How accurate was Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" about the future?
And by one or two things that weren't quite so accurate.
Plane shaped spacecraft
An orbiting space station that is reached by using a shuttle craft that resembles an airplane design?
When the movie was made, space travel mostly consisted of putting people on top of a massive missile, and then setting fire to the bottom of it. Construction of the first NASA Space Shuttle was 6 years away, and Salyat 1, Earth's first low level orbiting space station, didn't launch until 1971.
The airplane design may turn out to be a blip in the history of space travel however, as the NASA shuttle fleet is retiring next year, and the USA intends to go back to pod-shaped craft atop rockets.
At seat TV entertainment
Kubrick's film evocatively captures the humdrum tedium that regular space travel would no doubt develop into, and makes it closely resemble the aircraft travel experience. The back of the head-rests in the shuttle feature small TV screens, something that wouldn't actually be introduced to airplanes until the 1980s.
The videophone booth
The single thing that I think the film gets most wrong about the future is the video call sequence. In fact, although on present day earth mobile phones are more prevalent than toothbrushes, in "2001: A Space Odyssey" there are no personal mobile communication devices on display at all.
Not only does Dr. Heywood R. Floyd step into a booth to make a call, he also has to remember the number to physically dial - something unthinkable today in an era of contact address books and speed-dial.
There are some realistic touches however. He quaintly still calls it the "telephone", even though it is clearly branded 'Picturephone'. He also pulls out a credit card that still looks recognisably like the size and type of plastic payment card we still use today.
Kids are rubbish on the phone
Even if the whole concept of the sit down video phone booth was off kilter, the film gets one thing absolutely right - children are rubbish on the phone.
It doesn't matter how many times Dr Floyd carefully spells it out, we all know that his daughter, over-excited on the day before her birthday, will never tell her mum that he called.
And if you called your 6 year old daughter right now, she wouldn't pass on a message either.
The Russians would not have employed Rigsby
It isn't that British comedy actors can't do a star turn in Kubrick movies. In fact Peter Sellers is the central pivot of 'Dr Strangelove'. The problem is that, 6 years before 'Rising Damp' hit British television, Leonard Rossiter is basically playing a Russian scientist as if he were Rupert Rigsby.
When Dr. Andrei Smyslov first appears Rossiter is doing that awkward shuffling hands-behind-his-back adjusting his clothes thing that Rigsby does, and the actor delivers a performance that revolves around the same stammering and licking of the lips.
It is a point that probably now only afflicts British viewers of a certain age, but I'm almost certain that he is going to cry out "Ooh, Miss Jones" at any moment.
Pan Am will exist
Pan Am went bankrupt and dissolved on January 8, 1991. Not according to the movie however, where the 'space food' on the moon shuttle comes complete with contemporary 1960's Pan-Am branding.
The future of cameras
Mixed fortunes for the predictions in the film here. During the sequence when the scientists start posing in front of the alien monolith like package tourists, the camera equipment looks pretty similar to that used later in real life space missions.
In an earlier sequence, however, the 'still-camera-without-flash-that-looks-like-a-cine-camera' is way off the mark.
As is the suit the photographer is wearing.
Part of the reason that Dr Floyd has been sent to Clavius Base is to deliver a morale-boosting speech to a crew bemused by what they have unearthed on the moon.
Frankly, there is no way that this would have been done in the real 2001 without the judicious use of PowerPoint featuring Excel charts and inspiring pictures of puppies, and probably some free branded goodies to take away and cheer everybody up.
Death Star docking bay
It may have all taken place 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away', but there is no way on Earth you'll convince me that the designers for 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope" weren't thinking of "2001: A Space Odyssey" when they designed the Death Star docking bay.
The BBC will have more channels
In 2001, Kubrick's movie envisioned that the BBC would be broadcasting BBC 12. The film was released in 1968, a year after BBC Two had started regularly transmitting in colour.
Actually in 2001, the BBC was struggling to convert BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge into BBC's Three and Four. Even now, including CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Parliament and the BBC News Channel, the Corporation is still a long way off launching a twelfth linear television channel.
Kubrick also didn't predict the 1990s Lambie-Nairn inspired straightening of the BBC logo.
Computers are good at chess
The history of machines that purported to play chess dates back to the Mechanical Turk of the 1700s, when Wolfgang von Kempelen tried to convince people that his 'machine' could play intelligently.
Actual games between computers and world class humans began in 1960s, with David Levy winning a bet that no machine would beat him during a decade. Deep Blue famously beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, and now most strong chess players can regularly be defeated by machine.
Although, frankly, my ZX Spectrum could usually outwit me during the 1980s.
In "2001: A Space Odyssey" we see Hal not only beat Frank Poole, but act slightly condescendingly to him into the bargain. The book explains that HAL was programmed to only win some of the time, to make it worthwhile for the astronauts to play the game.
Of course, some people argue that chess is a natural environment for computers to thrive, since it is a game of cold mathematics and logic. I'd like to see a computer that could win at Subbuteo.
Incidentally, is this account of the fictional Poole - HAL 9000 chess game the single most geekiest page on Wikipedia?
Space repairs are difficult
We all chortled at the astronaut who recently dropped their tool-kit whist on a space walk, but "2001: A Space Odyssey" captures the dull intricacy of doing space repairs in the sequence during which Dr. David Bowman is outside to retrieve the 'faulty' AE-35 circuit.
Rather than the Star Trek universe, where the captain simply voice commands the computer to "re-route power from the dilithium crystals to the auxiliary circuits", the Discovery One crew have to venture outside to replace crucial components.
Robot arms for EVA
NASA first used a robot arm for carrying out tasks outside of the shuttle early in the 1980s, but in 1968 Stanley Kubrick's film had already predicted the concept of robotic limbs taking part in space missions.
The NASA ones were not under the control of a murderous super-computer though, which undoubtedly helped.
Lip synch and voice recognition
You can debate ethically whether HAL's demise is due to a programming flaw, or an aberrant personality trait, but there are still no computers around that can do a good job of lip-reading. Simple voice recognition is increasingly more possible, but the natural language conversations that the astronauts have with HAL, or that he eavesdrops on, are still very much the stuff of science fiction.
They don't look particularly like modern Intel chips, but as Bowman deactivates Hal, the way he does it by progressively removing memory circuits is something that still applies to the architecture of our home computers today.
And anyone who has ever tried to fiddle about with their MacBook to upgrade the machine's RAM will sympathise with the efforts that he has to go to in order to gain access to them.
Doctor Who credits
The climax of "2001: A Space Odyssey" might be equal parts baffling and stimulating depending on how chemically enhanced you are, but there is one section that leaps off the screen at me as a British thirtysomething.
I don't think there can be any doubt that the final slit-scan sequence was the inspiration behind the opening titles that graced the bulk of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker's epsiodes as Doctor Who.
It isn't really a futurist prediction in the film, but even on his death bed David Bowman still demonstrates the human trait of curiosity by reaching out for the monolith.
In recent years the experiment at CERN and the epic travels of NASA's valiant little Mars Rovers have shown that man's curiosity about the universe around him has not diminished since Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick worked together on the "2001: A Space Odyssey" screenplay in 1960s.
Still images taken from "2001: A Space Odyssey" ©1968 MGM.
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