This post serves up some spoilers of detail, though no major spoilers of plot until the penultimate “you must go see it” paragraph. Upon a re-viewing of this movie, I found the following striking:
1. There is a Skype-like service for phone calls, but it never occurs to anyone that something like sending an email might be possible or even desirable. A lot of major and even apparently simple technological advances just aren’t that self-evident. The cameras in the movie also remained quite primitive and clunky, even by pre-smart phone standards. Maybe people expected a great stagnation in cameras back then.
2. At the time, Kubrick apparently thought it plausible that the audience would buy into common, widespread and indeed commercially viable space travel by 1992. The film was released in 1968.
3. Pan American flies people into outer space, and apparently used this new market to avoid total bankruptcy. Their stewardesses still have silly hats and costumes, and they act in a vaguely self-demeaning manner.
4. The film shows some signs of recognizing that Moore’s Law might happen. Hal for instance is advanced AI, but he is not huge in size. And the portrait of voice recognition technology is quite realistic.
5. Stars do not twinkle in outer space, however.
6. Hal 9000 would be less creepy with a female voice, and indeed Apple and Amazon figured that out some while ago. Note to my tech friends: do not program your personal assistant bots with a resentful, quivering, paranoid, passive-aggressive male voice.
7. The movie seems to suggest that chess-playing computers are a major achievement, when in fact this was mastered relatively easily, compared to many other AI problems. The movie shows this chess game, with Hal as Black. It is the kind of game you might expect a strong computer to play against a human, namely with a finish based on visually counterintuitive tactics.
8. It is a truly dystopic vision to think that Howard Johnson’s will be serving us food in space.
9. The first time I saw the movie, which I believe was in the mid-1970s, I was more stunned by seeing Americans talking to Russians “as if they were normal people” than by any of the technology.
Here is a good Wikipedia page on technologies in the movie. Now a few spoilers:
The movie, which I had not seen in many years, I found quite stunning. It took so many chances, and with so much self-confidence that the originality could be pulled off. Imagine opening a film with minutes of discordant Gyorgy Ligeti music, played against a dark screen, with no signal that this is even part of the movie. Then you see a long scene with apes, no dialogue to speak of, and no explanation of how this might fit into a commercially viable product. Finally the Solow residual is explained! There is not only no love story, the film arguably has no characters, Hal aside. Kubrick often expects ballet music to keep you interested, and various movements in space are stretched out to interminable length, yet almost always with striking aesthetic success. You could generously describe the ending as “underexplained.” Hardly anything happens in the movie, and yet at the same time it encapsulates the entire history of humanity with extra material on both sides, beginning and end, and a nod in the Hegelian direction.
Go see it on the large screen if you can — I can’t think of any film that is so much worse (or simply different) on TV as this one. It is one of the better movies ever made, and it dates from a time near Hollywood’s peak. It is sad that nearly two generations of Americans now do not know this creation as it was intended to be seen, and indeed must be seen. On 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the theatre had no more than twenty people in attendance. When it comes to culture, salience usually matters more than you might think.