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Open the pod bay doors, HAL: 50 years later, analyzing the impact of Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ on the sci-fi genre

A film still from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's
A film still from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "2001: A Space Odyssey," released in 1968.

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

The deadpan, emotionless response from supercomputer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” sets the tone for what is arguably one of the most spine-chilling final sequences in film as viewers stare into HAL’s unblinking, emotionless red eye and realize the extent of its omnipotence; that it sees itself not as subservient to the humans who created it, but as an equal. And that sense of fear is only amplified as, in yet another iconic and haunting moment, astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) shuts HAL down for good as it sings a warbling, eerie version of “Bicycle Built for Two.”

“2001” turned 50 years old earlier this week, and its influence on the sci-fi genre is hard to understate. Movies like “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “Contact” and more have followed in its footsteps. But the film is about more than space travel becoming the norm, or even humanity pushing the boundaries of the universe in search of the meaning of its existence. In an age where we have smartphones and speakers that can respond to commands, accomplish tasks, and even tell jokes, Kubrick’s message about the ability of machines to replicate human emotion and feeling rings as true as it ever has. And despite debuting to mixed reviews and failing to receive a Best Picture nomination at the 1968 Academy Awards (though it did win for Best Special Visual Effects and Kubrick was nominated for Best Director), the film has had and likely will continue to have a lasting impact on the sci-fi genre as we know it. References to the film continue to appear across pop culture, from the “Dawn of Man” scene making its way into an episode of “The Simpsons” to the design and familiar all-seeing red eye of the robot “Auto” in Disney-Pixar’s “WALL-E.” Last month, it was reported that at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May, director Christopher Nolan will present a restored 70mm print of the film.  

What are your memories of the first time you saw “2001?” What did the movie get right about the “future?” What themes from the film do you think are applicable to human life today? Where does “2001” rank among the great science-fiction films?


Amy Nicholson, film critic for KPCC and host of The Canon podcast; she tweets @TheAmyNicholson

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC, Alt-Film Guide and; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Charles Solomon, film critic for KPCC, Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine