes off in a space capsule to encounter new adventures in space.
   Arthur C. Clarke, who coscripted the film with Kubrick from his short story “THE SENTINEL,” gives a more complex explanation for HAL’s panicky, homicidal behavior. That HAL blows his cool and becomes paranoid in the prose treatment (which Kubrick and Clarke had composed prior to writing the script) is traceable to the emotional conflict he suffers in that earlier draft of the story, which is not developed in the movie. In the prose treatment this conflict originated from the programming HAL underwent immediately prior to the Jupiter mission. HAL, it seems, was programmed to lie to Bowman and Poole if they asked him about the true objective of their mission. He therefore feels that he has been living a lie all during the course of the mission, a lie that has progressively eaten away at his integrity and impaired his dedication to accuracy and truth. This growing realization of his continuing deception ultimately causes him to lose his grip and to make mistakes that finally cost him his intelligent life.
   This deeper explanation of HAL’s emotional problem did not survive in the final shooting script since it is complicated and really unnecessary to the progression of the plot. The fact that an error has been detected in his computations is sufficient in the film to raise doubts about his infallibility and to set off his paranoid fears about disconnection. This is an instance of how the final shooting script of the film has refined and simplified material that is more complex in the treatment.
   Nevertheless, Clarke later regretted having to jettison the deeper explanation. “I personally would like to have seen this rationale for his behavior,” Clarke told Gene Youngblood. “It’s perfectly understandable and in fact makes HAL a very sympathetic character, because he has been fouled up by those clods back at Mission Control. ” Still he concedes that giving this more complicated explanation for HAL’s behavior “would have slowed things down too much. ” Interestingly, Clarke wrote a sequel to 2001 entitled 2010, published in 1982. Kubrick, never one to repeat himself, was not interested in directing the film version. The novel was adapted for film by writer-director Peter Hyams (Capricorn One) in 1984. Hyams states in VINCENT LOBRUTTO’s biography of Kubrick that he diffidently contacted Kubrick and asked his blessing on the project. “Sure. Go do it,” Kubrick responded. “Don’t be afraid. Just go do your own movie. ”
   In 2010, a joint team of Russian and American scientists rendezvous in their spaceship with Discovery-1, which never made it to Jupiter. Their mission is to “reawaken” HAL (again voiced by Douglas Rain), find the meaning of the monolith discovered on the Moon, and unravel the puzzling skein of events that culminated in Bowman disappearing without a trace from the spaceship which has remained stranded in space.
   When his fellow astronauts hesitate to put HAL back in service, the computer expert Chandra (Bob Balaban) informs them that he has discovered data that explains why HAL acted as he did. The explanation which Chandra uncovers is precisely the one which Clarke and Kubrick left out of the script of 2001: that HAL had a psychological conflict over being programmed to lie to Bowman and Poole about the purpose of their mission for reasons of security, since he was dedicated to the pursuit of truth. HAL, unaccustomed to ethical dilemmas, simply had a nervous breakdown. So HAL, reprogrammed to tell the truth this time around, is free of psychological and ethical conflicts, and hence proves to be quite reasonable after all.
   The film ends with a monolith signaling Earth that the extraterrestrial intelligences will allow Earth to live in peace, unless the political conflicts between nations on that planet threaten the universe. Kubrick and Clarke scrapped this psychological explanation for HAL’s behavior in 2001, and this denser explanation of HAL’s behavior, as elaborated by Chandra in 2010, does indeed slow down the narrative drive of the film. As a matter of fact, the critical consensus is that Hyam’s follow-up to 2001 proved to be much too literal in laboriously explaining HAL’s behavior and everything else to which Kubrick and Clarke had attached an air of mystery in the original film. As Kubrick commented on 2001, part of the fascination of the original film “is rooted in the fact that one must puzzle out its mystery. ”
   Although HAL disappears from 2001 at the close of the “Jupiter Mission” episode, he is one of the most memorable characters in the entire picture. As a matter of fact, in a poll conducted of its readership by Premiere Magazine in 1999, HAL was voted one of the 10 most memorable villains in cinema history. It is a tribute to Kubrick’s cinematic genius that HAL could be included with such human villains as JACK NICHOLSON’s Jack Torrance in THE SHINING (1980). According to Bernard Dick, HAL, the villainous computer, has entered the movie vocabulary, joining such unforgettable names as Rhett Butler and Michael Corleone. Small wonder that PBS-TV produced in 2001 a documentary, under the supervision of computer scientist David Stork of Stanford University, entitled The Legacy of HAL.
   References
   ■ Agel, Jerome, ed. , The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (New York: New American Library, 1970);
   ■ Bizony, Piers, 2001: Filming the Future (London: Aurum Press, 2000);
   ■ Chion, Michel, Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey (London: British Film Institute, 2001);
   ■ Clarke,Arthur C. ,“Christmas, Shepperton (1965),” in The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, ed. Stephanie Schwam (New York: Modern Library, 2000), pp. 31–24;
   ■ Dick, Bernard, Anatomy of Film, rev. ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), p. 126;
   ■ Geduld, Carolyn, Filmguide to 2001:A Space Odyssey (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1973);
   ■ Kloman, William, “In 2001 Will Love be a Seven-Letter Word?” New York Times, April 1, 1968, sec. 2, p. 15;
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999);
   ■ Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1977), pp. 131–152;
   ■ Rapf, Maurice, “A Talk With Stanley Kubrick about 2001,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 75–79;
   ■ Youngblood, Gene, “Arthur Clark Interview,” in The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, ed. Stephanie Schwam (New York: Modern Library, 2000), pp. 258–269.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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