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Saturday, 30 April 2011

On Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey Again

I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey on DVD last night. The disc was in one of those 3 for £20 deals a few years ago, but I'd never got round to playing it as I'd seen it several times before. Which begs the question of why I bought it, but it was reduced, so it seemed like I was saving money. Anyway, it was quite a few years since I'd last seen the film, so I put it on.

2001 is now ten years in the past, but when it was made it was thirty-three years in the future. Humanity was due to land on the moon the following year, and the film's writers, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, saw no reason why we wouldn't continue pushing on into space. So as far as the space technology goes, the film could easily be retitled 2101: A Space Odyssey, as the space station and spaceships in the film are decades ahead of anything we've got in 2011. They also had Artificial General Intelligence in the form of the HAL9000 series computer. This had a supposedly fault-free record, but went on to murder four people (the QA department having rather dropped the ball there, I feel). AGI is still far off in the real world, though some experts think it will come in the first half of this century.

Other aspects of the futuristic technology in the film have lost their power to surprise. The videophone call from the space station, for instance. Granted, they seemed to have more bandwidth than I've seen Skype use, but in principle we could do that now. And the computer controls were very little advanced from what was around in 1968 when the film was made: lots of flashing lights and large, square illuminated buttons. Not a touch screen in sight.

All that apart, the film still conveyed that sense of wonder that blew my mind when I first saw it age 12. And the beauty, grace and remoteness of space, that was still there too.