Monday, October 27, 2008

Return Of The A.I.

If you've been following recent Hollywood releases, you'd notice a very peculiar thing. There have been no less than two tributes to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, in particular to the mutinous supercomputer HAL 9000.

Mild to major spoilers ahead for the movies WALL-E and Eagle Eye. So if you haven't seen them, stop right here. Otherwise, forward march.

If there's still anyone who hasn't seen Kubrick's masterpiece sci-fi opera, even after the recent two-disc DVD release (actually I wouldn't be surprised at all because 2001 isn't an easy film to sit through), here's the lowdown: HAL 9000 kills everyone on board the mission to Jupiter when it realises that humans will jeopardise the mission.

In both WALL-E and Eagle Eye, there is a mutinous supercomputer; in both movies, it resembles HAL 9000 with its "red eye." In both movies too, the supercomputer sees human beings as a threat.

I don't quite know how to pinpoint the reason for these tributes (and could I be wrong in suspecting that there will be more tributes to come?). The one obvious reason we can all see is that this year, it is exactly 40 years since 2001 was first released.

Also, I've read that Kubrick was somewhat influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis in making 2001. (Could HAL be the reincarnation of Hel, the dead lover of scientist Rotwang who wants to build a robot in her image?) Metropolis was released almost exactly 40 years before 2001. And now, at almost 80 years since Lang's film first came out, the legendary missing reels have been discovered in Argentina. Of course, all this is just coincidence, but it makes for curious statistics and baffling wonderment.

Perhaps these reappearances of HAL 9000 are just a symptom of our times in which our tools and machines sometimes become too independent of our control. Take a step into a train, and notice that the recorded voice through the PA system sounds more lively than the bored, tired human chatter around you.

Kubrick predicted it after all.

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