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Monday, 1 January, 2001, 03:12 GMT
2001 Space Odyssey: Was Kubrick right?
Hal the computer lip-reads as crewmen plot against him
Hal the computer lip-reads as crewmen plot against him
2001: A Space Odyssey was shown on a new 70mm print with digitally remastered sound at London's National Film Theatre on New Year's Day.

BBC News Online's Helen Bushby examines whether the 1968 film's vision of the future was right.

2001: A Space Odyssey spans three million years from the dawn of man through to his rebirth as a star child in space.

The space fantasy was a painstaking collaboration between the late Kubrick and sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke.

Predicting a world of routine space travel, malevolent computers and extra-terrestrial life, it was written and produced when the "space race" to the moon was at its height between the US and Soviets.

The baffling plot and lack of action angered many critics at the time.

But it enchanted acid-addled hippies, who wanted to see if it lived up to its billing as "the ultimate trip".

Mission to Jupiter
Mission to Jupiter: We send unmanned missions, unlike the film
The film, which won only one Oscar for special visual effects, is now hailed as having broken the mould of science fiction movies.

It begins with feuding apes, who learn to use bones to kill each other after finding an enigmatic black monolith.

In one of cinema's most famous film cuts, time flashes forward three million years, and the bone evolves into a spaceship - another tool for mankind.

Next comes a space journey in 2001, when a scientist flies to the moon to examine another mysterious monolith.

And in a top-secret mission to Jupiter 18 months later, the ship's "foolproof" computer Hal 9000 kills the crew - except one man, Bowman, who manages to disconnect it.

Kubrick: Attention to detail
Bowman then sees another floating monolith, is drawn into a stargate, and watches himself age and die before transforming into a foetus-like star child orbiting the earth.

Clarke insisted the 1968 film was "never intended as a literal prediction of when such adventures might take place", and Kubrick stressed it was a fable rather than a forecast.

But with his fastidious eye for detail, Kubrick still consulted leading aeronautical companies, maps of the moon, space suit and computer designers, and US and Soviet space programmes.

Clarke admitted they were "hopelessly optimistic" to have a huge base on the moon, and that they "could never have guessed" Jupiter would be reached only 15 years later, unmanned.

But he says some of the film's other expectations may come true.

Clarke: Envisioned wheel-shaped space station
In Predictions, a book including contributions from Clarke, he says that by 2057, a century after Sputnik was launched, man will stand on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

And the book also suggests that within two decades a new life form will have evolved from artificially intelligent machines.

But for the moment, Hal, the film's most memorable character who converses and "experiences" fear, is far from being a costly reality.

Instead, we strive to produce specialist computers that efficiently carry out a specific task.

The book predicts we will turn to genetics and computer implants to compete with such technology.

And although the film's depiction of space rockets does not seem out of place today, the size of Hal does - it is huge, and modern-day computers have scaled down considerably.

Arthur C Clarke
Clarke is still active in world of science
But the film was right about a manned international space station - in reality, the International Space Station could be seen from the UK on Christmas Day as it orbited the Earth.

It is not open to the public, as the station in the film is, nor do space flights house zero-gravity kitchens for air hostesses, who serve ready-made meals through straws.

And space crew members do not "hibernate" at 3C to conserve energy, having only one heartbeat per minute.

But Kubrick did manage to foresee the end of the Cold War, which was still going strong in 1968.

The film also successfully predicted video phones, the development of voice-print identification and multi-channel television - Bowman watches BBC12.

But as for the alien life-forms, or black monoliths, and man's further evolution, they remain an unknown quantity.

Only time will tell.

See also:

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Facing a remote control future?
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Will computers ever be intelligent?
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Space station in UK skies
04 Nov 99 | UK
The future's not all bright
13 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Vision of the future
30 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Space: The final holiday destination
09 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
Hilton to back space hotel
09 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Kubrick and Caine honoured
26 May 00 | South Asia
Arthur C Clarke knighted
09 Mar 99 | UK
Kubrick: A film odyssey
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